September 8, 2021 5:38:05 pm
A trial began on Wednesday over one of the most notorious incidents during a day of racist rioting that struck the city of Chemnitz three years ago.
A 30-year-old man was charged with dangerous bodily harm, breaching the peace, and property damage for being among a group of at least 10 men who threw fist-sized rocks and other objects at Uwe Dziuballa, the Jewish owner of the restaurant Schalom, near the city center in late August 2018.
The incident was part of several days of far-right demonstrations and violence against immigrants that followed the killing of 35-year-old Daniel H., who was stabbed during a fight with an Iraqi and a Syrian.
The defendant, Kevin A., did not speak in court and sat impassively throughout, keeping his COVID-mandated surgical mask on and his hands clasped on the table in front of him. (In the German judicial system, defendants are not required to make a plea, or to testify at all.)
Uwe Dziuballa testified first to re-tell the story of the attack one more time, sitting barely two meters away from, and slightly in front of, his alleged attacker — which did make him slightly nervous at first, he admitted.
“But then when I looked over and saw him something happened that I had hoped for,” he told DW afterwards. “The hate-filled eyes from that night had stayed with me, and I had hoped that when I looked over to look a completely normal person in the eye, it would calm me down. And when he seemed to look a little nervous — he couldn’t maintain eye contact — a certain calm came over me. I’m sort of happy with that. It’s out my head now because of that.”
The restaurant owner left before a verdict was made. This was mainly because, he said, the trial had already been delayed twice and he had previously made important appointments for the afternoon.
“For me, this is already a result,” Dziuballa added. “In my experience, the extent of the punishment doesn’t really change anything. For me, the success is in the fact that it came to trial and probably to a conviction.”
He was particularly relieved because, following the events, several social media posts appeared claiming he had made the story up on the grounds that his restaurant was shut on Mondays (in fact, the restaurant had been hosting a private lecture by a journalist, who also testified on Wednesday).
“It’s good that beyond all this hysteria and polarization, there is a result here today,” Dziuballa said.
The far-right demos in Chemnitz in 2018 became notorious for attracting extremists from across Germany, as several far-right organizations, including the Alternative for Germany (AfD) political party, mobilized supporters to descend on the city.
A week of unrest and political upheaval culminated in one of the biggest gatherings of neo-Nazis in the country in early September, when over 10,000 people gathered as part of various demonstrations.
Some 282 crimes, including physical assault and racist abuse, were investigated by authorities in connection with the violence, the Saxony Justice Ministry recently revealed. Some 171 of these investigations were dropped, mainly due to lack of evidence or because the perpetrators could not be found, the ministry said in response to an information request by the socialist Left Party.
A history of antisemitism
The defendant in the trial is not from Chemnitz either, but from Stade, a small town outside Hamburg where he was eventually tracked down thanks to DNA evidence in December 2019. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to anything between six months and several years in prison.
“I hope very much that this trial does not end with a suspended sentence or that the person who did this just walks free,” Ruth Röcher, head of the Chemnitz Jewish Community Organization told DW. “I hope that it comes to a just punishment.”
Dziuballa was born in Chemnitz and once told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper that his family can trace its roots to the city to before the creation of the German Empire. He opened the Schalom in 2000, since when it has established itself as one of the best-known Jewish restaurants in Germany. He also says it has regularly been smeared with anti-Semitic graffiti since it opened.
“Even if it’s taken three years for it to come to a trial, it’s a signal that throwing stones and objects at a Jewish restaurant, or in this case at me, can have consequences,” Dziuballa said. “The message that is being sent is that in a democracy it’s not normal to throw stones or objects when you have different opinions, and that a situation like this can bring consequences.”
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