The Vietnamese think ahead

Racist arson attack: Why did Germany forget Do Anh Lan?

Why did Germany forget Do Anh Lan? - Page 1

Racism orders our thinking and living together. With the series "Everyday Racism" we want to find out why this is the case, what it means for society and how that could be changed. With a visit to the pensioner Do Mui, we want to find out what consequences a racist crime can have decades later.

If you look around Do Mui's apartment, you will see photos of her son Do Anh Lan on almost every wall. The pensioner has put up a black-and-white portrait in the wooden closet above the flat-screen TV and a faded full-body photo on the family altar on the left: sunglasses, denim shirt, hands resting casually on her hips. In front of the photo: fresh fruit, cookies and extinguished incense sticks. Do Anh Lan is no longer alive, he died 38 years ago.

In 1980, he and his roommate Nguyen Ngoc Chau were victims of an arson attack on their refugee home. It is the first documented racist murder by Germans of foreigners in the Federal Republic after 1945. And Do Muis living room yellowed by incense stick smoke is the only place that reminds of the young man.

On August 21, 1980, Heinz Colditz, Sibylle Vorderbrügge and Raymund Hörnle drove to Hamburg by car. The three had met in the doctor's office in Colditz, they were well networked in the right-wing extremist scene and counted themselves to the terrorist cell German Action Group. Now they were on tour in Germany.

At a gas station they bought a newspaper, that Hamburger Abendblatt. One of the articles described how angry some people in Hamburg were about the relocation of 29 asylum seekers from a home in Fulda to Hamburg. The spokesman for the SPD-led Senate, Manfred Bissinger, spoke of an "impossible and permanently unbearable situation". The city was "already overloaded with 9,000 asylum seekers," it said. Because there weren't enough facilities for the refugees, some of them were "staying in hotels and pensions at state costs". At the end of the article there was also the address of the temporary accommodation: Halskestrasse.

The next evening Colditz, Vorderbrugge and Hörnle drove there with three one-liter bottles full of petrol and cleaning wool. The burning bottles hit Nguyen Ngoc Chau and Do Anh Lan's room, the young men were already asleep. Nguyen Ngoc Chau dies the next morning; Do Anh Lan succumbs to his burns in the hospital nine days later. The morning after the attack, it reads in red on the facade of the property: "Foreigners out!"

Do Mui did not find out about the death of her then 18-year-old son until weeks later. Like hundreds of thousands of other people from South Vietnam, he had fled to the open sea in a boat after the war in 1978 - in the hope that passing ships would see them and save them. Most died on the run, but Do Anh Lan was lucky. A ship took him to the Malaysian island of Pulau Bidong, from where he came to Germany thanks to an aid program. The country received the so-called boat people benevolently. ZEIT reporters were also there, describing him shortly after his arrival as a "behaviorally disturbed, single adolescent", a little later as "the boy with the tonelessly droning voice" but "alert eyes and completely normal language". In Hamburg, Do Anh Lan found godparents, or Heribert and Gisela von Goldammer found him. The couple had read about the incoming Vietnamese refugees in the newspaper and wanted to help. The Goldammers applied for family reunification for mother Do Mui, who had stayed behind in Saigon. Mui was waiting for positive news from Germany, for permission to come to her son.

But she shouldn't see him again. "Friends had read me a newspaper article about the arson attack," recalls Do Mui, who belongs to the Chinese minority and does not speak Vietnamese script. Still, she hadn't understood the message. "My son thought he was safe from bombs in Germany," she says. They envisioned Germany as a country where he could lead a good, peaceful life, and one day maybe they too. "And then you killed him with a bomb in Germany?" After the news she wanted to die too. Instead, she cried.

No apology, no compensation

Forty years later, his death does not let go of her. Nobody prepared them for it. And: "Nobody cares," she says.

The federal government's pity was limited to allowing her to move to Germany despite his death. No apology, no compensation, not even an explanation. Nevertheless, Do Mui went to Germany. "I wanted to understand," she says. Understand why your son died and where he died. In Vietnam she didn't hold anything anyway. She no longer had a family there and what she earned by selling clothes on the street was barely enough to survive. "We all just wanted to get out," she says.

Do Mui stirs her instant coffee. Today the woman lives a modest life on the outskirts of Hamburg. After arriving in Germany, she worked as a tailor, she sewed bags and rucksacks. She did not learn the language. "I had no strength," she says.

At first she just cried, and when she wanted to talk about her loss, the colleagues told her to talk less and work more. That was how it went until retirement. Since then she has been visiting doctors during the day and friends in the evening. At home it is so quiet that she doesn't want to be alone, "I don't have any children or grandchildren here like everyone else". She had been broken into twice in the past few weeks, and the thieves made her apartment even emptier than she already was.

But it is not the small pension or the lonely life that laments. Do Mui no longer wants to mourn alone. She wants a public memorial for her son.

Connections to the NSU

"The Turks also get memorials," she says, referring to the victims of the NSU. "They don't even give us a tiny plaque." Her son and his roommate didn't just die. They were also not murdered in any quarrels. They fell victim to a political and social mood that was boiling up in Germany at the time - and which continued to discharge in the decades to come. There are not only abstract, ideological connections between the perpetrators of 1980 and the NSU.

