On December 19, 2016, as innocent people visited a Christmas market in Berlin, a terrorist drove a truck straight into the crowd. The attack took the lives of 12 people and injured dozens of others.
Ahead of the one-year anniversary, the families of the 12 who perished penned an open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, which was published on Friday by German magazine Der Spiegel.
In the letter, they explained that in the wake of unthinkable sorrow they joined together to share in their grief, support each other, and remain informed about “developments in politics and the media.” They addressed Merkel to air grievances that concern “both the lack of anti-terrorist work in Germany as well as dealing with us as victims and survivors.”
The families acknowledged that it's impossible to guarantee “absolute security against terrorist attacks,” but noted that Germany's failures regarding anti-terrorism work “are classified as alarming.”
“The terrorist who perpetrated the attack on Breitscheidplatz came to Germany at the beginning of the refugee crisis among many migrants, applied for asylum on several occasions, was known as one of the top perpetrators and has also repeatedly been convicted before the attack,” the letter stated.
It also identified a series of mistakes that the German government made that could have possibly prevented the attack:
- His fingerprints for electronic identification were “not evaluated or only with great delay.”
- He was known as a top threat and to be engaged in commercial drug trafficking but observed “only occasionally and only on weekdays and never at night.”
- Opportunities for deportation were missed.
“Chancellor Merkel, the attack on the Breitscheidplatz is also a tragic consequence of the political inactivity of your federal government,” the families wrote and pointed to a lack of advancement in developing resources to combat the increased threat.
“As far as dealing with the bereaved, we must take note, Chancellor Merkel, that you did not condole us either personally or in writing almost a year after the attack,” they noted. “We believe that this does not do justice to your position.”
The families of the victims — some of whom were victims themselves — added that as the leader of Germany, it is a matter of “respect” and “decency” that she acknowledge the loss they faced at the hands of a terrorist act.
On the day after the attack, Merkel paid tribute to the victims at a memorial service, however, the families noted that while she was able to grieve, they were left in the dark because of an information block that gave the government 72 hours to identify the victims.
“So while the funeral service took place, we bereaved people in desperation looking for our relatives and visited all the hospitals in Berlin in person or contacted them by phone,” the letter explained.
While they criticized the lack of responsiveness and aid to the financial burden such a sudden loss inevitably brings, they noted that no amount of money can bring back what their lives are missing.
“The loss of a loved one can not be compensated by material compensation. The gap in our lives will remain and accompany us to the end of our lives,” the letter stated. “We have to learn to handle it.”
In addition to writing the letter on their own behalf, they also penned it on behalf of the future of Germany, as they were certain the Berlin attack would not be the last and called for change.
“The simple continuation of the current failure of the Federal Republic is irresponsible,” the families concluded.
On Monday, government spokesman Steffen Seibert called the letter “moving” and “critical.” He announced Merkel will meet with the families on December 18, although he told The Local that the meeting was already on the books. Seibert explained the chancellor will listen to their grievances to identify “which lessons can be learned.”