(JTA) — Authorities in Berlin are investigating two attacks on Jewish train riders reported on the same day last week, amid a rise in the number of reported incidents of antisemitism in that city.
In one incident that took place Sept. 13, Ariel Kirzon, the Orthodox rabbi who leads the community of Potsdam, a Berlin suburb, said he was speaking Hebrew on a cell phone outside a commuter rail station when a man pushed him and insulted him with anti-Jewish slurs, calling him a “schrecklicher Scheissjude” (terrible f—ing Jew).
Kirzon said his 13-year-old son, who was with him at the time, is now fearful about living in Germany and the family is considering sending him to the United States to live. “I have traveled the United States very often, been to all the big cities,” the rabbi, who is affiliated with the Chabad movement, told the BZ tabloid. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me there.”
Later the same day, a 33-year-old man was verbally attacked and beaten in the S-bahn commuter train, Berlin police announced. The attacker reportedly used anti-Jewish slurs, and proceeded — together with another man — to beat the victim around the head and upper body. Another passenger tried to protect the victim, who then got off the train, while the perpetrator remained on board. The victim’s physical injuries were not serious enough to warrant treatment, police said.
Both cases are under investigation by the State Security Service, and the victims have filed charges. In at least Kirzon’s case, investigators said they have secured surveillance video of the station, but the perpetrators remain at large.
The reports come amid a rising tally of antisemitic incidents in Berlin, according to the Research and Information Center on Anti-Semitism, a German watchdog organization, known as RIAS. The group documented 1,052 incidents in 2021, including 22 physical attacks; more than half of the reports involved online antisemitism. The totals in 2020 and 2019 were 1,019 and 886 respectively.
The nationwide statistics have Jewish leaders worried, as well. Germany’s most recent report on annual antisemitic crimes nationwide, released in May, noted a nearly 29% increase in such crimes in 2021 over the previous year. It is based on statistics reported in May by the Federal Criminal Police Office, Germany’s equivalent to the FBI.
Since reporting the attack against him last week, Kirzon has called for more security to be provided to his community in Potsdam. Police patrol the synagogue on holidays, but he would like officers present during the rest of the year, too, according to German news reports.
Kirzon, who emigrated to Germany from Ukraine 10 years ago, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he experienced an antisemitic incident in 2019 while walking at night in Berlin during the Passover holiday: Four men, who were carrying bottles and were apparently drunk, hurled “the worst” anti-Jewish slurs at him in Russian, he said. There was no physical attack in that case, he told JTA in a phone interview Monday.
“They looked to see how I would react, and I pretended I did not understand Russian,” he recalled. Kirzon reported this incident to RIAS but not to the police. “I kept on walking, because I already have experiences in Ukraine, also with drunkards.” He said he knew someone who was seriously injured after defending himself.
He said there have been no arrests in the latest case; the police have not contacted him since Thursday, when they took the jacket he had been wearing as evidence.