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Germany: Memorial for Hanau far-right shootings, 3 years on

February 19, 2023

Three years ago, a man in his 40s shot dead nine people in Hanau, near Frankfurt. Thereafter he killed his mother and himself. Roughly 500 people have attended an emotional memorial.

From left to right in the frame, Hanau Mayor Claus Kaminsky, Hesse state premier Boris Rhein and German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser stand in front of wreaths at the memorial site to the Hanau shooting victims.
Three years on, some questions about the murders targeting migrants in Hanau remain unansweredImage: Frank Rumpenhorst/dpa/picture alliance

Around 500 people gathered in the center of Hanau in western Germany on Sunday for a memorial for nine people killed by a far-right extremist on February 19, 2020

The city's mayor, Claus Kaminsky, Hesse's state premier, Boris Rhein, and German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (all pictured above, from left to right in the image) were among them. 

"What remains is a wound that cannot heal," Ajla Kurtovic, sister to one of the victims, said at the memorial ceremony. She said the victims' relatives had been left with a raft of open questions, "and that's still the case today." 

The German government has sought to focus on the identities and memory of the nine people killed at several locations in Hanau, including a shisha or hookah tobacco bar, with the gunman choosing the locations because of their popularity among migrant communities. 

Faeser, the Interior Ministry and Chancellor Olaf Scholz all appealed with the English-language slogan for people to "say their names," lest they be forgotten. 

"Racism drove the perpetrator to shoot dead nine people in Hanau in 2020," Scholz wrote on Twitter on Sunday. "I am convinced: We can only improve cohesion in our society by making the remembrance of the victims visible. Their names are our political inheritance." He attached an image with each of the names written down. 

Perpetrator was gun enthusiast known for right-wing views

Eight of the victims had a "migration background," meaning they or at least one parent did not have German nationality at birth; and one victim was a Romani German citizen. 

The 43-year-old gunman subsequently returned to his apartment, where he shot dead his mother and then himself. 

The perpetrator fired a minimum of 52 rounds in total. A handgun, extra magazines and a rucksack with even more ammunition were found in his car. Police found three more guns and more ammunition at his home. He was a member of a gun club.

Former colleagues would later say the man was anti-social and would regularly work 12 hours a day. When he did speak, they said, he did not hide his political leanings, saying that he no longer supported Germany's national football team because of the "foreigners" on it, and that he did not support the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) because he found it too moderate. 

The nature of the crime, evidence of mistakes likely made by police, and the fact that multiple emergency phone calls went unanswered in the minutes after the first shooting — with the two available phone lines for the region at that late hour occupied — all contributed to public shock and anger in the aftermath

A large crowd gathered in Hanau's market square for the memorial, February 19, 2023.
Around 500 people attended a ceremony in the market square in Hanau, though a planned memorial to the victims will likely be placed in a less central part of townImage: Frank Rumpenhorst/dpa/picture alliance

Commemorations in church, town center, cemetery

Sunday's commemorations included a multifaith ceremony, speeches to a larger audience in a central square in the large town of around 100,000 people, and a visit to the burial site of the victims at Hanau's main cemetery. 

Local politicians, the Imam of Hanau's Islamic Society, and others attend a multifaith church service as part of the memorial.
Imam Marcit Bozkurt of Hanau's Islamic Society was among the speakers at the church serviceImage: Tim Wegner/epd

Apart from the relatives of the victims, city mayor Kaminsky was the only politician to speak from the podium at the ceremony. State premier Boris Rhein of the Christian Democrats and Faeser, who will be the SPD's lead candidate hoping to unseat Rhein in state elections later this year, both did not take the stage. 

Faeser did speak with victims' relatives, and photographers captured her seemingly being consoled by the father of one of them. 

Germa Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, eyes closed with a pained expression, in a discussion with one of the victims' fathers, Armin Kurtovic at Hanau's main cemetery. February 19, 2023.
One of the victims' fathers appeared to be consoling Faeser at one point during their discussionImage: Frank Rumpenhorst/dpa/picture alliance

On the sidelines of the memorial, Faeser said it was crucial to take action in response to the crime "and also not to let up." She said the perpetrator had wanted to paint the victims as outsiders, "but that's not who they were." 

Memorial and ongoing political investigation sore topics in Hanau

As those close to the victims again expressed disappointment at the open questions on the crime that still remain three years later, Faeser said she could understand their frustration very well and said "there are not always the answers that we expect."

She said the ongoing investigative committee in the state parliament in Hesse was the right place for continued investigation. 

Rhein, meanwhile, said: "There can be no forgetting. What happened three years ago in Hanau still beggars belief to this day."

Mayor Kaminsky said during the ceremony that the crime had targeted "people who live among us, who belong with us, in our town and our neighborhood." 

He said democracy needed to show its resilience and that fundamental rights were fragile and needed protecting: "Therefore, we say to all racists and to all anti-democrats, even to all who want to poison our country with their slogans: There are more of us. And we are stronger than your hate." 

Delayed plans for a memorial in the town were also a source of friction at the event. Victims' relatives say local authorities are stalling the project. A draft has been approved for the design, but a location is not yet set.

Kaminsky said on Sunday that the first proposed location in the central market square would not be chosen. He said the city officials had voiced unease and misgivings over the location's suitability for a memorial. 

He said that a better and more likely location might be Hanau's new, planned Center for Democracy and Diversity, to which Interior Minister Faeser pledged €3.4 million in federal government funds on Sunday.

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msh/sms (AFP, dpa, epd)