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CRIME

More than 600 abuse victims in German diocese of Münster

At least 600 young people were documented as having been abused by Catholic priests in the German diocese of Münster, but the actual number of victims could be 10 times higher, according to a report.

Felix Genn, Bishop of Münster, at a press conference after the report on abuse was published on Monday June 13th.
Felix Genn, Bishop of Münster, at a press conference after the report on historical abuse was published on Monday June 13th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Guido Kirchner

The diocese has official records on 610 abuse victims, according to the report by the University of Münster – around a third more than indicated by a previous study from 2018.

However, historian Natalie Powroznik, who was involved in the study, said the true number of victims could be much higher with “about 5,000 to 6,000 affected girls and boys” in the diocese.

At least 5,700 individual acts of sexual abuse had been committed by a total of 196 clergymen, including 183 priests, according to the report published on Monday.

Five percent of the clergymen involved were found to be serial offenders with more than 10 victims, and less than 10 percent had faced any legal consequences.

At the peak of the abuse during the 1960s and 1970s, there were on average two cases per week in the diocese, the report said.

Three in four victims were boys, the majority between 10 and 14 years old, with many of the acts committed against altar boys or at children’s and youth camps.

The study reported considerable psychological consequences for the victims reaching into adulthood, including depression and suicidal thoughts, with indications of attempted suicide in 27 cases.

Widespread abuse

The bishop of Münster, Felix Genn, is due to comment in detail on the study on Friday.

The authors accuse Genn, who has been the bishop of Münster since 2009, of failing to take action against abusers.

In an initial response on Monday, Genn said he would “naturally accept responsibility for the mistakes I myself made in dealing with sexual abuse”.

Germany’s Catholic Church has been rocked by a string of reports in recent years that have exposed widespread abuse of children by clergymen.

A study commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference in 2018 concluded that 1,670 clergymen in the country had committed some form of sexual attack against 3,677 minors between 1946 and 2014.

However, the real number of victims is thought to be much higher.

READ ALSO: Ex-pope Benedict under scrutiny in German child abuse probe

In January, a report into the diocese of Munich and Freising found indications of sexually abusive behaviour in 235 people it investigated, including 173 priests, while there were at least 497 victims.

The report also found former pope Benedict XVI had knowingly failed to take action to stop four priests accused of child sex abuse in in the 1980s, when he was the archbishop of Munich.

Another report published last year exposed the scope of abuse committed by priests in Germany’s top diocese of Cologne.

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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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