The case of a young Muslim refugee charged with the rape and murder of a teenage girl has captured media attention and rocked Germany’s Jewish community: the victim, 14-year-old Susanna Feldmann, was Jewish.
Missing since May 22, the girl’s body was found June 6 buried in a shallow grave near her hometown of Mainz.
Before it appeared that antisemitism likely played no role in this crime, the story spread in German Jewish social media circles — so much so that the Central Council of Jews in Germany – the country’s EJC affiliate – stepped in with a statement meant both to show sympathy and douse flames. “A young life has been cruelly cut short. Our deepest sympathy goes to her relatives and friends,“ the council’s president, Josef Schuster, said in a media statement on June 7 that noted the family’s membership in the Mainz Jewish community. But, he added, “premature conclusions or speculation [about the case] are out of the question.”
Schuster told JTA that he decided to comment in part because he had “heard that in social media the victim was being instrumentalised for xenophobic, anti-migration ends.” He said the case, which he called “very tragic,” is relevant to everyone in Germany, not just to Jews.
A legislator from the far-right, anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany (AfD) held a minute of silence for Susanna in the Bundestag on Friday, and was roundly accused of politicising the murder.
On Sunday, two clashing demonstrations with several hundred participants were held in Mainz. On one side, far-right, anti-Merkel protesters carried candles and photos of Susanna. On the other, jeering counterdemonstrators toted signs condemning violence against women and “right-wing instrumentalisation.” More rallies are being planned.
The fact that Susanna was Jewish is barely mentioned in later news stories, and that is fitting, Schuster said. “I assume that a girl of any religious background could have become a victim as well,” the Jewish leader said. Schuster decried the abuse of such cases “by right populists.”
“They use victims as a means to an end, and that’s simply disgraceful,” he said.
Schuster sees this as one of many cases from which German politics must learn.
“I expect the judiciary to come down just as hard on crimes by migrants as it does on crimes by Germans,” he said. But “if someone abuses his privilege to remain in Germany as a guest, the consequences for his right of residence must be examined and the full force of the law applied.”