BERLIN (AP) — Germany's leading Jewish group said Monday an attack on a Jewish student outside a synagogue “can only be classified as anti-Semitic” — an assessment that was later confirmed by the authorities.
“The situation that Jews increasingly become a target of hatred must not leave anybody cold in a state of law like Germany,” said Josef Schuster, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.
The 26-year-old man, who was wearing a skullcap, was about to enter the synagogue grounds in the northern city of Hamburg on Sunday when he was hit on the head with what appeared to be a folding spade, police said. He was taken to the hospital with head injuries.
There was no official update on the victim's condition Monday, but local daily Hamburger Abendblatt reported that while the man was in intensive care, his life was not in danger.
The suspected perpetrator, a 29-year-old German man of Kazakh origin wearing military style clothes, was arrested after the attack.
Hamburg police and prosecutors said in a joint statement that the assault was being evaluated as attempted murder with an alleged anti-Semitic motive.
A spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said the German government is shocked that “such a violent crime can happen on German streets.”
“This is sickening,” Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin and expressed wishes for a speedy recover of the victim. “We condemn this attack in the sharpest possible way.”
The attack came nearly a year after a heavily armed white supremacist targeted a synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism. He killed a passer-by and a man at a nearby kebab stall after failing to force his way into the building.
Security at Jewish institutions across Germany has been increased since the attack in Halle, but Schuster from the Central Council of Jews said there had to be an investigation into how security at the Hamburg synagogue could be further improved.
Jews were gathering Sunday to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot at the Hamburg synagogue, yet officers guarding the building were not able to detain the attacker before he approached his victim right in front of the synagogue.
Authorities said Sunday night that the Hamburg attacker seemed confused during a first interrogation by police. Overnight, they searched an apartment in Hamburg where the attacker last lived and confiscated evidence such as data storage devices. They were also investigating how the suspect got hold of the Germany army uniform he was wearing during the attack, and confirmed that a piece of paper with a swastika scribbled on it was found in his pocket.
Authorities said the man appeared to have acted on his own and was not previously known to police.
A Hamburg rabbi said the city's community, was “very, very shocked” by the assault.
“The question is: What have we not learned since Halle?” Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky said.
There is heightened concern in Germany over rising anti-Semitism and far-right extremism. In 2019, authorities registered an average of five anti-Semitic crimes per day. Those included physical attacks, property damage, threats, anti-Semitic propaganda and other acts of malicious behavior such as giving the stiff-armed Nazi salute.
“This is not an isolated case — this is repugnant anti-Semitism and we must all stand up against it,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted Sunday night.