A memorial in remembrance of the victims in Hanau/Photo: Metzgerstrasse Acht Hanau

Hanau: Germany remembers victims of racist killings, one year after

Calls for political consequences are loud as Germany commemorates the first anniversary of the racist killings in the western German city of Hanau. On 19 February 2020, a 43-year-old German shot dead nine people with foreign roots in Hanau out of sheer racially-motivated hate

One year ago, on 19 February 2020, a 43-year-old German in Hanau had shot and killed nine people with foreign roots at several locations in the Hessian city. He then killed his mother and himself. An expert opinion diagnosed the perpetrator with paranoid schizophrenia coupled with racist ideology. The nine victims were: Sedat Gürbüz, Vili Viorel Păun, Fatih Saraçoğlu, Ferhat Unvar, Gökhan Gültekin, Mercedes Kierpacz, Kalojan Velkov, Hamza Kurtović and Said Nesar Hashemi.

One year after the racially-motivated attack in Hanau, politicians, religious representatives and associations call for a renewed fight against right-wing extremism and racism in Germany. 

The President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, called for increased support for those who often stand up for democracy at great personal risk.  “The measures adopted against right-wing extremism, racism and anti-Semitism must not disappear in a drawer,” he said in reference to the recommendation of the Federal Cabinet’s Committee to Combat Right-Wing Extremism and Racism.

Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Franziska Giffey, stated that the fight against right-wing extremism and racism is a “top priority”. She is working together with the Federal Minister of the Interior on a law to create lasting and financially reliable framework conditions for the projects that are funded through the federal programme “Live Democracy!

The victims of the hate-motivated killings/Photo: Initiative 19. Februar Hanau


Federal Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) said that the cabinet committee to combat right-wing extremism and racism was an important political consequence of the attack. The measures initiated by it would have to be implemented before the Bundestag elections.

The Federal Government’s Victims’ Commissioner, Edgar Franke, promised further assistance to the families of the Hanau victims. The federal government has so far paid out almost 1.1 million euros to 42 bereaved families and 109,000 euros to 19 injured and traumatised victims, Franke said. Answering the agonising questions of the bereaved families to the Hessian authorities about emergency calls not working or the gun permit of the perpetrator, who had been conspicuous for a long time before the crime, was overdue, he said.

On the anniversary of the attack, a memorial service was held in Hanau on Friday (19 February) attended by Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Minister President Volker Bouffier (CDU). Among the invited guests were mainly relatives of the murdered and Turkey’s deputy foreign minister Yavuz Selim Kıran.

In his speech, Dr Steinmeier addressed the bereaved families directly and acknowledged failures on the part of the state: The state had “failed to keep its promise of protection and security and freedom” to the victims, Steinmeier said. He was deeply saddened by this.

At the event, bereaved families demanded a complete clarification of failures by the authorities. In view of this, the President expressed concern about the danger of a loss of trust: “I know: this affects your trust in this, in our, in your state,” he said. Where there have been mistakes or misjudgements, “there must be clarification”, he said.

After Steinmeier’s speech, bereaved families addressed the public in short messages at the memorial service. They accused the authorities of mistakes: They had been insufficiently informed about the course of the crime, the perpetrator should have been prevented from acquiring a weapon, the police should have tracked down the perpetrator before the crime.

Emis Gürbüz, whose son Sedat was murdered, said: “We want a complete investigation. The authorities should admit their mistakes.” She added: “We parents have sleepless nights.” Speaking on behalf of all nine affected families, survivor Armin Kurtovic demanded “relentless action” against anyone who violated their official duties. “It is not enough to say: Hanau must not be repeated.” Kurtovic’s son Hamza was also among the victims.

Questions unanswered

A broad civil society alliance in Hesse has appealed to the state government to fight right-wing extremism and racism more strongly. The alliance of 13 organisations in Frankfurt am Main criticised that many questions of the bereaved families were still unanswered, for example, about the actions of the security authorities before the attack and on the night of the crime. The Hessian Advisory Council for Foreigners in Wiesbaden called on the state government to clarify the circumstances surrounding the attack.

The chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, Romani Rose, appealed to politicians to “fundamentally review this misconduct in the investigations and finally put an end to it in order to counteract the loss of people’s trust in the constitutional state”. Among the nine people killed in the attack were three members of the Sinti and Roma community.

Felix Dappah

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