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Germany

Helping the victims of right-wing violence

When right-wing extremists attack, victims often remain terrified and helpless for long thereafter. In Germany, a young organization is there to counsel them. And it no longer plans to be "too late" for those in need.

For many, Back Up came too late, for others, right on time. The organization, located in Dortmund in western Germany, provides help to those attacked by right-wing extremists. Director Clauda Luzar told DW about the first case she encountered with Back Up.

On 26 November, 2011, four men associated with the right-wing neo-Nazi scene in Germany attacked two young men of Turkish descent at a Dortmund Christmas Market. "What're you looking at, you bastard?" they jeered - then hit the men in the face and knocked them to the ground. Next, the attackers stepped on the victims and hit one of them in the head with a glass bottle.

The search for witnesses

Such an attack by right-wing extremists is not an isolated incident in Dortmund. As Luzar says, Back Up isn't located in Dortmund by accident: "There are demonstrations, concerts, right-wing ideologies and right-wing violence here."

A blonde-haired woman wearing a dark business suit holds a microphone on a podium with a sign behind her that reads Back Up.

Claudia Luzar wants to help the victims of right-wing violence

The attackers at the Dortmund Christmas Market were well known, with the first blow coming from Sven K., a skinhead who, at the age of 17, killed a man in the punk-rock scene by stabbing him in the heart. He went to prison for the murder and was released early. After the 2011 Christmas Market attack, he and his accomplices were taken into custody. Crucially, the police had no witnesses.

That's when Back Up got involved. The organization put out a call for witnesses and was successful.

In an interview with DW, Dortmund Chief of Police Norbert Wesseler confirmed that witnesses were found who, "because they perhaps didn't have trust in the police, reported themselves to Back Up." Thus, the crime was ultimately cleared up.

'Awake at night'

A scruffy, middle-aged man wearing glasses speaks off-camera in a formal speaker setting with the word Polizei on the wall behind him. Photo: Caroline Seidel

Dortmund Police Chief Wesseler values the role of Back Up

Ever since the Christmas Market attack, the newly-formed organization has been accompanying youths and their parents to the police. Back Up also provides a psychologist, says Claudia Luzar. "Victims are always awake at night, hounded by the same image in front of them, of how they were beaten. And they're always fearful that the perpetrator is tracking them down."

Back Up also helps the families during criminal trials against the perpetrators. For victims, prosecution is important, Luzar says - "They want justice, the truth to be known and the criminals to be made responsible.

Since 2011, the organization has helped more than 150 victims of right-wing violence. Beyond those with migratory backgrounds, victims include the political opponents of the right like church representatives, unions, alternative youth groups - even homosexuals, the homeless or the psychologically impaired.

'You're too late'

Such intensive assistance and help like that provided by Back Up is something that would have helped the Kubasik family after the murder of Mehmet Kubasik in Dortmund in April 2006. After the murder, the family suffered under a police force that suspected Mehmet Kubasik had been involved in an organized crime network reaching back to Turkey. Mehmet was one of eight victims killed by the National Socialist Underground (NSU) neo-Nazi trio.

three people standing in a room DW/Andrea Grunau.

Gamze Kubasik says Back Up has a crucial role

The Back Up counseling organization had already been planned prior to the revelations of the NSU in November 2011, when the full scale of the murders became public. Shortly thereafter, Back Up opened its doors. Director Claudias Luzar recalls how she attempted to contact the family.

"The Kubasik family said, 'You're too late.' That one struck a chord in my heart. The truth is, German society, and we at Back up - we were all too late."

Gamze Kubasik, the daughter of the Mehmet, says it's important that Back Up is there today. "I don't want victims to be left alone," she told DW. Her family, as well as those of other NSU victims, continue to be counseled by the organization.

Turf war

While Claudia Luzar sees German police becoming more sensitive to right-wing violence, she has also noticed that courts often find it difficult to prove that an act of violence was motivated by right-wing ideologies. For victims, "That can be a slap in the face," she says.

The sentence given to the Christmas Market attackers, who laughed openly in court and ostentatiously wore symbols of right-wing extremism, ended in January 2013. Sven K. had spent 21 months behind bars. Just as in the case of the deadly knife attack at age 17, the jury saw no right-wing motivation behind the attack, even though the prosecution predicated its case on xenophobic grounds.

In a courtroom, a man whose face is pixelated to obscure his identity has his handcuffs taken off or placed on. Photo: Daniel Naupold

Sven K.'s accomplices were also sentenced to prison time

Claudia Luzar has researched the factors that motivate right-wing extremists. Wherever extremists crop up, she says, they become involved in a turf war.

"There was right-wing violence long before the NSU, and there will be long after."

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