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CRIME

German police investigate death threats against pro-vaccine politician

German police and special forces on Wednesday launched an operation in the eastern city of Dresden after death threats were issued against a top politician who backed coronavirus vaccines, authorities said.

Saxony special forces raid in Dresden
Saxony special forces police conduct a raid on a house in Dresden believed to have a connection with death threats against CDU politician Michael Kretschmer on December 15th, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael

The security forces in Saxony acted following the threats from an anti-vaccine group against Saxony state premier Michael Kretschmer.

“Statements from certain members of the group suggested they might have real weapons,” police said in a statement.

Last week, special forces officials announced that a Telegram chat group called ‘Dresden Offline Connection’ was involved.

In their communication and in conversations at secret and partly openly filmed meetings in the greater Dresden area, there had been statements about assassination plans concerning Kretschmer and other representatives of the state government.

An investigation was opened after journalists from public broadcaster ZDF infiltrated the Telegram chat and reported on December 7th that there were death threats allegedly issued against Kretschmer.

ZDF revealed the contents of messages allegedly involving a hundred members of the chat group “linked by their opposition to vaccines, to the state and the current health policies”, the prosecutor said.

Audio messages called for opposing “if necessary with weapons” the Covid measures in place, targeting politicians — Kretschmer in particular.

Authorities suspected “the preparation of a violent crime that threatens the state”, Saxony police said on Twitter.

Anti-vaccination movement 

A large movement has emerged in Germany against health restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is particularly strong in Saxony, in former East Germany, one of the regions worst hit by the resurgent coronavirus and where the vaccination rate is lower than the national average.

At the beginning of December, protestors gathered outside the house of the Saxony state minister of health with torches and whistles, a demonstration which was condemned by politicians.

Michael Kretschmer
Saxony state premier Michael Kretschmer (CDU) leaves the state chancellery on November 30th, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

READ ALSO: Germany’s new government condemns ‘aggressive’ anti-vax movement

In the midst of a strong fourth wave of the virus, the German government decided to strengthen restrictions on unvaccinated people, banning them from public venues, restaurants and non-essential commerce.

Compulsory vaccination could be voted on by the German parliament in the coming weeks, with the obligation to get the jab coming into force in February or March.

The number of individuals opposed to the health restrictions and prepared to use violence was between 15,000 and 20,000, Social Democrat security expert Sebastian Fiedler said on Tuesday in an interview with the German daily Bild.

Telegram should ‘eliminate hate and agitation’

The news also comes amid growing calls for action against Telegram.

Speaking to the Augsburger Allgemeine on Wednesday, Bavarian state premier Markus Söder said the encrypted messaging service was becoming a central route for hate and agitation on the internet.

“First of all, one has to make the clear demand to Telegram to eliminate hate and agitation and also make it legally binding,” he said. “Should that service then not agree to help, then there are also ways to block it.” 

READ ALSO: German protests against Covid restrictions turn nasty

The Federal Office of Justice categorises Telegram as a social network, rather than a simple messaging service – meaning that it falls under the same regulations as Facebook and Twitter. Under these laws, criminal content should be blocked or deleted quickly.

According to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, supporters of the Covid-denier scene often use the service to spread their messages and mobilise for demonstrations and events.

By Sebastien Ash, with additional reporting by The Local

Vocabulary 

Special forces – (die) Spezialkräfte

Death threats – (die) Morddrohungen 

Encrypted – verschlüsselt 

Legally binding – rechtlich verbindlich

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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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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