It was supposed to mimic a funeral march. Participants carried black-framed portraits of those they were mourning, allegedly “the victims of Germany’s forced multi-culturalism.” And there, during this right-wing demonstration in the eastern German city of Chemnitz, one weekend after what world headlines described as violent neo-Nazi riots, was a larger-than-life portrait of a pretty 28-year-old brunette named Sophia Lösche.
Ms. Lösche went missing in mid-June after she left Leipzig, a city where she was studying, to visit her parents in Oberpfalz, about three hours’ drive away. She never arrived. A few days later her body was found, partially burned, near a gas station in northern Spain. Ms. Lösche had hitched a lift with a lorry near Leipzig before disappearing. A Moroccan truck driver was eventually arrested and charged with her murder, and he is currently awaiting trial in Germany.
Which is how Ms. Lösche’s portrait ended up at the right-wing protests in Chemnitz, all over social media and on various far-right internet portals. Ms. Lösche is a “victim of the rapist jihad started by the bloody Chancellor Merkel,” a vendor running one of these websites, selling stickers with Ms. Lösche’s name on it, proclaims hysterically.
“That’s really disgusting,” said Andreas Lösche, Sophia’s older brother by 22 years, looking at the website over his living room table in Bamberg, central Germany. “These people stand for everything my sister was opposed to. And I will not allow her to become part of their stories.”
It’s not just him. Ms. Lösche’s whole family is currently taking on the German right wing, to protest what they see as the instrumentalization of her death by a political lobby that she vehemently opposed when she was alive.
In many ways, the case is similar to a recent situation in the US: Student Mollie Tibbetts was killed while jogging and a Mexican immigrant was named as a suspect. After the arrest, conservative politicians, as senior as the US president and vice president, used Ms. Tibbetts’ murder as justification for tighter immigration policies. Ms. Tibbetts’ family reacted by asking that her death not be politicized because, as they said, Ms. Tibbetts was opposed to racism and xenophobia.
Ms. Lösche’s family reacted similarly. Just like Ms. Tibbetts’ relatives, Ms. Lösche’s also published an open letter. “We will not allow the memory of our Sophia to be misused for xenophobic purposes,” it said. “In her name, we oppose the instrumentalization of her person for rabble-rousing, racism and hate.”
In return, they received floods of hate mail from right-wingers – everything from personal threats to comments about how Ms. Lösche deserved her death because she was “naive.”
Making their case
But her brother also consulted a lawyer. Mr. Lösche discovered that photos released by the German police during a missing persons search are not allowed to be used by third parties once the search has ended.
This information is now the basis of the family’s criminal complaints against those they see as using their daughter’s death for their own political purposes. Lawsuits were filed against the organizers of the Chemnitz protests and against the individuals seen carrying one of the 23 portraits of Ms. Lösche provided by the march organizers (they were identified using pictures posted on social media).
Cases are also pending against two political figures who re-posted Ms. Lösche’s picture on Facebook: Björn Höcke, one of the senior members of the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, party and Lutz Bachmann, the founder of the local anti-immigrant movement known as PEGIDA.
His sister was a feminist and she was politically engaged on the left, Mr. Lösche said. She strongly opposed racism of any kind and had, in fact, worked as a volunteer for refugee causes, going so far as to travel to the Greek island of Lesbos to help. At one stage, she also chaired her hometown branch of the Young Socialists in Bamberg.
“Of course it’s a provocation. They knew that Sophia fought people like them,” Mr. Lösche explained. Even superficial research would have shown the right-wingers what sort of politics Ms. Lösche espoused, her family said. But they used her picture anyway – and that shows that they don’t care about the people behind the headlines.
Ms. Lösche was really worried about the increasing popularity of the AfD her ex-boyfriend, Lukas Hohendorf, said. He recalled a conversation he had with Ms. Lösche earlier this year after the AfD proposed a minute’s silence in parliament to remember a German teenager killed by an Iraqi asylum-seeker. “We talked about how absurd and shitty it was to appropriate [that incident],” Mr. Hohendorf remembered. “We agreed: It was a desperate move.”
About violence against women, not migration
As both Mr. Lösche and Mr. Hohendorf pointed out, Ms. Lösche’s death had nothing to do with migration policy. The murder suspect lives in Morocco and works for a Moroccan logistics firm – he is not an immigrant to Germany.
“Actually what this is about is violence towards women,” Mr. Hohendorf noted. “Sophia died, apparently, because she was a woman.” And he would rather the country discuss how best to prevent violence against females. “But instead the AfD jumped on this subject and managed to turn it into part of the debate about refugees,” he said.
After the criminal complaints were laid, the use of Ms. Lösche’s picture decreased, her brother said. “Since then it hasn’t turned up in any marches and it’s no longer shared online,” Mr. Lösche added. “It’s almost like they wanted to see how far they could go.”
But Mr. Lösche also knows keeping his sister’s name out of right-wing propaganda is going to be a long-term project. The murder trial starts next year, and he expects more of the same, as well as more of the hate mail he now regularly receives. Mr. Lösche said he no longer answers one by one each and every single angry message. But he did write a few words on Twitter in response recently: “We stand firm.”
No doubt that’s a sentiment his sister would have liked.
Sebastian Leber is a reporter with Handelsblatt’s sister publication, Tagesspiegel. This story was adapted in English for Handelsblatt Global.