Wiesenthal Center warns synagogue attack precursor to Kristallnacht anniversary
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Wiesenthal Center warns synagogue attack precursor to Kristallnacht anniversary

Director criticizes slow police response to deadly shooting spree and urges Germany to step up security ahead of anniversary of Nazi pogrom

Schoolchildren and others brought to watch the burning of synagogue furnishings on Kristallnacht in Mosbach, Germany, November 1938 (courtesy)
Schoolchildren and others brought to watch the burning of synagogue furnishings on Kristallnacht in Mosbach, Germany, November 1938 (courtesy)

The Simon Wiesenthal Center on Wednesday warned German authorities that the deadly Yom Kippur shooting attack on a synagogue in the city of Halle could be a precursor to further attacks on the upcoming anniversary of Kristallnacht.

In a letter to German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, Shimon Samuels, the center’s director for international relations, noted that the Halle synagogue was one of those destroyed in the Nazi-instigated pogrom in Germany and Austria in which 91 Jews were killed, 30,000 Jews were arrested, 1,400 synagogues were set on fire, and countless homes and businesses were vandalized.

“On 10 November, 1938 – the ‘Kristallnacht State Pogrom’ saw the destruction of the local synagogue, 200 men sent to Buchenwald, and the obliteration of 800 years of Jewish Halle,” Samuels wrote, noting that the Jewish community in the city dated back to the 12th century.

“It is known that both extreme right and Islamist terrorists often act to mark anniversaries,” he said. “If so, this may be a precursor to [the] Kristallnacht [anniversary].”

German synagogue attacker, identified as by media as neo-Nazi Stephan Balliet during his rampage in Halle (Screencapture)

At least two people were shot dead in the anti-Semitic attack Wednesday, with the gunman, identified by German media as neo-Nazi Stephan Balliet, 27,  filming the assault and posting a 35-minute video online.

After failing to blast his way into the synagogue, he shot dead a passerby in the street and then a man at a kebab shop, before being wounded and arrested by police.

Samuels noted the time the killer had to repeatedly go to his vehicle and take out new guns and ammunition, saying it indicated a “police vacuum.”

“The delayed reaction by the authorities in an obvious case of anti-Semitic terror demands an official investigation,” Samuels wrote. “Next month’s Kristallnacht commemoration will require a maximum national alert.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the deadly shooting, adding an expression of “solidarity for all Jews on the holy day of Yom Kippur.” The chancellor later attended a vigil at Berlin’s main synagogue.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the “terrorist attack on the community in Halle in Germany on Yom Kippur is a new expression of anti-Semitism on the rise in Europe.”

“I urge German authorities to continue to act resolutely against the phenomenon of anti-Semitism,” Netanyahu tweeted.

Jewish community leader Max Privorotzki, who was in the Halle synagogue, told Stuttgarter Zeitung of the harrowing minutes as the religious site came under assault.

An armed man on a street in Halle, Germany, following a shooting outside a synagogue in that city which killed two. (Screenshot/Andreas Splett/ATV-Studio Halle/AFP)

“We saw through the camera of our synagogue that a heavily armed perpetrator wearing a steel helmet and rifle was trying to shoot open our door,” he said.

“The man looked like he was from the special forces. But our doors held firm,” Privorotzki said.

“We barricaded our doors from inside and waited for the police,” he said, adding that “in between, we carried on with our service.”

Between 70 and 80 people were in the synagogue on a day when Jews around the world were marking one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar, Privorotzki said.

Germany has been on high alert following several attacks in recent years, including some claimed by the Islamic State group, as well as neo-Nazi plots.

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