'THE screams woke us up. Then we saw the flames. It was horrible, I will never forget it. They were such nice people, their children played with ours. They were ordinary neighbours. What is this? You feel ashamed to be German.'
Marion Heinemann, a market trader, tried to speak calmly. But her voice cracked as she described the hideous events that she and her husband Holger witnessed in the early hours of yesterday morning in their quiet street in Solingen, north-east of Cologne.
Five Turks - two women, and three children - died in an arson attack, almost certainly carried out by extreme right-wingers, that destroyed their home. It was the worst single act of violence Germany has seen since reunification and served as a bitter reminder that the racist violence plaguing the country is far from stemmed.
Holger Heinemann gazed at the burnt-out shell of his neighbours' house where just a few hours before he had watched a woman jump to her death: 'How many children must die before the politicians do something?'
Those who died were two women, aged 18 and 27, and three girls aged four, nine and 13. The 13- year-old had just arrived in Germany for a brief holiday, from Turkey.
Three others - a six-month-old baby, a three-year-old, and a 15-year-old - were all in a critical condition yesterday. The remaining 12 occupants of the building managed to escape injury, some helped by neighbours who put up ladders to let them climb through windows. The house - two storeys and an attic space - was occupied by a single extended Turkish family. Most of them had lived there for 12 years.
Youths described as wearing the clothing of the extreme right were alleged to have been seen near the scene of the attack. Neighbours said that the field immediately behind the house had become a meeting place for right-wing skinheads in recent months.
Two thousand people, Germans and Turks, demonstrated in what was described as a 'mourning protest' in Solingen. Bunches of flowers lay in the burnt windows of the house, while firemen continued to wander about the ruins. Visitors to the site included the Interior Minister, Rudolf Seiters, who was repeatedly interrupted during his speech by angry Turks. One 24-year-old, who has lived in Solingen since he was 14, said: 'I live and work here. But how can I go on living in a country like this?'
The murders seem certain to plunge Germany back into the debate that followed the arson murders of a Turkish woman and two Turkish children in the north German town of Molln in November. The nationwide reaction to those killings - it included huge, candle-lit demonstrations - forced the previously complacent government to take the issue of racist violence more seriously. For the first time, the government found it was under greater pressure from Germans shocked by the violence than from the far right, which Helmut Kohl, the German Chancellor, had been accused of being keen to appease. Mr Kohl yesterday told the Turkish President, Suleyman Demirel: 'Most Germans are aghast at such an abhorrent deed and condemn it decisively.'
The attacks in Solingen come at a sensitive time. On the opening day of the trial of two youths accused of the Molln killings, one of the prosecuting lawyers pointed out that the arson attacks on foreigners were continuing, and it was only by chance that there had been no further deaths.
Last week saw a change to the constitution, which seeks to limit the number of foreign asylum-seekers arriving in Germany. The aim was to prevent the build-up of tensions because of a flood of foreigners arriving in the country (Germany takes more refugees than any other European country). Critics of the change, agreed by the main parties, said it pandered to the far right.
A building in Munich where 20 foreigners lived was also set on fire yesterday, though nobody died.
Neal Ascherson, page 25
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