Swastikas have been daubed at the spot where a Syrian child was killed in an accident in the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Local politicians condemned the graffiti, which is being investigated by police.
The small town of Schönberg in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania has become the scene of an ugly neo-Nazi hate campaign after a young boy was hit by a tractor on June 20. Two men have since been identified in connection with the crime.
In the weeks after the accident, swastikas were twice daubed at the site, and twice removed by local authorities.
Local police reported that the 9-year-old boy had lost his balance while riding his bike on the sidewalk and had strayed onto the road, where he was hit by the tractor. He died a few days later in hospital.
Two weeks later, on July 8, a local resident reported that a large swastika had been painted at the spot on the sidewalk with white paint. It was removed, but a new swastika, also in white paint, was found at the same spot on July 28, this time with "1:0" written next to it.
The mother of the boy told the Bild newspaper, "What did we do to deserve a swastika to be drawn there?" The family arrived in Germany from the city of Idlib, Syria, in 2015.
On Monday, state prosecutors announced that they had identified two men, aged 22 and 23, in connection with the crime, after tip-offs from the public. "A search of the homes of the suspects did not lead to the discovery of the spray paint, but the suspicion remains on account of further investigation results," prosecutors said in a statement.
Prosecutors added that the two men were being investigated on suspicion of using symbols of an anti-constitutional organization and causing damage to public property. They are "assuming xenopobic motives."
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Neo-Nazis in northeastern Germany
Displaying Nazi symbols is illegal in Germany, and far-right extremists are tracked by the domestic intelligence agency, the Verfassungsschutz.
"We don't have a [neo-Nazi] scene here," Schönberg Mayor Lutz Götze told DW. "But we do have residents who pursue this political direction. People have different opinions on refugee policy, but I've never heard a voice supporting this neo-fascist ideology. That is rejected by everyone."
Götze added that there are around 40 refugees currently living in the town, and that they were well-integrated in the community. "They work, they attend language classes, they go to the school," he said.
"We don't just have refugees," he added. "We have several nationalities in the town: people from Russia, from Kazakhstan, from India, Iraqis. They work here too, and there are no difficulties. The same goes for Syrian residents."
Lorenz Caffier, interior minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, described the swastikas on the sidewalk as a "shocking mockery of the victim." "A connection between the swastika daubings and the tragic accident is highly likely," Caffier told Bild, before adding that he had ordered security forces to do everything to investigate the incident as quickly as possible.
State Premier Manuela Schwesig also condemned the graffiti. "This is a disgusting act," she told the local Nordkurier newspaper. "There is nothing worse than losing one's own child. I am horrified that anyone could be so filled with hate. Everything must be done to find the perpetrators."
The town of Jamel, just 30 kilometers (19 miles) away, has developed a reputation as a neo-Nazi stronghold, with immigrants driven away from the area with arson attacks in the early 2000s. An anti-Nazi rock concert was held in the town last year to counter the image and stand up to far-right supporters in the town.
Mayor Lutz Götze refused to speculate on who was responsible for the graffiti, though he said it "could not be ruled out" that the perpetrators had come from outside Schönberg, which has a population of just 4,400.