Mem­o­ries of murder

In an ex­clu­sive, Diana Feld­mann opens up about the bru­tal murder of her teenage daugh­ter, Su­sanna, by an il­le­gal Iraqi mi­grant and the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects on her fam­ily – and adopted coun­try, Ger­many

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By ORIT ARFA

It took about two min­utes upon meet­ing Diana Feld­mann at a run-down strip mall in Mainz, Ger­many for her to break into tears. This was her first in-depth in­ter­view since her daugh­ter’s bru­tal murder and al­leged rape by an Iraqi il­le­gal im­mi­grant. She has shied away from re­porters, un­sure of their agenda and whether the re­portage might jeop­ar­dize the up­com­ing trial of Ali Bashar, 21, the con­fessed murderer. She wants the harsh­est pun­ish­ment pos­si­ble in Ger­many: life im­pris­on­ment with­out pa­role. The trial will be­gin early next year.

I met her through an ac­tivist of a lo­cal move­ment that speaks out against the refugee pol­icy that is os­ten­si­bly re­spon­si­ble for Su­sanna’s murder. As an Is­raeli Jew, I felt a sense of fam­ily be­tween us. Hence, the open­ness and easy tears. My shoul­der was out­stretched for her con­stant cries.

Su­sanna’s was the type of murder peo­ple en­counter only in TV spe­cials. In true murder-mys­tery style, her body was found in a makeshift ditch near the train tracks in Wies­baden-Er­ben­heim across the Rhine River from Mainz, her home­town. The re­gion was the cen­ter of me­dieval Jewish life in Ger­many and now is home to a few thou­sand Jews.

The Jewish an­gle

Su­sanna’s death par­tic­u­larly rat­tled the Jewish com­mu­nity, but Su­sanna wasn’t the first Jewish vic­tim of an il­le­gal mi­grant with a crim­i­nal record in Ger­many. Is­raeli tourist Dalia Elyakim was killed in the Ber­lin Christmas mar­ket truck-ram­ming at­tack two years ago. Su­sanna’s murder, how­ever, was per­sonal.

Diana Feld­mann came from Moldova with her fam­ily in 1991 with the wave of Rus­sian-speak­ing Jews who took up the Ger­man gov­ern­ment’s invitation to re­store the Jewish pop­u­la­tion af­ter the Shoah. Her mother’s brother lives in Ash­dod. She vis­ited fam­ily in Is­rael be­fore Su­sanna was born; Su­sanna never vis­ited and had nom­i­nal ties with the Jewish state.

“Many rel­a­tives went to Is­rael and some friends went to Amer­ica,” Diana said in per­fect Ger­man over cof­fee at a café, with trans­la­tion help by a Wies­baden res­i­dent and ac­tivist. “My [late] fa­ther said ear­lier: ‘We’d rather go to Europe, to Ger­many, be­cause Is­rael is al­ways at war, etc.’”

She never imag­ined she’d suf­fer her own bru­tal per­sonal war in a peace­ful Ger­many, but con­trary to spec­u­la­tion, the murder did not carry an­tisemitic mo­tives.

“No one knew that Su­sanna was half-Jewish,” Feld­mann said. “No one. On her Instagram pro­file she had a Rus­sian and Turk­ish flag. She never said she was Jewish. That came up later. Now Ali B. is cel­e­brated even more than [Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip] Er­do­gan be­cause he killed a Jewish woman, a Jewish ‘slut.’”

She pulled out a screen­shot from an Instagram “fan page” of the murderer, which fea­tured car­i­ca­tures of Su­sanna next to the im­age of a burn­ing Is­raeli flag. “The page is now deleted. This hater page.”

Su­sanna was hardly in touch with her fa­ther, a Kur­dish Turk (hence the Turk­ish flag). He and Diana sep­a­rated be­fore Su­sanna was born. The murder re-con­nected them for the search party, and fu­neral.

A com­ing-of-age story

Su­sanna Feld­mann would have turned 15 on Novem­ber 2. Friends de­scribed her as pretty, quiet and shy. She dis­played the usual symp­toms of teenage angst. She strug­gled to fit in, seek­ing ac­cep­tance by wear­ing name-brand clothes. She was also the vic­tim of school bul­ly­ing. A teacher openly called her “Drac­ula.” Af­ter be­ing re­ported, the teacher didn’t apol­o­gize, say­ing she meant it in jest.

