(JTA) — At least two gunmen opened fire on a synagogue during Yom Kippur services and a kebab shop in Halle, a town in eastern Germany. The shooters reportedly were from the far right.
The masked gunmen reportedly were repelled by the synagogue’s doors, secured shut during the services Wednesday on the most solemn day of the Jewish year. There were 70 to 80 people in the synagogue at the time of the attack. One of the gunmen shot a woman dead at a nearby Jewish cemetery and a gunman threw a grenade at the kebab shop, and then fired at it, killing a man.
Two people who sustained gunshot wounds went into surgery at Halle’s university hospital, a hospital spokesman told the BBC.
The gunmen, who reportedly were dressed in combat gear, fled in a car and later tried to hijack taxi. Police captured one man, who they reportedly shot and injured, but said another was on the loose and warned residents to stay indoors. Later, residents were given the all clear, and reports said that there was only one gunman.
CNN quoted a German security official as saying that the ideology driving the attack was from the far right. SITE, a private intelligence group based in the United States, said on Twitter that the shooters had posted video on a gaming site and that one of them had said, in English, that the “root of all problems are Jews.”
The man suspected of attacking the synagogue broadcast a screed in English on the Twitch livestream platform before commencing the attack.
“My name is Anon and I think the holocaust never happened … feminism is the cause of declining birth rates in the West which acts as a scapegoat for mass immigration, and the root of all these problems are Jews,” he said.
He was identified by the German press late Wednesday night as Stephan B, a 27-year-old German from the nearby state of Saxony-Anhalt, according to The Telegraph.
Security was increased at synagogues around Germany in the wake of the attack.
“The perpetrator shot multiple times at the door and threw a couple of Molotov cocktails, fireworks or grenades at it. But the door stayed closed, God has protected us,” Max Privorotzki, the head of the Jewish community in Halle, told Spiegel online.
The head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, said the news of the attack and killings has “deeply distressed and frightened our community.”
“The perpetrator tried to enter the synagogue, and the neighboring Jewish cemetery was also attacked, so that an anti-Semitic motive is presumed,” he said. “The brutality of the attack goes beyond anything that has happened in recent years and is a profound shock to all Jews in Germany.”
He added that it was “scandalous that the synagogue in Halle was not protected by the police on a holiday like Yom Kippur.”
Rebecca Blady, a visiting rabbi in Berlin for Base, a program of Hillel in Germany, together with her husband Jeremy Borovitz, had been invited with other guests from Berlin to spend Yom Kippur in Halle. After the holiday she posted on Facebook about the attack.
“It’s the end of Yom Kippur in Halle, Germany. We’ve made it out with our lives, in health, and amazing spirits – with gratitude to G-d – as today there was a large scale terrorist attack in Halle, and the terrorist began his day right outside the walls of the synagogue we were praying in.”
She also wrote: “For whatever reason, the man with the gun was stalled or prohibited from entering the synagogue. G-d counted us all there today, one by one, as deserving of life.”
“We came here to bond with a small Jewish community, to feel the Divine energy of Yom Kippur, to sing and dance a little more than we might have otherwise. We are still here, trying to make sense of what happened and what is going on,” she wrote.
Following the shooting, the worshippers at the synagogue were taken to a local hospital to be checked for shock and trauma, Blady said, and they prayed the concluding Neila service and blew the shofar there.
German and other world leaders condemned the attack.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her condolences and “solidarity for all Jews on the holy day of Yom Kippur,” according to the BBC.
“The terrorist attack against the Jewish community in Halle Germany on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of our people, is additional testimony that anti-Semitism in Europe is increasing,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement issued Wednesday night after the end of the holiday.
“On behalf of the people of Israel, I send condolences to the families of the victims and wishes for a quick recovery to the injured. I call on the German authorities to continue taking determined action against antisemitism,” he also said.
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin in a statement on Wedneday night said: “We are stunned and pained by the terrible anti-Semitic murders in Germany today, during the holiest and most important day of the year for all Jews around the world. I call on the leaders of Germany and the free world to bring the full force of law against antisemitism and its results.
“We will continue to campaign for education and remembrance in the fight antisemitism which raises its head again and again in Europe and across the world, based on a the clear understanding that it is not a problem of the Jews alone, but threatens to destroy us all.”
“It is appalling that on this day — the holiest in the Jewish calendar — when Jews are sitting in synagogues all around the world immersed in prayer, yet another attack against Jews has been perpetrated,” World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said in a statement.
“Unfortunately the time has come when all Jewish places of worship and Jewish communal sites need to have enhanced round-the-clock security provided by state security services. We also need immediately to launch a unified front against neo-Nazi and other extremist groups, which threaten our well-being. The fact that, 75 years after the Holocaust, such groups are gaining influence in Germany speaks volumes. We stand with the Jewish community of Germany at this tragic time,” Lauder also said.
Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog called the attack “shocking.” “The entire world sees and hears what is happening and must understand that there can be no compromise in the fight against hatred of Jews and antisemitism. The Jewish Agency will support the growing Jewish community in Halle,” he said.
Hezgog said he spoke with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and quoted him as saying: “This is an attack on all of us. We all stand together on the frontlines against antisemitism.”