The link between the cases is the neo-Nazi Manfred Roeder. The German action group, to which the murderers of Do Anh Lan and Nguyen Ngoc Chau belonged, was set up by Manfred Roeder. Roeder is considered a role model for the later NSU: When he sat in court in the nineties for a paint attack on a Wehrmacht exhibition in Erfurt, Uwe Mundlos, Uwe Böhnhardt, Ralf Wohlleben and André K. also took part in the trial. The informant Tino Brandt is said to have given them access to the courtroom with press cards, research by tagesschau.de. Investigators later found Roeder's propaganda pamphlet in the NSU terrorist's apartment.

The fate of the Do family is closely interwoven with the right-wing extremist actors of the time, so it is also a German fate. But hardly anyone sees it that way. During a memorial ceremony in 2014, activists put up a sign at the crime scene, the former refugee home that is now a hotel. A short time later, the hotel staff removed the sign again. They did not want to have anything to do with the case, and the management left several inquiries from ZEIT ONLINE unanswered.

The Hamburg Senate does not want a public memorial either. In 2015, a memorial initiative submitted the proposal to rename part of Halskestrasse, for example Do-Nguyen-Strasse. The Senate rejected the proposal: The district office wrote to the initiative: "Names in a foreign language are not permitted if the spelling can lead to incorrect pronunciation." In an answer to a small request from May 2017, it also says that the existing street name is one of the defining names in the district and safe orientation and findability. In addition, the Hamburg Association of Vietnamese Refugees distanced itself from the initiative and spoke out against the renaming.

In fact, the Vietnamese boat people in Hamburg are divided. On the one hand there is the small initiative around the mother Do Mui. About once a month a handful of people meet to consider how they can fulfill Do Mui's request.

There are Tung, Trong and Thoa, who lived in the same refugee home at the time and now have gray hair. Or the godparents Heribert and Gisela, who had only met the two boys a few times. "After that they were already dead," says Gisela in a fragile voice. Almost forty years later, the murder visibly takes them too. Today she and her husband are retired. And there is the student Lee, who found the group at a memorial service and joined them.

On a Thursday in April they are sitting in the lounge of a retirement home, an old PC is whirring in the corner, the early summer rain can be heard through the open window, plastic flowers and small snail figures are on the long tables. Thoa has brought a pudding made from plantains, coconut milk and peanuts, Gisela has prepared chips and black tea. "We could ask the pastor from back then if he would like to support us," says Thoa. "Or maybe the former mayor," interjects Heribert. But nobody has contact with these people. They look up into the air in silence. Actually, they haven't gotten any further for years.

Resistance from one's own community

On the other side is the official Hamburg Boat People Association. The people there are so grateful to Germany for the reception and the new life that comes with it that they don't want to tarnish their gratitude.

When they heard about the memorial initiative, they wrote a letter to the Senate. "The crime was atoned for with the conviction of the perpetrators," it says. The initiative to rename the street is "strange". You see behind it a "resurgence of hatred" and a "desire for revenge" on the part of the victims' relatives and former friends. They wrote the word thirst for revenge in red letters. At the end of the letter it says: "We refuse to condemn Germany for this act." And: "We expressly distance ourselves from this initiative."

The Federal Association of Boat People supports them in this. A public memorial is a "political provocation", says Hoang Thi My Lam, chairman of the Federal Association of Vietnamese Refugees in the Federal Republic, when asked by ZEIT ONLINE. "The victims of terrorism should not be used as a means of political agitation." Both the Hamburg Association and the Federal Association do not answer any further questions.

The memorial initiative feels misunderstood. "It's not about guilt," says Trong. "We want to remember our friends and not offend Germany." Nobody here hates Germany, they too are grateful for their acceptance and integration. Life here is good. They want the victims not to be forgotten. That they get the place in society that was forcibly taken from them after their arrival. But since they have been committed to the public memorial, the other boat people have avoided them: "They see us as traitors."

The initiative to commemorate Do Anh Lan and Nguyen Ngoc Chau is not the only one that has met resistance in Germany. In mid-April, activists in the Marzahn-Hellersdorf district of Berlin laid a memorial plaque for Nguyen Van Tu, who was murdered by neo-Nazis in 1992. A few days later, the memorial was poured over with quick-setting concrete, and since mid-May it has completely disappeared. It is unclear who poured it over and removed it. Also in April, strangers used chemicals to damage a recently inaugurated monument to Burak Bektaş. In 2012, the then 22-year-old was shot on the street in Berlin-Neukölln. According to eyewitnesses, there was no conflict, the perpetrator came out of nowhere, targeted Bektaş and fled. The murder has not yet been resolved, relatives and witnesses assume a right-wing extremist background.

Do Mui feels no hatred

In Bremen, an initiative has been trying for years to create a memorial for Laye-Alama Condé. The West African died in police custody in 2005 after a doctor forcibly administered emetics through a nasal tube. Condé had been arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking, officials suspected that he had swallowed goods. And in Kassel, the father of Halit Yozgat, who was murdered by the NSU, encounters political resistance with his wish to name a street after his son.

Do Mui is tired of all the arguments. Sometimes she no longer believes that there could ever be a public memorial for her son and his friend. Did she feel anger or hatred in the face of the murder, in view of the resistance to being remembered? "I don't hate anyone," she says, and waves it away. "It was all so long ago. Why should I hate?" Then she laughs as if you couldn't have asked a more absurd question. You have to remember the dead, she says, that's all.