Mr. Erkan, you look after the victims of the Hanau attack, in which ten people were killed. How are those affected?
Robert Erkan: I no longer ask this question to those affected. Because then it always comes back: How am I supposed to be? No different from yesterday and the day before yesterday and since February 19. Paralysis still prevails among those affected. So I ask rather: could you sleep through the night? Are your relatives there? Questions whose answers I see how stable people are.
And how stable are they?
Everyone affected is different. And it’s waves that these people are going through, little tsunamis. Above all, there is a deep pain about losing a loved one in such a brutal way. And there is anger and anger, too. How did this act happen? Why wasn’t it prevented? And why did it hit my son, daughter, brother, sister? All in all, however, the relatives react calmly and prudently. The right work – therapeutic and pastoral – basically only begins now when people come to rest and everything comes up in them.
Kemal Kocak, the operator of a kiosk where five of the victims were shot, also reports fear. A fear that haunts him into the living room.
Yes, all those affected share this fear. She comments on everyday questions: Is my apartment still safe? Can I take my kids to school? And she follows the victims to their own four walls. It is then images that arise in the head. Some even believe that the perpetrator is still alive.
What is the impact of the fact that the act was a racist one?
A big. Because fear affects many people. The victims were random, in the wrong place at the wrong time. But they were n’t accidental victims either, because they were chosen. After all, they were different. Of course, we have all experienced everyday racism, even if not everyone has made it public. But now we are experiencing terror, an attack on being different. And this inhuman message has an impact. The people who run the shops near the crime scenes flinch when someone comes in who they don’t know like the perpetrator did.
40 percent of Hanauers have a migration background. How is the city dealing with the terrorist act?
On the one hand, there is this uncertainty. Suddenly, people born and integrated here, seeing themselves as part of society, say: I’ve never been afraid, but now I’m afraid. It is a feeling that extends beyond Hanau. But city society is also reacting very strongly. All of the Hanau stands together. “The victims were not strangers,” is the slogan after the attack. This message can be experienced here. Mayor Claus Kaminsky has made victim care a top priority. Even if I am not always in line with him politically, he does it well.
How can you help the victims right now?
The demand situation is different from day today. At the very beginning, the most pressing requirement was that the bodies be released. The relatives wanted their loved ones! Then it was about the funerals. Should the dead be buried here or transferred? Where should there be prayers for the dead? How do funeral services take place? The staff, the whole team, implemented this incredibly well in their spirit. And now there are questions about compensation, therapies or new homes where this is necessary. We are only the mediators, but make sure that everything runs as uncomplicated as possible and leads to implementation on site.
There are now parents who have lost their sons. Women whose partners are dead. Two toddlers who no longer have a mother. How do you manage that?
We try to help everyone as they need it. It is indeed intense. I started working from six in the morning until two in the morning. My cell phone kept ringing. But we are also a large team, for example with the members of the Foreigners’ Advisory Board, who help those affected directly and on-site. And if you speak to the shot mother: Of course that is one of the main tasks, a very bad case. We work very sensitively, also very closely with the offices. We involve the family before each decision.
People like Kemal Kocak, the kiosk owner, are also affected. Is there any help for them?
It is an important issue. Because the shops that turned into crime scenes are still closed today. This means lost sales, the operators are on the brink of bankruptcy. Existences depend on this, these people also urgently need help. But that has not yet been clarified. These people are also victims of the attack. I am not a lawyer, but there may be a legal loophole here. And then there are victims we don’t even know yet. Who may live opposite the crime scenes, have been staring at it for three weeks and are also afraid. We must also try to find them and offer them help.
The Federal Government’s Victims Officer, Edgar Franke, also promised support to the victims, especially immediate financial aid. Does this work?
Yes, the emergency aid is straightforward, often a signature is enough. Mr. Franke also came quickly to Hanau and visited the families. Then he noticed that we were already underway. We then synchronized our work, which goes hand in hand.
Are the 30,000 euros that the federal government pays to the close relatives of the victims?
We have to wait and see. A gap has been torn in the victims that will last a lifetime. There are voices now saying that we would like more funding.
Serpil Temiz, the mother of the killed Ferhat Unvar, demands lifelong support for the victim’s families, for example through sponsorships.
I agree 100 percent if the need demands it. Because that’s the central point: we want to make the victims involved again in this society. And for that, they don’t need pity, but real help. We have to give them a largely normal life again and bring them back into our midst. You are a victim, yes. But we must not only see the victim for a lifetime but the whole person. Otherwise, we would indirectly create exactly what the perpetrator wanted.
Some of those affected also make political demands. Serpil Temiz also calls for a foundation against racism. Kemal Kocak says: “We want to see action.”
Of course, every victim can express his opinion. I generally think the idea of a foundation is good. The idea is: We need something institutional, something long-term to fight racism. It will be seen whether this will ultimately become a foundation or something else. And I realize more and more urgently that a complete clarification of the fact is essential for the victims. My request to the investigators is that they not only report their results soon but first to the families and not to the press. That would be important.
Most recently, you met with Hesse’s Prime Minister Volker Bouffier with other victims’ associations and religious communities: What came out of it?
That was not just Mr. Bouffier, but almost the entire cabinet. At first, they only listened to us, almost two and a half hours, that was good. Mr. Bouffier has agreed that victim assistance should take place directly on-site and as uncomplicated as possible. We also talked about everyday racism. The question remains: What will be decided politically in the end? And how sustainable is that?
Do you think something sustainable will be decided?
It is now up to Mr. Bouffier and politics. But I hope we all conclude the act. That we show charity in everyday life and say to others: If there is anything, I help you, we stick together. I wish that.
At the moment everyone is almost only talking about the Coronavirus. Is the fate of the victims threatened to move into the background?
This development is of course out of date. In the current situation, the suffering of those affected will not be made smaller, rather it will be even greater, and will face yet another challenge. It is therefore important to keep an eye on the victims of the attack. So far, however, the authorities have done that, luckily. In any case, we in the core team stay tuned and continue from home. Nevertheless, it does not make it easier because the social and discussions are urgent and distance, even if it is now correct and necessary, is not conducive.
With the workload, you are currently doing: How are you doing?
I’m currently experiencing the most extraordinary days of my professional life, even beyond physical limits, that’s right. But you work in those moments, keep going. In between, I also had a crying cramps. I recently ordered the recovery phases. Because I will still need a lot of air. This task will be a marathon, the victims will need a very long time to help. And I want to be there for them.