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GERMANY'S TROUBLES : The Third Reich Motto 'Germany For Germans' is Once Again the Rallying Cry; Foreigners Are the Target. This Time, Can the Hatred Be Stopped?

March 07, 1993|TAMARA JONES | Tamara Jones is The Times' correspondent in Bonn; her last piece for this magazine was on the dismantling of East Germany's athletic machine.

Fauzi Saado took his family to church that evening as usual. He never liked to miss the Wednesday services, and this night in particular he was looking forward to what the minister would say. It was Oct. 2, 1991, one day away from the anniversary of German unification, and the sermon turned out to be about brotherhood and unity, about learning to get along with your neighbor and working together to build a life full of goodwill and prosperity. Germany was again a single nation, rich, powerful, democratic, full of promise. Sitting in the Evangelical church that night, Fauzi Saado felt a part of it all.

Two years earlier, the Saados had been terrified bystanders in the random, everyday violence of war-torn Beirut, where Fauzi sold fruit and vegetables from a stand in the rubbled streets. Three of Fauzi's cousins were killed; one was just a teen-ager. A bomb had exploded at his feet as he sat on his front stoop. "That was when I decided I had to get my family out," he says. "We had heard Germany was a democratic land and that human rights were respected there." Even better, the asylum process was said to be lax.

By October, 1991, the Saados numbered among some 250,000 foreigners who had poured across Germany's borders after the Berlin Wall came down. They all had the same elusive goal, to be granted asylum and resettle. Fauzi quickly found out that the odyssey through seas of German red tape could take years and that his chances of success were virtually nil--but at least, he thought, his family was finally safe, away from the bloodshed of Beirut.

On the night of the 2nd, the Saados returned to their modest duplex in the Ruhr valley town of Huenxe about 9 o'clock. There would be no school tomorrow, since Unity Day was a national holiday, and the children were allowed to stay up late. A family friend was also spending the night. "We sat up in the living room watching TV with the kids," Fauzi now recalls.

Fauzi and his wife, Zubeida, shooed their four oldest children--Mohammed, 4; Salma, 10, and her sisters Zeinab, 8, and Mokadas, 5--off to bed at about 11. Three-year-old Yussef and Ahmad, 1, were tucked in an hour later. By 1 a.m., the household was quiet.

Minutes later, Fauzi was jolted awake. "I heard an explosion, like a bomb going off," he says, "and the sound of glass breaking." He raced into the children's room. What he saw made his heart stop.

"Everything was on fire," he remembers. "My daughters' nightgowns were in flames, and everyone was screaming." He tried to smother the flames with blankets torn from the burning beds and with his bare hands. Her feet on fire, Salma was still able to escape the inferno by herself, hobbling out to the street where she shivered and wept in shock and pain. Zubeida crawled safely through a window with the two babies. Fauzi and his friend bundled out Zeinab and Mokadas. Both girls were severely burned. Little Mohammed was miraculously unscathed. His father had nearly forgotten him in the panic over the girls, until the boy suddenly let out a wail, and Fauzi saw the toddler still in his bed, the blanket atop him ablaze. Fauzi had snatched him up.

Out on the street, Zeinab and Mokadas were conscious, whimpering in agony. Neighbors had heard the explosion, and the Saados remember the curious faces as people came to see what the commotion was. But no one approached the foreigners huddled hurt and sobbing in the street. "Help, help, please!" the father was screaming. "My children, my children!" Fauzi's hair had been singed off, and his hands were blistered from beating at the flames consuming his children. "The Germans just stood and watched," he says, disbelief and disgust wrenching the bitter words from his throat a year later. "Nobody called the police. Nobody came to help us. They just kept their distance and watched. Nobody came to help! People were running away."

Police logs show that a "foreign caller," most likely the Lebanese neighbors upstairs, rang for help at 1:14 a.m. The first squad cars rolled up seven minutes later, and at 1:27 a.m., the ambulances arrived. United Germany marked its first birthday that same hour.

Parts of Mokadas' legs, arms and face were blackened and blistered. Zeinab's burns were even worse, covering 32% of her small body. Her lower legs were charred to the bone. She was immediately flown by helicopter to a special burn clinic in Hamburg, where she fell into a coma and was put on a respirator. Her doctors twice notified the Lebanese embassy that Zeinab was not going to make it, but she finally regained consciousness two weeks later.

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