Germany commemorates victims of racist shooting, 1 year on

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The names of the nine victims of the Hanau shooting are painted on a building in Hanau, Germany, Thursday, Feb.18, 2021. One year ago a far right man shot nine people before he shot himself. Hanau will commemorate the victims on Friday. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

BERLIN – Top officials, religious leaders and soccer stars are commemorating the victims of a racist attack in the German town of Hanau, one year after the gunman shot dead nine people with immigrant backgrounds in downtown cafes and bars before killing his mother and then himself.

The rampage in Hanau, near Frankfurt, caused widespread shock in Germany and beyond. Anti-racism campaigners called for a crackdown on hate speech of the kind espoused by the attacker, Tobias Rathjen, who left behind a paranoid rant filled with conspiracy tropes and vitriol against migrants.

The head of Germany's Protestant church, Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, called Friday for vigilance when it comes to overt and hidden racism.

“We have almost forgotten again what happened back then,” he said in a video message. “But the relatives of the victims are suffering to this day.”

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was due to make a speech at a memorial event in Hanau in the evening expressing solidarity with the victims and their loved ones.

Relatives have called for the names of the victims — Ferhat Unvar, Hamza Kurtovic, Said Nesar Hashemi, Vili Viorel Paun, Mercedes Kierpacz, Kaloyan Velkov, Fatih Saracoglu, Sedat Guerbuez and Goekhan Gueltekin — to be widely publicized, a rare practice in privacy-conscious Germany.

Mehmet Daimagueler, a prominent lawyer who has represented victims of other racist crimes in Germany, said the attack in Hanau should prompt politicians to reflect on the stereotypes about migrants they repeat, including portraying shisha bars as crime dens.

“The state needs to start fighting racism in its own house," Daimagueler told news portal Watson, calling for racist officials to lose their jobs and victims of hate crimes to be taken more seriously.