“Her child­hood was good, with­out a fa­ther,” Feld­mann said. “I was Su­sanna’s mom and dad… I am 44 years old, and when she was eight years old, I met my cur­rent part­ner. Then we had a lit­tle one who is now five years old, Gi­u­liana. But Gi­u­liana misses her sis­ter very much. They did a lot to­gether. But she still doesn’t un­der­stand what the word ‘died’ means.”

Diana’s part­ner is a Catholic Ital­ian with two older chil­dren from a pre­vi­ous mar­riage. Gi­u­liana was bap­tized, but Diana will let her choose her re­li­gious path upon grow­ing up. Like many Jews grow­ing up in Com­mu­nist coun­tries, Diana’s par­ents were un­af­fil­i­ated. Su­sanna took the fam­ily changes hard.

“Then came a lit­tle sis­ter,” Feld­mann re­lated. “Now Mom has even less time for you, and maybe she saw what it’s like to have a dad. Be­cause she never saw that. She didn’t have a dad and she had ev­ery­thing from me. Dou­ble love.”

Happy for male at­ten­tion, Su­sanna per­haps found it in the wrong places. Diana believes males from Arab coun­tries tend to be charm­ing “sweet talk­ers,” in con­trast to shy, quiet Ger­man boys.

“Su­sanna al­ways said that she got along bet­ter with boys than girls. In groups of girls and young boys, there’s al­ways cat­ti­ness.”

Su­sanna slowly trans­formed from a good “do­mes­tic girl” to an at-risk teen when she started hang­ing out at the refugee shelter a few months be­fore the murder. Soon, she “fell in love” with KC, Ali Bashar’s 14-yearold brother.

“It was a new world for her.” Diana thinks they brain­washed her into be­liev­ing she could slack off in school, a so-called priv­i­lege of “refugees.”

“And then she’d skip school with her friends from class. They went to Wies­baden be­cause in Mainz they knew too many peo­ple. And there they met this group of for­eign­ers at the McDon­ald’s. She came home ex­cited, say­ing: ‘I made new friends.’ I told her about the refugees: ‘You don’t know where they’re from. You don’t know what they’ve been through. You don’t know how these peo­ple tick, what goes on in their minds.’ But she al­ways said: ‘They’re so sweet. They’re so cool. You can laugh and have fun with them’… She told me they stole, dealt drugs, but that they never did any­thing to her… Even if they didn’t do any­thing to her, you stand by it, go along with it, get caught in it. That’s the charm of ad­ven­ture.”

Later, Diana faced ac­cu­sa­tions that she should have shel­tered her daugh­ter bet­ter, but she ex­plained she al­ways en­cour­aged Su­sanna to be open with her about school, boys and the typ­i­cal teenage vices.

“She en­trusted me with many things other daugh­ters would never en­trust their par­ents with. She told me she tried smok­ing, but that it wasn’t for her. She told me she tried a joint once, but that it wasn’t for her. She cut her arm for KC, per­haps out of cu­rios­ity, per­haps try­ing to get his at­ten­tion. Usu­ally teenagers walk around in long sweaters to hide their cuts from their par­ents, but Su­sanna showed me. I gave her some salve and told her: ‘You’re such a pretty young girl. No man in the world is worth that.’”

Fol­low­ing the cut­ting in­ci­dent, Su­sanna and Diana went to the youth wel­fare of­fice. On May 23, a day af­ter the murder, Su­sanna was sched­uled to meet with a guid­ance coun­selor.

But on the night of the murder, Su­sanna told her mother a white lie, say­ing she’d be stay­ing over at friend’s house. In re­al­ity, she went to meet KC at the refugee home, but KC, who treated her more like a sis­ter, turned out not to be alone. It was Ali who had his eye on Su­sanna. Diana believes KC lured Su­sanna into a trap to please his older brother and his gang, in­clud­ing a 35-year-old Turk who was im­pli­cated as an ac­com­plice.

Ap­par­ently, Ali had a thing for vir­gins. He is re­ported to have al­legedly raped an 11-year-old prior to this.

“The Afghan [a wit­ness named Mansur] said Ali al­ways told him: ‘When you see [Su­sanna], you have to call me ev­ery time. One day I’ll f*** her,’” Diana said. “The rape was planned. I don’t know if what hap­pened af­ter­wards was planned or if it got out of hand.”

