Hanau’s Far-Right Terror Attack One Year Later

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One year ago today, a Nazi terrorist murdered nine people in the German city of Hanau. This was not an isolated crime. It was a product of state racism.

Photo: IMAGO / Pacific Press Agency

This article originally appeared in Ex Berliner on February 17, 2021

One year ago, on February 19, 2020, a Nazi terrorist murdered nine people in the German city of Hanau.

Their names were: Gökhan Gültekin, Sedat Gürbüz, Said Nesar Hashemi, Mercedes Kierpacz, Hamza Kurtović, Vili Viorel Păun, Fatih Saraçoğlu, Ferhat Unvar and Kaloyan Velkov.

These nine people came from different backgrounds. Some had German passports, others did not. Some had been born in Hanau, others in Anatolia or the Balkans. Some were Kurdish, others Roma — the grandchildren of people who survived Nazi concentration camps. But they all had, according to the categories of German bureaucracy, Migrationshintergrund nach 1945, or a “migration background.”

They were also all victims of racism.

Modern German racism is not just about citizenship — many people face discrimination despite being German in every legal sense of the word. The murderer in Hanau was a 43-year-old named Tobias Rathjen. After his killing spree, he shot his mother and then himself. He had published videos of himself ranting about bizarre right-wing conspiracy theories. Rathjen was perhaps even a few steps beyond QAnon, warning Americans of underground military bases where children are tortured in Satanic rituals.

Before the blood was dry, Germany’s establishment had a story: Rathjen was just an individual suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. The murderer was dead and the case was closed. One year later, however, relatives of the victims have been left with many questions. Their main question is: why did someone yelling about his paranoid fantasies have a gun permit?

It’s not like Rathjen flew under the radar. He repeatedly wrote to numerous authorities, including the Prosecutor General, calling on them to take action against an “unknown secret service organisation.” These long, disturbing letters were sent as early as 2002. Rathjen was once briefly taken to a psychiatric clinic after attacking a police officer, and his name appears in at least 15 different police records.

There is no doubt he was suffering from mental illness. But Rathjen did not invent conspiracy theories out of whole cloth. His racist ideas, with a special hatred of Islam, are part of mainstream discourse in Germany. He was worried that the “German race” was being replaced by immigrants. This theory of the Great Replacement is something propagated in the Bundestag by the extreme right-wing party AfD.

Hardly a week goes by without new reports of right-wing networks in Germany’s police, secret services and military.

But it’s not just about the AfD. Why did Rathjen target shisha (also known as water pipes or hookahs) bars? In Neukölln, there have been numerous police raids against these bars, with hundreds of officers armed with machine guns storming cafés on Sonnenallee. These locations are presented as centres of “clan criminality,” but the raids never reveal anything besides a couple of misdemeanours.

This kind of harassment might align with a far-right agenda, but it is being carried out by a social democratic district mayor, with the support of the conservative opposition. And while the police have more than enough resources to bully people smoking water pipes, they claim that there is nothing they can do to stop the Nazi terrorists committing arson and attempted murder. (Both of the two main suspects for the wave of right-wing terror have been released on bail, by the way.)

It would actually be kind of comforting, in this situation, to think that police were simply incompetent. In reality, though, hardly a week goes by without new reports of right-wing networks in Germany’s police, secret services and military. To name just one recent example, numerous politicians (mostly women) have received death threats signed by “NSU 2.0,” in reference to the terrorist group National Socialist Underground that murdered 10 people from 2000 to 2011. The private addresses of these politicians had been looked up on a police computer.

Unfortunately, it is probably not just an oversight that a right-wing fanatic was allowed to keep lots of guns. There seem to be just too many connections between secret services and violent Nazis in Germany to explain it all with bureaucratic failures.

That’s why the pursuit of justice for the victims of Nazi terrorism is being taken up by activists. A movement called Migrantifa — a portmanteau that seems to have been designed to strike fear into the hearts of Trumpists — is calling for demonstrations on the anniversary. There will be vigils on Friday at 4pm in Wedding, Neukölln and Kreuzberg. And there will be a demonstration on Saturday at 2pm at S-Bhf Hermannstraße.

About author

Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from New York City. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which appeared last year in German and this year in English. He is on the autism spectrum.