A mayor in the small German town of Altena was slashed in the neck by a man who was upset about the mayor’s pro-refugee stance.
Andreas Hollstein, 54, had stopped by a kebab shop on Monday night when he said was approached by a man asking if he was the mayor. According to Hollstein, the man began accusing him of “bring[ing] in refugees”, produced a foot-long blade, and lunged at him.
The mayor was saved by the quick-thinking of kebab shop owner Ahmet Demir and his family. Demir and his father overwhelmed the attacker, while his mother called the police, who arrived quickly and arrested the assailant.
Hollstein, who suffered a six-inch cut to the left side of his neck, praised the family, who are of Turkish origin, for their reactions.
“I’m sure if they hadn’t reacted like that, I wouldn’t be alive now,” he said.
German politicians were quick to condemn the attack, which the country’s security services said was politically motivated. “I am outraged by the knife attack on Mayor Andreas Hollstein, and very relieved that he is able to be back with his family,” Chancellor Angela Merkel tweeted. “Thanks also to those who helped him.”
Justice Minister Heiko Mass tweeted, “We must never accept attacks on people who are just helping others. There must be no room in our country for hatred and violence.”
Hollstein has been subjected to a barrage of abuse from Germans critical of his pro-refugee immigration stance. His small town of Altena took in more than 100 extra refugees in 2015 and established a network pairing new families with sponsors to help them integrate. “Everyone who works for people…is experiencing hate spread through social media and threats — I have had several in the past years,” Hollstein told the New York Times. “Interaction at the municipal level, not only in dealing with refugees, has become increasingly tough and ruthless.”
The attack on Mr Hollstein is the latest example of the growing specter of far-right extremism within Germany. Earlier this year, the German newspaper Tagespiel reported that authorities were aware of at least 23,000 far-right extremists in Germany, 12,100 of whom were described as violence-prone. Disturbingly, intelligence services also found an increasing number of first-time offenders who were not previously classified as far-right extremists.
The high-profile trial of alleged neo-Nazi Beate Zschäpe is also nearing its conclusion after four years. Zschäpe is accused of being part of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), which is accused of killing ten people, including a policewoman, between 2000 and 2007. The group is also accused of arson, two bomb attacks, and 15 robberies.
Hollstein is not the first German mayor to be attacked over refugee policies in recent years: In 2015, mayoral candidate for Cologne Henriette Reker was also stabbed in the neck while handing out roses to pedestrians, by a man angry with her policies.
“We are shocked by the misdeed’s presumed xenophobic motive,” her campaign said at the time, adding that she was recovering in the hospital with family by her side. (Although Reker, an independent, was stabbed one day before the election, she managed to coast to victory with 52 percent of the vote.)
None of this is helped by the fact that Chancellor Merkel’s government is currently at an impasse. After being dealt a heavy blow in the September elections, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, has spent the last two months trying to form a coalition government with the Social Democrats Party (SPD).
However, progress has been limited, raising the possibility of new elections just months after the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party gained an unheard-of 13 percent of the vote. One of AfD’s flagship criticisms: Merkel’s immigration policies and the idea that she had helped speed up the “Islamisation” of Germany.
“Islam’s expansion and the ever-increasing number of Muslims in the country are…a danger to our state, our society and our values,” the group’s manifesto reads.