How a German District Confronted Its Own Xenophobia

Letter From Görlitz

Görlitz, Germany. Fritz Schumann

On a Thursday night in March last year, roughly 900 people gathered in the town hall in Boxberg, a German town in Saxony’s Görlitz district close to the Czech and Polish borders. Not everyone found a place. Some hundred people were standing, pressed uncomfortably to the walls or lining up outside, trying to listen to the debate between the town council and members of the local government on the arrival of 200 Syrian refugees. The loudspeakers failed constantly.

The atmosphere was heated. Broad-chested men, looking 50 years or older, shouted their concerns about public security and how refugees would worsen the already poor medical care in the area. The majority remained silent. Werner Genau, magistrate of the local district, took the stage. “Human dignity is inviolable,” he said, quoting the first line of the German constitution. “The people are coming. There is no way around it. We have to take care

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