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Demonstration of Germans and Turks in front of the arson house, Solingen, June 1993
The Solingen arson attack of 1993 was one of the most severe instances of anti-foreigner violence in modern Germanymarker. On the night of May 28 to May 29, 1993, four young German men belonging to the far right skinhead scene, with neo-Nazi ties, set fire to the house of a large Turkish family in Solingenmarker in North Rhine-Westphaliamarker, Germanymarker. Three girls and two women died; fourteen other family members, including several children, were injured, some of them severely. The attack led to violent protests by Turks in several German cities and to large demonstrations of Germans expressing solidarity with the Turkish victims. In October 1995, the perpetrators were convicted of murder and given prison sentences between 10 and 15 years.

Societal context

In the early 1990s after the German reunification, the topic of foreigners, and especially of asylum seekers, was hotly debated in Germany. The party CDU and the tabloid newspaper Bild Zeitung were main forces calling for limiting their numbers.

Several instances of anti-foreigner violence preceded the Solingen attack. In September 1991, violent disturbances in Hoyerswerdamarker forced the evacuation of an asylum seeker's hostel. During the three-day riot of Rostock-Lichtenhagenmarker in August 1992, several thousand people surrounded a high-rise building and watched approvingly while militants threw Molotov cocktails; the Vietnamese inhabitants barely managed to survive by fleeing to the roof.In November 1992, an arson in Möllnmarker perpetrated by right-wing youth killed three Turks.

In December 1992, large demonstrations against xenophobia took place all over Germany, with over 700,000 participants.Several Neo-Nazi groups were outlawed by the end of 1992.

Three days before the attack, on May 26, 1993, the German Bundestagmarker, with the required 2/3 majority, resolved to change the Grundgesetz to limit the numbers of asylum seekers. Previously, the Grundgesetz had granted every political refugee in the world a direct right to refugee status in Germany.

The Solingen attack with five people killed was by then the most severe case of anti-foreigner violence in Germany. One week later, an arson attack on a house in Frankfurtmarker with 34 foreigners was detected early and nobody died. A case of arson in an asylum seeker's hostel in Lübeckmarker in 1996 in which 10 people died was never solved.A total of 135 foreigners have died in Germany to date as a result of similar xenophobic violence.

Events of May 29

According to the police report, fire broke out at the entrance of the house at 1:38 am on May 29. The fire had been set with gasoline. Mevlüde Genç, 50 years old at the time and the oldest member of the family, was able to climb out of a window and alert neighbors. She lost two daughters, two granddaughters and a niece that night.

Fire fighters arrived after five minutes, but it was too late. Gürsün İnce, 27 years old, jumped out of a window and died. Her four-year old daughter, whom she had held in her arms, survived. The girls Hatice Genç (18 years old), Gülistan Öztürk (12 years old), Hülya Genç (9 years old) and Saime Genç (4 years old) died in the flames. Bekir Genç, 15 years old, jumped burning out of a window; he survived with severe injuries. A six month old infant and a three-year old child suffered life-threatening injuries.

Defendants

The defendants were:
  • Felix Köhnen, a 16 year old student at the time of the crime. His father was a doctor active in the peace movement and his mother an architect active in environmentalist causes. There were reports that Felix fell into right-wing circles because he felt unable to cope with the academic expectations of his parents.
  • Christian Reher, a 16 year old student who grew up in children's homes. He lived close to the arson house and was the first to be arrested. He had previously distributed leaflets expressing his hatred of foreigners.
  • Christian Buchholz, 19 years old, working odd jobs. He was the son of a middle-class workman. His diary contained anti-foreigner writings.
  • Markus Gartmann, 23 years old, welfare recipient. As a youth, he was reportedly a loner who was unsuccessful with girls. He was a member of the nationalist DVU party.


All of them were members of the far right skinhead scene of Solingen and exercised together in a martial arts school. This school was later revealed to be run by an informant of the North Rhine Westfalia Verfassungsschutz, which is the state's domestic intelligence agency.

Trials

The trial, before five judges of the Oberlandesgericht Düsseldorfmarker, began in April 1994.Kohnen, Reher and Buchholz were charged as minors (limiting the maximal penalty to 10 years in prison), while Gartmann was charged as an adult. The prosecutors claimed hatred of foreigners as motive.

Gartmann had confessed to police and he later confessed again before a magistrate with his lawyer present. He also apologized to the victims. According to the confession, Gartmann, Kohnen and Buchholz had clashed with foreigners at a party that night, met up with Reher and then, while drunk, decided to "frighten" some Turks.Towards the end of the trial, Gartmann withdrew his confession, claiming that it had been issued under duress and that he had been threatened with having to share a cell with Turks. Interviewed in prison four months after the verdict, he explained that he had given a false confession because police had convinced him that that was the only way to avoid a sentence of life in prison.

Reher also confessed, but changed his story repeatedly, in the end claiming that he had acted alone. Kohnen and Buchholz denied any involvement.

No hard evidence was found linking the defendants to the crime, in part because the police had treated the crime scene in a sloppy manner. Witnesses could not clarify the events.

In October 1995, the four defendants were found guilty of murder, attempted murder and arson. The three defendants charged as minors received the maximal sentence of 10 years in prison and Gartmann was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The Bundesgerichtshofmarker confirmed the convictions on appeal in 1997.

The Turkish family sued for civil damages and won. They received about 270,000 DM and a monthly pension for one severely burned victim.

Aftermath

The memorial services were attended by several high-ranked German officials, with President Richard von Weizsäcker giving the first speech. Chancellor Helmut Kohl was criticized for not visiting Solingen nor attending the memorial or burial services; he had denounced what he called "Beileidstourismus" ("condolence tourism") of other politicians.

The case was widely reported in the international press. After a radio campaign in the Netherlandsmarker, several million postcards with "Ik ben woedend!" ("I am angry") were sent to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Hülyaplatz in Frankfurt-Bockenheim
A memorial to commemorate the event was unveiled one year after the attack, in front of the Mildred-Scheel-Schule, a school that Hatice Genç had attended. It shows two large metal figures ripping apart a swastika, surrounded by a large number of rings, each sponsored by an individual. Initially the city had agreed to a monument in the very center of the city, but then reneged, citing concerns that "social peace" might be jeopardized. The location of the arson at Untere Wernerstraße Nr. 81 is marked by five chestnut trees and a plaque. In Frankfurt-Bockenheimmarker the Hülyaplatz commemorates the events with a statue of a man hammering at a swastika.

In 1996 the German government presented Mevlüde Genç with the Bundesverdienstkreuz am Band because she went on to advocate understanding and friendship between Turks and Germans after the attack. In 2008 Germany instituted the Genç prize in her name to honor people who work for understanding and integration. One of the recipients was Kamil Kaplan, a Turk who in February 2008 had lost his wife, two daughters and his mother in a fire catastrophe in Ludwigshafenmarker in which a total of nine people had died; right-wing arson had initially been suspected, but the case was later found to have been an accident. Kaplan, like Mevlüde Genç, had called for peaceful cooperation between Turks and Germans.

Two of the perpetrators were released early because of good behavior. In September 2005, another perpetrator, Christian Reher, was sent to four months in prison for having used the Hitler salute on two occasions.

As of 2008, the surviving victims still live in Solingen, in a house built with donations and insurance money, protected by cameras and special fire windows.

Books and films

  • Yvonne Dobrodziej: Der Solinger Brandanschlag – 10 Jahre danach. Documentary film.
  • Metin Gür, Alaverdi Turhan: Die Solingen-Akte. Patmos Verlag, Düsseldorf 1996, ISBN 3-491-72352-3


See also



References

External links




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