Germany shooting: Horror of Jews targeted in Halle attack

By Jenny Hill
BBC News, Halle, Germany

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image captionMourners gathered outside the synagogue on Thursday

Above the rain-soaked flowers and little lanterns left by well-wishers, the bullet holes are clearly visible in the small wooden door of the synagogue in Halle. That door was all that stood between an armed extremist and the worshippers inside the building, gathered to pray on the holiest day of the Jewish year.

Christina Feist was inside as the gunman tried - and failed - to shoot his way into the building.

"We were actually just in the middle of Shacharit, which is the morning service, reading Torah, when I heard and saw explosions and two clouds of smoke right outside the window," she said. "For a couple of seconds everyone was silent, and then all of a sudden everything went super-fast. The cantor who was leading prayer immediately understood what was going on.

media captionChristina Feist describes being inside the synagogue as the Halle gunman attempted to attack it

"He said: 'Everyone out of here - go to the next room, go upstairs, be on the floor, go down and go away from the windows.'"

The horror and confusion which engulfed Halle on Wednesday has been replaced by bewilderment and painful questions. What many in Halle's Jewish community - and others besides - want to know is why there was no police guard to protect them: a situation Josef Schuster, president of Germany's Central Council of Jews, described as scandalous.

Most Jewish institutions in Germany are guarded - at the very least on holy days - but it is emerging that some synagogues in smaller towns do not have that security, with one police union suggesting that it was a question of insufficient resources.

As investigations continue, it has also become clear that the perpetrator failed to realise the full extent of his murderous ambitions. When the 27-year-old German was unable to enter the synagogue he turned to other nearby targets, killing a woman in the street and attacking a kebab shop where he killed a man.

And his apparent motivation, the right-wing extremism and anti-Semitism he exhibited both before and during the attacks - which he filmed and streamed online - has horrified the country.

"Unfortunately we have to face the truth and the truth is, and has been for a while now, that the threat level posed by anti-Semitism, right-wing extremism and right-wing terrorism in Germany is very high," German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer admitted on Thursday.

For Igor, who we met as he walked near the synagogue, rain spotting his kippa, that's no surprise. A young man, he told us that he wouldn't usually wear the Jewish skull cap in public but he wanted to show his solidarity today.

image captionIgor Matvieyets experiences fear and intimidation as a young Jewish man

He said that even before the attacks he was afraid.

"Jewish life is sadly nothing normal in Germany," he said. "I know from people who wear the kippa in the street - they get harsh comments or people spit in their direction."

As the authorities scramble to react, there is an overwhelming sense of sorrow. This country, so shamed by its past, must - it seems - now tackle a painful present.

And tackle it properly, said Christina, who, reflecting on those terrifying hours inside the synagogue, said Germany has a problem with anti-Semitism.

"Politicians keep telling us this is terrible. It should never happen again but we've been hearing that for years - decades - and it keeps happening."

media captionAngela Merkel joined the Jewish community for a vigil in solidarity in Berlin

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