De­spite feel­ing more com­fort­able around boys so­cially, Diana knows that Su­sanna was sex­u­ally ab­sti­nent and very shy about sex.

“She was not in­ter­ested in the topic. She was com­pletely in­ex­pe­ri­enced in this area. She trusted many peo­ple and saw only the good in ev­ery­one.”

But had she known Ali would be there, she wouldn’t have gone.

“As a young girl who was in love with Ali’s brother, why should she want to have her first time with Ali, the older brother, some­where on the street, in a field? Ev­ery girl wants her first time to be spe­cial… She al­ways said that any­one over 15 was too old for her. She never was friends with Ali. She was friends with his younger brother. They were the same age. She knew Ali by sight, but when the girls talked among them­selves, they all found Ali to be so weird, so ag­gres­sive. The girls al­ways dis­cour­aged any­one from deal­ing with him, in­clud­ing Su­sanna. It was bet­ter to keep away from Ali.”

The crime

“On May 22, Su­sanna called me and told me that she was stay­ing with a friend… and I said: ‘Re­mem­ber to come early the next day be­cause I have to take the lit­tle one to kinder­garten, and I have to go to my job train­ing.’ Su­sanna said: ‘Okay, I’ll come at 7 a.m.’”

Su­sanna sent an SOS to a friend named Sonja that night.

“And this Sonja was the first and only one who knew Su­sanna was in trou­ble, be­cause [Su­sanna] wrote to her in the evening: ‘Help me. I’m afraid. I’m here with Ali and his friends in a refugee home. I want to go and they won’t let me. They’re keep­ing me here.’ This Sonja just left her to her fate. She didn’t tell me and didn’t call the po­lice. I think out of jeal­ousy.”

Even­tu­ally Sonja wrote to Su­sanna to call her mother, but Su­sanna said she didn’t want to tell her mother be­cause she had lied about where she was go­ing.

“At 7 a.m., she didn’t come home, and at 8:30 a.m., I wrote on What­sApp: ‘Where are you? Why didn’t you come home?’ Then strange, short an­swers came, like: ‘I’ll come at 4 p.m. My bat­tery is empty.’”

Lit­tle did she know that at 11:33 a.m., she was chat­ting with the murderer on What­sapp. She pulled out a screen­shot of the con­ver­sa­tion.

“Goodbye Wies­baden, now to Paris with my heart Armando,” wrote Ali with emoti­cons, pos­ing as Su­sanna.

“Whaaat?” Diana re­sponded.

“With my baby Armando,” he an­swered, adding a pic­ture of Su­sanna’s dead hand hold­ing a joint. Diana later re­al­ized it was planted in an at­tempt to frame an al­ter­ca­tion about a joint. “I’ll smack you,” Diana re­sponded (fig­u­ra­tively).

She pressed to know where she was: “Ev­ery­one is look­ing for you and no one knows where you are. Where are you Su­sanna. Please…”

Su­sanna never showed up for her ap­point­ment with the guid­ance coun­selor.

“I was also very sur­prised that she missed the ap­point­ment, be­cause she al­ways took things like that se­ri­ously.”

At 9 p.m., Su­sanna was of­fi­cially re­ported miss­ing. It is be­lieved that Ali and his ac­com­plices car­ried her body to the rail­way tracks in pairs af­ter let­ting it rot for a day.

A mas­sive search be­gan, in­volv­ing po­lice and vol­un­teers. Diana even drove around with Ali’s other brother, Honer, and the younger brother of Mansur, the Afghan. At one point, Diana vis­ited the Bashar home.

“And this whole damn fam­ily told me they only heard about it from the news. We were talk­ing to them in their house and the mother said, ‘Al­lah, Al­lah. We didn’t see him.’ They lied to me, to my face. They knew ex­actly what hap­pened. How can a mother – a mother who has eight chil­dren her­self – lie to an­other mother’s face and say: ‘I don’t know what hap­pened to your daugh­ter’?”

On May 29, a friend called Diana, say­ing she re­ceived an anony­mous call re­veal­ing that Su­sanna was buried in Wies­baden-Er­ben­heim, near the train tracks. A few days later, Diana re­ceived a tip from some­one on Instagram that the Bashar fam­ily had driven to Dort­mund to es­cape. At Düs­sel­dorf air­port, they paid around €850 in cash for a flight to Is­tan­bul (with fake iden­ti­ties). Diana is now lob­by­ing to en­sure the fam­ily can­not reen­ter Ger­many.

