2 years after the attack:
What lessons can we learn from Hanau?

The right-wing terrorist attack in Hanau marked its second anniversary on February 19th, 2022. In an interview, our program manager, Benjamin Fischer, spoke about the memory of the attack, continuous right-wing violence and what should be done to combat it.

Two years after the attack in Hanau, the bereaved, survivors, and initiatives still denounce systemic failures on the part of the authorities: slow response, support, and assistance, followed by a lack of recognition or responsibility taken for these failures on the night of the attack and in its aftermath. Two years later, the wound is unable to heal, and all those affected are still unable to reach closure.

Until today, it remains impossible for many bereaved families to come to terms with these horrors. Ferhat Unvar, Mercedes Kierpacz, Sedat Gürbüz, Gökhan Gültekin, Hamza Kurtović, Kaloyan Velkov, Vili Viorel Păun, Fatih Saraçoğlu and Said Nesar Hashemi were murdered in a racist attack that was prepared for years in advance. The purpose of #SayTheirNames was to bring those who lost their lives, and the circumstances which led to this tragedy, to the forefront, not to center the perpetrator's perspective.

How was the shooter able to obtain a gun license and meticulously plan his crime despite his known, well-documented radicalization? How can the inappropriate behavior of individual officers at the crime scene toward bereaved families be explained? Why has access to support and help been so difficult to obtain for the past two years? These questions arise, among others, from the ongoing committee of inquiry in the Hessian state parliament; at the same time, the gunman's father continues to make headlines with his own stomach turning, racist acts.

This, again, follows a grim trend. There were similar reports concerning those affected in the course of the NSU murders and in Halle. We must seriously address the question of what we have learned - and what the slogan #HanauIstÜberall (Hanau is everywhere) actually means.

Recognizing the seriousness of this attack is of utmost importance, an act towards all those affected which brings with it a ripple effect that should not be underestimated. The special parliamentary session in the Bundestag, "Two years after the right-wing terrorist murders of Hanau –Resolute continuation of the fight against right-wing extremism and hatred" was, in this respect, also an important signal from our parliament.

Why is the commemoration of attacks like the one in Hanau so important?

In an interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau, the educational initiative Ferhat Unvar, named after one of the Hanau victims, has quoted a local politician as saying that remembrance "belongs in the cemetery" only six months after the attack. Within the demand of the survivors and those affected to keep the memory of the deceased alive, I read a task for all of us, and we should take it up. They also stress that more than just symbolic wreath-laying ceremonies once a year are needed. It is much more important to be in more frequent contact with those affected and to listen to their needs and demands.

This means, amongst other things, sustainably combatting radical right-wing structures through clear and tough sanctions and a persistent confrontation with structural racism, of which the majority society is often unaware of. Victims must also not feel abandoned, but require ongoing support.

Also, because we at the Alfred Landecker Foundation are actively dealing with the recent past, we know that this is an indicator of the state of a society.

I remember well the days after the attack in Halle. Shortly after leaving the synagogue on Yom Kippur and learning of the attack, I happened to walk into a solidarity rally. This in turn had just been stopped because someone had shown the Hitler salute in front of the protestors. Rarely have I felt so out of place. I can imagine very well that, after the attack in Hanau, there were also very similar experiences in many migrant communities. That is exactly why loud public declarations, solidarity and remembrance beyond the actual day are of great importance.

Looking more closely: What common theme can be discerned when examining attacks on minorities in Germany? Which narratives of those affected are recurring and why do they receive so little attention?

The NSU murders, Halle, and Hanau were right-wing extremist attacks, most of which had letters or videos of confession, often based on comparable conspiracy ideologies. They are thus closely linked to Utøya, Pittsburgh, and Christchurch. In light of these commonalities, I cannot understand the narrative of the so called "Einzelfall" (single case) in this context. Not only are right-wing extremists obviously well connected, but these attacks also point to a larger problem in society as a whole.

In the aftermath of all cases, those affected reported incidents which indicated that the necessary sensitivity in dealing with survivors and relatives on the ground was absent. The fact that it could be enormously important for survivors to act as joint plaintiffs should not be overlooked here either. The lack of recognition of such failures, difficulty in integrating the perspectives of victims, and the helplessness of many - in some cases even years after the attacks - indicate that there is a need for legal amendment when it comes to the protection of victims of terrorist violence and thus also to the protection of their citizens.

What must happen to ensure that minorities in Germany actually receive better protection, apart from declarations of intent?

It is important to take the perspectives of victims seriously, to recognize threats at an early stage, and to take fears into account. Questions of representation in law enforcement agencies, political positions, and multi-perspectivity in curricula are some first steps. The decisive fight against radical right-wing structures is a must. A democracy without functioning protection of minorities is unstable in its very foundation, and this realization drives us in our daily work. Here we see the litmus test of modern democracy and derive from it a duty to take a closer look on a daily basis, even if one may not be personally affected.

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