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A Year After the Berlin Market Attack, Germany Admits Mistakes

Standing before the memorial steps that bear the names of the victims, Ms. Merkel, wrapped in a black wool coat, appeared visibly shaken.

“Today is a day of mourning,” Ms. Merkel said to reporters after the ceremony, “but also a day of concerted determination to improve.”

She described her meeting on Monday as “very open and blunt,” adding that it “revealed the weaknesses that our government showed in such a situation.”

Photo

The German police secured the area around the Berlin Christmas market before the ceremony.Credit Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
A Year After the Berlin Market Attack, Germany Admits Mistakes
A Year After the Berlin Market Attack, Germany Admits Mistakes

In the families’ letter, first published in the leading German weekly Der Spiegel, the relatives complained about the coldhearted letters they received from government workers in response to their complaints about challenges they faced coping with lives altered by the attack.

“Ms. Chancellor, the attack on the Breitscheid Square is a tragic result of the lack of political action of your government,” they wrote.

The survivors and victims’ relatives complained about the authorities’ letting Mr. Amri slip through their fingers, the chaotic response immediately following the attack and what they saw as a lack of financial compensation for their losses.

But above all, their anger was directed at the chancellor.

The day after the attack, she and other government representatives attended a memorial service to honor the victims. But at that time, many of their families said they were still waiting for confirmation that their loved ones had been killed. Several weeks later, in January, Joachim Gauck, then the German president, invited the families to the presidential palace for a personal meeting.

From Ms. Merkel, however, they heard nothing, the letter said: “Regarding how we as survivors were treated, we have to say, Ms. Chancellor, that nearly one year after the attack, you have not offered your condolences, either personally or in writing.”

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Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, Berlin’s mayor, Michael Müller, right, and the president of the German Parliament, Wolfgang Schäuble, attended the ceremony at the Christmas market.Credit Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

In March, the government appointed a former governor, Kurt Beck, to represent the interests of the families and help them to deal with paperwork needed to apply for compensation. He was also asked to draw up a report for the government with recommendations for improvements, many of which addressed the survivors’ complaints.

“I don’t think there was any ill intent, but my impression is that none of us, not society and not the government, were spiritually prepared for the reality that such an attack could take place in Germany,” Mr. Beck said of the government’s handling of the situation, in an interview with ZDF television.

The assault on the popular Christmas market brought home to Germans the reality that as part of Europe they, too, are a target for mass terrorist attacks. Until that time, Belgium and France had been the primary European targets. The assault also bolstered critics of Ms. Merkel’s open-door immigration policy of 2015 who said it added to the country’s vulnerabilities.

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But with attacks happening elsewhere in Europe, critics of Germany’s response could compare how other countries had managed the aftermath. Many looked to France, for example, where more than one million people heeded the call to take to the streets in a demonstration of solidarity after an attack in January 2015 left 17 people dead.

Another point of comparison was compensation for survivors. While the involvement of a vehicle in the Berlin attack allowed survivors to tap into a fund that compensates victims of traffic accidents, Mr. Beck said the amounts offered were still too low.

He recommended increasing the compensation in ways similar to the system used in France, where a fund for victims of terrorism was created in 1986 after a wave of terrorist attacks in the 1980s. It is funded largely by taxes on property insurance contracts.

Follow Melissa Eddy on Twitter @meddynyt.

Aurelien Breeden contributed reporting from Paris.

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