On Monday, a German court handed down a life sentence to the assailant following last year’s
deadly far-right assault that almost became the worst anti-Semitic atrocity in the country since World War II.
The only thing that prevented the heavily armed attacker from carrying out a planned bloodbath was the bolted door at the
synagogue in the eastern city of Halle with 52 worshippers inside, marking Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year.
Stephan Balliet, 28, shot dead a female passer-by and a man at
a kebab shop after failing to storm the temple on October 9, 2019.
“Without that famous reinforced door, he would have committed a massacre,” presiding judge Ursula Mertens said as she read out the verdict.
Balliet denied the Holocaust in open court, a felony in Germany, during his five-month trial
and showed no regret for those targeted, many of whom were co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
In a case that has profoundly rattled the nation and fueled concerns about increasing right-wing populism and anti-Jewish violence, 75 years
after the end of the Nazi period, he was convicted of two counts of murder and several counts of attempted murder.
For Balliet, the prosecutor had sought a life sentence. “Mertens was only asked by the defense team for a “fair sentence”.
‘Germany’s Political Nature’
The head of the Central Council of Jews of Germany, Josef Schuster, accepted the verdict.
“This is an important day for Germany,” he said in a statement. “The verdict makes clear that there will be no tolerance for homicidal hatred of Jews.”
A counsel for nine of the co-plaintiffs, Mark Lupschitz, told AFP Monday that the
trial was “fair” and called the proceedings for the expected victims both “stressful and empowering”.
Balliet maintained during the trial that “attacking the
synagogue was not a mistake; they are my enemies.”
He filmed the attack, dressed in military garb, and broadcast it on
the internet, prefacing it with a manifesto that endorsed his misogynist, neo-fascist ideology.
Some of the hallmarks of the two attacks were carried out and similarly live-streamed
a few months earlier by Brenton Tarrant, who killed 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand Tarrant was cited by Balliet as an inspiration.
Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff, called the attack “a very, very alarming moment in German history”.
“If that guy would have been able to get into a synagogue… it would have had a tremendous impact on German identity after the war and the fight against anti-Semitism,” he told AFP in an interview.
“Anti-Semitism is indeed a phenomenon that attacks the very democratic essence of Germany and I think that is the thing that is so important to protect.”
Before the verdict was pronounced, a few dozen protesters against right-wing violence had gathered outside the courtroom,
stretching out a large black banner reading ‘We remember the victims of the 9 October 2019 attack.’
During the trial, prosecutor Kai Lohse said that Balliet acted on the basis of a “racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic ideology”
to carry out an attack not just on those he killed, but on “Jewish life as a whole in Germany.”
He added that the events that transpired were like a “nightmare.”
“At the end of this nightmare, the perpetrator murdered two people and injured and traumatised numerous others.”
Baillet’ identified without emotion the deadly shots fired at his two victims in Halle’ and seemed frustrated that he
had failed in his effort to reach the synagogue, psychiatrist Norbert Leygraf said in an assessment of the defendant.
He said Balliet suffered from symptoms of schizophrenia, anxiety, and autism that
stopped him from feeling “superior to others” and sharing “empathy with others.”
Felix Klein, the government’s point man against anti-Semitism, called
the trial “a good opportunity to debate anti-Semitism in society.”
In recent years, crimes targeting Jews and their religion have steadily increased in
Germany, with 2,032 crimes reported in 2019, up 13 percent from the previous year.
Meanwhile, Germany was shocked by a series of far-right terrorist attacks, including the murder of pro-refugee politician Walter Luebcke at his
home in June 2019 and the murder of nine people of migrant descent in the western city of Hanau in February.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN