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CRIME

‘More police needed’: Killing of child puts focus on safety and security at German train stations

A young boy died after being pushed in front of a high-speed train in Frankfurt. As the suspect was set to appear in court, a nationwide debate about security at train stations is ongoing.

'More police needed': Killing of child puts focus on safety and security at German train stations
Onlookers place tributes to the eight-year-old boy at platform seven in Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

The events of Monday have left the country in shock, with unanswered questions and concerns over safety in Germany. Here's what we know so far.

What happened?   

An eight-year-old boy died after being pushed in front of an ICE train arriving at Frankfurt Central Station on Monday. 

The 40-year-old suspect, who is believed to have pushed the boy onto the tracks, is also said to have pushed the boy's mother – and he tried to push another person, too. According to police, the 40-year-old mother rescued herself by rolling onto a footpath between two tracks. The third person was able to get to safety without falling onto the tracks. 

The boy was hit by an oncoming train and sadly died. Tributes, including flowers, notes, candles and teddies, have been laid at the scene.

Tributes at platform seven. Photo: DPA

The incident took place shortly before 10am. The ICE 529 train involved had reportedly been travelling from Düsseldorf to Munich.

The alleged perpetrator then tried to flee the main station. However, onlookers chased and detained him in a street near the station until police arrived.

READ ALSO: Boy, 8, dies after being pushed in front of train in Frankfurt

Several platforms were closed in the station while investigations got underway. Frankfurt Central Station is one of the largest railway stations in Germany and is used by almost 500,000 people daily.

The suspect

According to police, the suspect is a 40-year-old man who did not know his victims. The man is said to live in Switzerland, reported Spiegel, and he is originally from Eritrea in North Africa. He has not yet commented on the attack. According to a spokeswoman for the public prosecutor's office, he will appear in court for the first time on Tuesday.

Investigators have called on witnesses to report to the police with any relevant information.

Urgent meeting on security in Germany

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, of the centre right CSU, the sister party of Angela Merkel’s CDU, interrupted his holiday to consult with security authorities in Berlin “in view of several serious recent acts”. These acts include the racist shooting of a 26-year-old Eritrean man in Hesse's Wächtersbach, as well as threats against representatives of the Left Party and against mosques in Germany.

Tensions are already high in Germany following the fatal shooting of pro-refugee CDU politician Walter Lübcke on June 2nd. The suspect in custody has multiple links to the far-right scene, according to prosecutors.

Seehofer will present the results of his meeting with security authorities at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. “The perpetrator will be held responsible for the crime by all legal means,” Seehofer said in a statement.

He pledged to provide the state of Hesse with the support of the Federal Police and the Federal Criminal Police Office if needed.

Hesse's state premier Volker Bouffier (CDU) also spoke out against the crime, describing it as an “abominable act”. Frankfurt's Mayor, Peter Feldmann, expressed his condolences to the relatives.

“What we know so far about the crime contradicts everything that Frankfurt stands for,” the SPD politician said on Facebook.

Are people safe at train stations?

The attack has also sparked a debate about security at Germany's railway stations.

Jörg Radek, deputy federal chairman of the Police Union (GdP), warned against imitators. Throughout Germany, similar cases have repeatedly caused horror.

Police closed off part of Frankfurt main station on Monday. Photo: DPA

On July 20th, a woman was pushed in front of a train at the station in the small town of Voerde, near Duisburg, in North Rhine-Westphalia. The 34-year-old mother-of-one died at the scene.

The 28-year-old suspect, who was of Kosovo Serb origin and identified as Jackson B, was known to police. He is being held in custody and is not thought to have known the victim.

In September 2018, an 18-year-old man pushed a 43-year-old on the train tracks in Cologne following a dispute, yet the victim did not sustain any injuries. The video captured by a surveillance camera showed the shocking crime.

In 2016, a 20-year-old woman died in Berlin after she was pushed in front of an oncoming U-Bahn train by a stranger in another tragic incident.

'Not enough police officers at stations'

Radeck, of the Police Union, said police were trying to be more prepared for these kinds of acts.

However, Radek told German media group RND that preventative measures have limits “in cases of intentional acts”.

In view of Germany's 5,600 stations and stops, it could be tricky to find a one-size-fits-all solution. “They are all so differently structured that it would be difficult to develop a concept for all,” he said.

Philipp Amthor of the CDU said the latest shocking incident which has resulted in the death of a youngster would see “rapid and tangible consequences for the perpetrator”.

Emergency services at Frankfurt Haputbahnhof on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

“In addition, I am open to a discussion about better security measures at our stations,” he added.

Centre-left Social Democrat's (SPD) traffic expert Martin Burkert criticized inadequate supervision of train platforms according to Germany's Bild newspaper, saying there was a lack of police officers at stations.

From the point of view of Anke Rehlinger, also of the SPD, actions like those in Frankfurt cannot be prevented by security measures. The Saarland transport minister told RND: “Such an act does not reveal a security gap, but a humanity gap”.

Stand away from platform edge

Passengers waiting for trains in Germany are being advised to stay alert when waiting for a train, to avoid using mobile phones when a train is approaching and to stand at least two metres away from the platform edge.

Unlike in some other countries, there are no ticket barriers at German train stations, so anyone can get on to a platform whether or not they have a ticket.

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CRIME

Ukrainian Holocaust survivors find safe haven in Germany

Borys Shyfrin fled as a young child, along with other members of his Jewish family, from the Nazis.

Ukrainian Holocaust survivors find safe haven in Germany

More than eight decades on, the Ukrainian Holocaust survivor has been forced from his home once more – but this time he’s found a safe haven in Germany.

Shyfrin is among a number of Ukrainian Jews who lived through the Nazi terror and have now fled to the country from which Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich launched its drive try to wipe Jews out.

He never wanted to leave Mariupol, where he had lived for decades. But Russia’s brutal assault on the Ukrainian port city made it impossible to stay.

“There was no gas, no electricity, no water whatsoever,” the 81-year-old told AFP from a care home in Frankfurt, recalling the relentless bombardment by Moscow’s forces.

“We were waiting for the authorities to come… We waited for a day, two days a week.”

Bodies of people killed by bombs and gunfire littered the streets, recalled Shyfrin, a widower who had lost contact with his only son.

“There were so many of them… no one picked them up. People got used to it – no one paid attention.”

People scraped by finding what food they could, with water supplied by a fire engine that made regular visits to his neighbourhood.

Shyfrin’s apartment was damaged during the fighting in Mariupol – defended so fiercely that it became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance – and he spent much time sheltering in the cellar of his building.

Became homeless

The elderly man eventually left Mariupol with the aid of a rabbi, who helped the local Jewish population get out of the city.

He was evacuated to Crimea, and from there, travelled on a lengthy overland journey through Russia and Belarus, eventually arriving in Warsaw, Poland.

After some weeks in Poland, a place in a care home was found in Frankfurt.

In July, he was transported to Germany in an ambulance, with the help of the Claims Conference, a Jewish organisation that has been aiding the evacuation of Ukrainian Holocaust survivors.

Shyfrin, who walks with the aid of a stick, is still processing the whirlwind of events that carried him unexpectedly to Germany.

The outbreak of war was a “very big surprise”, he said.

“I used to love (Russian President Vladimir) Putin very much,” said Shyfrin, who is a native Russian speaker, did military service in the Soviet Union, and went on to work as a radio engineer with the military.

“Now I do not know whether Putin is right to be at war with Ukraine or not – but somehow, because of this war, I have become homeless.”

Shyfrin was born in 1941, in Gomel, Belarus.

When he was just three months old, his family fled to Tajikistan to escape German Nazi forces who were occupying the region.

Many of Belarus’s Jews died during the Holocaust, in which the Nazis killed a total of six million European Jews.

In neighbouring Ukraine, the once-large Jewish community was also almost completely wiped out.

After the war, his family returned to Belarus and Shyfrin completed his studies, did military service, and settled in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, in the mid-1970s.

“Traumatised”

The pensioner seemed philosophical about the twist of fate that has forced him to leave his home.

“Well, it’s not up to me,” he said, when asked about having to flee war for the second time in his life.

His most immediate concerns are more practical – such as how to access his money back home.

“I can’t even receive my honestly earned military pension,” he said.

He recently moved to a new care home run by the Jewish community, where there are more Russian speakers.

As well as helping Shyfrin on the final leg of his journey, the Claims Conference provided him with financial assistance.

It has evacuated over 90 Ukrainian Holocaust survivors to Germany since the outbreak of the conflict, a break from the organisation’s usual work of ensuring that survivors get compensation and ongoing support.

The body had long been helping to run care programmes for Holocaust victims in Ukraine.

But, as the conflict intensified, it became clear such care programmes could no longer be sustained, particularly in the east, said Ruediger Mahlo, the Conference’s representative in Germany.

“Because many of the survivors needed a lot of care and could not survive without this help, it was clear we had to try to do everything to evacuate (them),” he told AFP.

Getting them out involved huge logistical challenges, from finding ambulances in Ukraine to locating suitable care homes.

For many of the frail Holocaust survivors, it can be a struggle to grasp the fact that they have found refuge in Germany, said Mahlo.

They are fleeing to a country that “had in the past persecuted them, and done everything to kill them,” he said.

“Certainly, they are traumatised,” he said.

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