German Arson Attack Kills Five Foreigners
In the worst atrocity to befall foreign residents in post-World War II Germany, five Turkish nationals were killed and three others were critically injured in an arson attack on their family home early Saturday in the western city of Solingen.
The attack, believed to have been carried out by right-wing extremist youths, stunned the nation and triggered a wave of fear and anger among the 6 million foreigners living in the country.
The dead were all female and included children, ages 5 and 9. Among those critically hurt were an infant and a toddler.
Witnesses reported seeing skinhead youths in the area shortly before the attack, and Chief Federal Prosecutor Alexander von Stahl, who immediately took charge of the case, said that initial signs indicated far rightists carried out the attack.
“We are starting with the belief that the attackers are right-wing extremists,” he said. “There is evidence.” He declined to elaborate.
Police sealed off a nearby playground where a swastika had been drawn in the sand.
The killings bring a new, horrific dimension to the unfolding social and political nightmare of modern Germany: that raw hatred of foreigners again stalks the land.
Within hours after news of the arson attack broke, thousands of Germans and Turks had taken to the streets of several large cities to express outrage over the deaths.
More than 1,000 marched in Solingen itself, and by early evening hundreds of mainly Turkish nationals milled around outside the charred remains of the three-story house near the city center where the family had lived for 30 years.
Leading politicians who rushed to the scene, including Interior Minister Rudolf Seiters, were booed as they arrived and shouted down as they tried to address a crowd that had gathered near the scene.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s government has been consistently criticized for not taking tougher steps to stop the wave of xenophobic attacks that have claimed 22 lives in the last 17 months.
More than 630 right-wing attacks against foreigners have been registered so far this year, up nearly 50% from the same period in 1992.
Within a few hours of the Solingen deaths, 13 people, all foreigners, were treated for smoke inhalation in Munich after the home in which they were staying was set on fire. Other incidents were reported in Hannover and an east Berlin suburb.
Saturday’s attack in Solingen was virtually a carbon copy of an incident in the northern city of Moelln last November in which a Turkish grandmother and two girls died when their home was set ablaze.
The reaction to the Moelln deaths finally shocked the government, which strengthened its condemnations of such attacks and banned four tiny neo-Nazi political parties.
The Moelln attack also generated demonstrations in which millions of Germans expressed solidarity with the country’s foreign residents.
Two skinhead youths are currently on trial for those murders.
Saturday’s killings, which are certain to have major domestic political fallout, also brought swift international condemnation.
Turkish Prime Minister Erdal Inonu demanded immediate measures from the German government to protect the large Turkish minority living in this country.
“It’s all very nice to show you are reacting, but there must be concrete measures linked to any reaction,” he told a news conference.
In a letter to the Turkish government, Kohl extended his sympathies to relatives of the victims.
Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, attempting to dampen the international impact of the attack, condemned what he called “this atrocity,” but he admitted that Germany’s image would suffer further because of it.
The German minority rights group, SOS Racism, also issued a statement demanding action.
“Expressions of outrage aren’t enough; there must be action,” the statement said.
The group demanded increased police protection and immediate fire protection measures for homes in which foreigners live and a law compensating foreigners who are victims of racist attacks.
Violence against foreigners has grown sharply in Germany during the last three years, but it has been directed mainly against the hundreds of thousands of economic refugees who have flooded into the country from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa since the collapse of the Iron Curtain.
Only last week, the Parliament approved a constitutional amendment tightening the liberal asylum law that allowed foreigners to enter Germany easily.
But prolonged government inaction in the face of the violence during much of 1991 and 1992 spawned a general impression of tacit public approval for the attacks, which inevitably spread to the long-established Turkish community.
The target of the Solingen arson attack was owned by a Turkish family that has lived in Germany for 30 years. Authorities identified the victims as Saime Genc, 5, and her sisters Hulia, 9, Hatice, 18, and Gulfun Ince, 27, all of whom were born in Germany. A 12-year-old visitor from Turkey, Gulistan Yuksel, also died.
Unless they marry German nationals, foreigners residing in Germany rarely attain citizenship or the right to vote, no matter how long they have lived in the country.
Consequently, the deeply rooted Turkish minority of 1.7 million, who first came as so-called guest workers in the late 1950s and early 1960s, has virtually no political representation.
During the day Saturday, politicians resumed a debate on the country’s minorities that has sputtered along for much of the last two years, with those from the political left demanding an easing of citizenship requirements and voting rights while those from the right argued that the answer lies in greater police protection.
Meanwhile, some of those within the Turkish community seemed on the edge of despair.
One unidentified middle-aged man said to a television reporter: “I lived in Turkey for 17 years; I’ve lived here for 32 years. Where is my home? My children were born here. Where is their home?”
Times researchers Angelika Wagner in Bonn and Petra Falkenberg in Berlin contributed to this article.