Assaults, arson, slurs: Report finds anti-Semitism in Berlin

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Photo credit So called stumbling blocks, marking the last voluntarily chosen places of residence of the victims of the Nazis, are embedded in the pavement in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The Department for Research and Information on Anti-Semitism Berlin, or RIAS documented 410 incidents in Berlin, more than two a day, in the first half of 2020, including physical attacks, property damage, threats, harmful behavior and anti-Semitic propaganda. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

BERLIN (AP) — Small square brass plates set in the pavement remember Jewish residents of Berlin's Lichtenberg district who were torn from their homes and killed by the Nazis decades ago. Nearby, the charred remains of a Jewish-run bar destroyed by arson last month attest to a hatred that still burns among far-right extremists.

The attack on the bar named Morgen Wird Besser, which in English means Tomorrow Will Be Better, underscores the findings of a victim support group that anti-Semitism remains in Germany's capital 75 years after World War II ended.

In a report released Tuesday, the Department for Research and Information on Anti-Semitism Berlin, or RIAS, documented 410 incidents — more than two a day — during the first half of 2020. The group's count of anti-Semitic acts included six physical attacks, 25 cases of property damage, 20 threats, 58 examples of anti-Semitic propaganda and 301 examples of malicious behavior such as giving the stiff-armed Nazi salute.

The report's publication comes amid nationwide concerns that intensified in October 2019 after an armed man tried to force his way into a synagogue in central German city of Halle on Judaism’s holiest day, Yom Kippur, then fatally shot two people nearby. The suspect posted an anti-Jewish screed online before the attack.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week decried how anti-Semitism had become “more visible and uninhibited.”

“ It is a disgrace, and it shames me deeply,” Merkel said.

A national report issued in May showed anti-Semitic crimes in Germany last year reached their highest level since the country started keeping records.

The Interior Ministry reported a 13% increase in anti-Semitic crimes to 2,032, more than 93% of which were attributed to the far right. Anti-Muslim crimes also rose 4.4% to 950, more than 90% of them committed by alleged far-right perpetrators.

The report Tuesday highlights recent cases in Berlin. Graves were desecrated at a Jewish cemetery in Pankow, a borough where a man also interrupted a woman speaking Hebrew on her phone with a Nazi salute and a shout of “Heil Hitler!”

The words “Jew! Hate! J.H.” were sprayed outside a Jewish-owned business in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf and a swastika was etched into the glass of a restaurant in Schöneberg. In Kreuzberg, 10 “Stolpersteine” — brass memorial plates like the ones near the Lichtenberg bar — were painted black.

“Despite the massive restrictions on public life to contain the COVID-19 pandemic since March 17, the number of anti-Semitic incidences was just under the level for the first half of 2019,” said RIAS, which documented 458 incidents for the same period last year.

The head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, said the pandemic is acting as a “catalyzer,” with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories circulating online. RIAS documented incidences of protesters wearing Stars of David, the yellow badges persecuted Jews were forced to wear under Nazi rule, at demonstrations against anti-virus measures.

Levi Salomon, of the Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism, told The Associated Press the problem has been growing for a long time and has become a “huge, huge” issue — not only in Berlin.

“I’ve been observing right-wing extremism for more than 20 years across the whole country, and the situation has become far worse than it was 20 years ago,” Salomon said.

The owner of the bar in Lichtenberg, for example, had been receiving threats since he first opened a Jewish restaurant in the area in 2012. He later converted it to a bar.