On June 6, Su­sanna’s corpse was fi­nally found – cov­ered with earth, leaves and brush­wood, her body so badly bat­tered by blows, falls, pen­e­tra­tion and de­cay that rape couldn’t even be proven. Her throat was man­gled by her own sweat­shirt tied in knots. Mys­te­ri­ously, a ro­dent bone was found in her un­der­wear. Su­sanna’s face was so dis­fig­ured Diana was ad­vised not to view her daugh­ter’s corpse.

To top it off, they stole her shoes. “They were AirMax 97s. They took her shoes, the mo­bile phone – ev­ery­thing that was worth money was gone. Hor­ri­ble.”

Ali has de­nied the rape, even though wit­nesses claim he bragged about rap­ing her all night long. Diana sur­mises that the rape would bring him dis­honor in the Muslim com­mu­nity. The foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tion found traces of Ali and an­other for­eign per­son, but no al­co­hol or drugs in Su­sanna’s sys­tem. The pros­e­cu­tion has pressed charges for both murder and rape. The trial will de­ter­mine the sever­ity of the crime, and hence, the sever­ity of the pun­ish­ment.

When Diana re­ceived the dreaded knock on the door, teary-eyed po­lice gave her a seda­tive, but Diana al­ready ex­pected the worst.

“I had a bad feel­ing right from the start be­cause I knew my girl wouldn’t run away from home. She al­ways called me. I could al­ways reach her by phone. I had a bad feel­ing but I didn’t want to en­ter­tain the thought.”

A few days later, Ali was ar­rested by Kur­dish au­thor­i­ties in the Kur­dis­tan re­gion of Iraq and brought back to Ger­many. (Ger­many’s pub­lic pros­e­cu­tor is now in­ves­ti­gat­ing Di­eter Ro­mann, head of the fed­eral po­lice, for pos­si­bly il­le­gally re­turn­ing Ali to Ger­many, since no for­mal ex­tra­di­tion treaty ex­ists be­tween Iraq and Ger­many.)

Back in Wies­baden, Ali walked the in­ves­ti­ga­tors through the crime at the scene but re­fused to speak in his mother tongue via a trans­la­tor. In­stead, he spoke broken Ger­man, prob­a­bly, said Diana, to avoid giv­ing too much away.

“He grinned brazenly into the cam­era in that field. He showed no re­morse.”

The af­ter­math

Be­fore the event, Diana was largely apo­lit­i­cal. As a refugee her­self, she kept an open mind to Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s de­ci­sion to open Ger­many’s doors to hun­dreds of thou­sands of refugees in 2015.

“But af­ter this in­ci­dent, of course, my mind-set changed dra­mat­i­cally. It opened my eyes.”

At the time of Diana’s dis­ap­pear­ance, some lo­cal po­lice sug­gested Diana shouldn’t have allowed Su­sanna to frat­er­nize with such peo­ple.

“They tell the kinder­garten kids: ‘Make friends with for­eign chil­dren.’ That’s what I taught my chil­dren.

‘Now Ali B. is cel­e­brated even more than [Turk­ish Pres­i­dent] Erodgan be­cause he killed a Jewish woman, a Jewish “slut”’

Then, when you are 13-14 years old and go­ing through pu­berty, it’s no won­der you hang out with peo­ple like that.”

Af­ter the murder, Diana wrote an open Face­book let­ter to Chan­cel­lor Merkel, telling her the blood of her daugh­ter is on her hands.

“I wrote [it] to get it off my chest, in very plain lan­guage, the way a mother writes and feels. But Mrs. Merkel can’t un­der­stand, be­cause she has no chil­dren. She doesn’t know what it means to lose a child. I don’t know if she even read it all, even though it reached 200,000 peo­ple on Face­book.”

Face­book deleted the let­ter be­cause it violated “hate speech” guide­lines. Overnight, Diana Feld­mann be­came a sym­bol for the Merkel Muss Weg (Merkel Must Go) move­ment led by Ger­mans (of­ten la­beled “far-right”) who op­pose Merkel’s refugee pol­icy. Diana al­leged that many asy­lum seek­ers are not nec­es­sar­ily flee­ing war or per­se­cu­tion, but come as eco­nomic op­por­tunists, and, in Ali’s case, sex­ual op­por­tunists.

