Anger, sadness and a renewed societal debate accompanied the funeral of German student Tugce Albayrak on Wednesday. Mourners had pinned a picture of the young woman on their coats, over their hearts, and held banners to express their sorrow and admiration. "We quickly forget those who make us cry. We always remember those who made us smile," one of the banners read. "She will be remembered for her civil courage," a speaker told the crowd, according to the BBC.
On Nov. 15, Albayrak, who was of Turkish origin, had tried to protect two girls who were harassed by three men near a bathroom at a restaurant in Offenbach, near Frankfurt. As she headed outside, Albayrak was attacked by at least one of the men, who had been waiting for her in a parking lot. A surveillance video captured the incident.
Last Friday, the day that Tugce Albayrak turned 23, her parents decided to turn off her life-support machine after doctors declared her brain dead. Her alleged attacker, 18-year-old Serbian Sanel M., was arrested by police shortly after the assault and has admitted to the crime, the Associated Press reported.
The incident has shocked Germany, a nation that has increasingly emphasized helping those in need. A 2008 study conducted by the University of Goettingen found that only 15 percent would actually step in and stop a thief, although 50 percent had said in a survey that they would act that way if they observed a crime taking place.
Over the past few years, government programs and police initiatives have tried to raise awareness about the problem. Such efforts, however, have suffered several blowbacks. In 2009, for instance, businessman Dominik Brunner died while trying to protect schoolchildren from a gang of teenagers attacking them.
Albayrak's death has renewed a debate about the courage needed to protect victims from criminals. In an article Monday, the left-leaning Tageszeitung newspaper in Berlin asked whether Germans should "intervene or stay in the background" in such situations. The paper said Albayrak's death "shows the importance of courage as well as its dangers."
German police attempted to answer the question posed by Tageszeitung, explaining on their Web site: "To show courage means to help others without endangering oneself."
But are there limits? The ongoing debate shows how uncertain many Germans are about whether and when they should intervene in dangerous situations.
"This young women showed that helping others and showing a backbone is not always easy; or did really nobody else notice what happened during one of the restaurant's busiest hours?" German online activist Karl Lempert commented.
While Germans are struggling to find a consensus on that question, many of them agree that Albayrak should receive a national order of merit posthumously. A petition on Change.org, urging President Joachim Gauck to award such a distinction, had been signed by 170,000 people as of Wednesday.
Over the weekend, Gauck reacted to the petition. Addressing Albayrak's parents, he wrote: "Where other people looked the other way, your daughter showed exemplary courage and moral fortitude and stood up for the victims of an act of violence." Unfortunately, she then became the victim of a brutal crime herself.