I moved to Berlin a year and a half ago to support Jewish communities in Germany and across Europe. This past year I traveled to Halle to spend Yom Kippur with the local community, which is mainly made up of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union. I expected a moving and spiritual experience.
Little did I know that I would get stuck in the crossfire of a terror shooting attack nor that I was to become a statistic in the steady rise of global antisemitism.
I walked out of the synagogue just a few minutes before the assailant arrived. I walked out the same door that the assailant tried to break in and shoot down, the same place where he brutally killed Jana L. If I had walked out a few minutes later, I might not be alive today.
The shooter tried to attack the synagogue and when he could not get in, he shot a woman, Jana L., passing by on the street. A nurse who walked by tried to help her but the assailant started shooting at her. He then ran to the Kiez Doner shop a few meters away and killed someone inside. The street he ran down to get to the Kiez Doner shop is the same street I walked on just a few minutes earlier.
I missed him twice.
Fast forward to this summer. When I got the court summons asking me to be the first witness in the trial against the attacker in Halle, I was not sure what to do. I felt like I had taken great strides to move on from this personal ordeal in my life. I wanted to maintain my privacy. I was also nervous about seeing the neo-nazi who tried to carry out an attack on the holiest day of the Jewish year. This was a man who had written extensively before the attack about his hatred specifically for people from both Jewish and Muslim faiths and for feminism.
As I discovered more about the trial proceedings, I realized I could yield my voice as a powerful tool for justice, not only for myself, but for the other survivors, for my family and community, the Jewish people, and every other marginalized population.
I had also briefly questioned if I was strong enough to step into such an act of power. Looking back, I cannot believe I doubted myself because when I understood the meaning and purpose of all of this, I felt steady, strong, and ready for this moment.
On September 1, 2020, I entered the courtroom and faced my attacker for the first time in almost a year to share my testimony.
This was my opportunity to be a part of a kiddush Hashem, and a way to memorialize my grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, and all other victims of the Nazis — those murdered and survivors alike.
While on the stand I told him in no uncertain terms, “You messed with the wrong person, with the wrong family, with the wrong co-plaintiffs. You messed with the wrong people. From this day on, you will no longer cause me personal agony. It ends today.” My testimony was met with applause in the courtroom and then supported by the German press.
One of the mainstream German newspapers, Taz DE captured the moment of applause when I stood up to a neo-nazi. In that moment, I was representing every person whose identity has ever been threatened.
It was also at this moment that I created a sacred connection to the generations past, who were determined to shield me from evil and had hoped that they were the last generation to experience such hate.
I took a piece of paper out of my pocket. On it is written the prayer my grandfather always blessed me with tears on the eve of Yom Kippur. I read it in Hebrew and English: “May God bless and protect you / May God show you favor and be gracious to you / May God show you kindness and grant you peace.” As the Berliner Zeitung reported, “at the moment when Mollie Sharfman. recites the prayer, it is completely silent in the courtroom. It is as if all of the dead from her family were suddenly sitting in the room.”
My grandfather survived the Holocaust. He was the sole survivor of his immediate family – his mother, his father, his three young brothers, grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins – all exterminated. His entire community, taken on cattle cars to Auschwitz on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. Over 100 relatives were killed in the holocaust. I carried with me to the witness stand a picture of my grandfather and me. I was his first grandchild, the new link in the chain that was almost completely broken. From the minute I was born, I became his greatest joy.
He held me tight, determined to shield me from all evil.
For so long, my grandfather was the only survivor in our family. On October 9, 2019, I joined the ranks of survivors. I stand alongside him. The strength that I exhibit comes from my family’s faith and resilience. I do not just represent myself today.
I represent the generations of the Jewish People who came before me and all of those who will come after me.
You can also watch my remarks at the rally against racism that took place upon completion of my testimony. It is a summary of the testimony.
Mollie Sharfman, the granddaughter of a holocaust survivor, is the Communications Liaison at Educating for Impact and a board member of Morasha Germany. Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, USA, she is currently based in Berlin, Germany.
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