In an­other viral Face­book in­ci­dent, Diana posted a clip of Thomas Seitz, an AfD mem­ber of par­lia­ment, hold­ing a mo­ment of si­lence for Su­sanna at a par­lia­men­tary session. To Diana’s hor­ror, Clau­dia Roth, a vice pres­i­dent of the par­lia­ment from the Green Party, in­ter­rupted the mo­ment, ar­gu­ing that an unan­nounced mo­ment of a si­lence went against pro­to­col. Me­dia com­men­ta­tors crit­i­cized Diana for al­low­ing her­self to be in­stru­men­tal­ized by the right. Ad­vo­cates of the refugee pol­icy ar­gue that Su­sanna’s case (as well as oth­ers) should not be ex­ploited to smear an en­tire pop­u­la­tion. Diana said she doesn’t feel in­stru­men­tal­ized. Nor does she mind be­ing a po­lit­i­cal sym­bol.

“I don’t want my daugh­ter to be used for pol­i­tics, but you al­ways have to keep your eyes open. I still have an­other daugh­ter grow­ing up. You should al­ways be care­ful, al­ways watch out, al­ways…”

Six months af­ter the murder, re­gional elec­tions were held in the state of Hesse, of which Wies­baden is the cap­i­tal. Fol­low­ing an elec­toral trend, CDU (Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union) vot­ers hem­or­rhaged to­ward the right-wing Al­ter­na­tive für Deutsch­land (AfD), the only party to chal­lenge Merkel’s pol­icy fiercely. In the wake of bit­ing de­feat, Merkel an­nounced her im­mi­nent res­ig­na­tion as party chair. She will not run for chan­cel­lor again in 2021.

“My lit­tle daugh­ter and Su­sanna give me strength, be­cause I have to fight for her, to make sure Ali stays in prison for­ever. I still need strength.”

She con­tin­ues her part-time work as a cleaner at a bank to find a sense of nor­malcy, but the pain is om­nipresent. Three times a week, she tends to Su­sanna’s grave (re­cently adorned with a heart-shaped tomb­stone) in the Jewish ceme­tery, which keeps get­ting de­faced by thugs.

“Hon­estly, if I didn’t have my lit­tle one or my part­ner, then I’d be ly­ing in the grave next to my daugh­ter,” she said, break­ing down in tears again. They re­cently be­gan to re­model their home to “paint over” the painful mem­o­ries. Only re­cently did she step into her daugh­ter’s un­touched room.

The Jewish com­mu­nity of Mainz held a memo­rial for Su­sanna at the syn­a­gogue, and a tree was planted in Su­sanna’s honor in Jerusalem. Some lo­cal donors have as­sisted her with ex­penses that have ac­crued be­cause of the murder. While she fights de­pres­sion for her fam­ily’s sake, Diana is hardly ever truly com­forted.

“I don’t ac­cept help from any­one; only the love of God can help… My uncle al­ways says, ‘Come, come to us in Is­rael. Come visit us again.’”

(Photos: Cour­tesy)

AMONG THE many photo tributes Diana posts on her per­sonal Face­book page.

(Orit Arfa)

DIANA’S HEART-SHAPED locket is im­printed with an im­age of her late daugh­ter.

DIANA WITH her fam­ily on New Year 2013-14 (from left to right start­ing from top): Diana; her part­ner, Li­bo­rio; her mother, Bela; her younger daugh­ter, Gi­u­liana; and Su­sanna.

(Screen­shots: Orit Arfa)

(FROM LEFT) The Instagram ‘fan page’ for the murderer, Ali. In the cen­ter is a pic­ture of an Is­raeli flag burn­ing.A WHAT­SAPP com­mu­ni­ca­tion the day af­ter the murder, in which Ali used Su­sanna’s phone to pose as Su­sanna and com­mu­ni­cate with her mother. (The ex­change is trans­lated in the text.)

RIGHT: GI­U­LIANA vis­its Su­sanna’s heart-shaped tomb­stone in the Jewish ceme­tery of Mainz.

SU­SANNA WITH Gi­u­liana at her lit­tle sis­ter’s fourth birth­day party on Septem­ber 27, 2017.

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