SEPTEMBER 20, 2009 8:05AM

Death of a hero: The murder of Dominik Brunner

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  Dominik Brunner
"I love you"
Dominik Brunner, 1959-2009

THE TERM “HERO” HAS been so grievously overused in recent years that we would all be hard-pressed to come up with a comprehensible definition for it. Nowadays it seems as if all you need to become a hero is just to be a passive victim of a terrorist act, or else to meet your end while wearing any sort of uniform (provided you’re fighting for the right side, that is).

But I think everyone can agree that on September 12, 2009 a businessman died and a hero was born. On that day, towards evening, Dominik Brunner, a fifty year-old senior manager of a brick company in Neufahrn in Lower Bavaria, boarded a suburban train on his way to his second home in the town of Solln near Munich. At the Donnersbergerbrücke station, four young teenagers - two girls and two boys - came on board with two older boys in hot pursuit. The younger kids had been on their way to what promised to be a fun evening at a bowling center when Markus Sch. and Sebastian L. (aged seventeen and eighteen) approached them on the station platform and demanded fifteen Euros from them. They continued their harangue in the train and threatened violence if the younger kids didn’t shell out the money.

At this point, Brunner stood up and told the older kids to lay off. He then comforted the four teenagers and said he would ride with them to Solln station and make sure they got off safely. However, the two young men remained aggressive, and so two stations before Solln Brunner alarmed the police via cell phone. When they arrived in Solln, however, the older kids followed Brunner and his four charges off the train and onto the platform. And there, according to one of the children, one of the thugs “went ballistic.” “Stay out of it!”, Brunner shouted to the kids. As the two hooligans went at him, Brunner struck one of them down with a well-aimed punch. But he was no match for the two younger men, who now attacked him with fisted keys and heavy boots. They beat him to the ground, then kicked him repeatedly in the ribcage and crushed his face beneath their boots. Doctors later discovered twenty-two severe injuries to the head and upper body. When the police arrived seconds later, the two young men ran for it and hid in the bushes outside the station. They were arrested an hour later.

Brunner rose to his feet and murmured a few words, but then collapsed. He died in a nearby hospital around 6:30 p.m.

Solln station
Scene of the crime:
Solln station near Munich

The children cried for help, but say that the scattering of other people on the platform did nothing to stop the murder. Even so, the police have yet to charge anyone with failure to render assistance. Witnesses say that a number of people shouted out to the murderers, and a French tourist attempted to cross the tracks to come to Brunner’s assistance, but was prevented from doing so by a passing train. In any case, it was all over in a couple of minutes.

Brunner’s assailants already had extended criminal records and are being charged with murder. One of the children Brunner protected, a thirteen year-old girl called Sarah, later told reporters: “He gave his life for us. … I will always remember him as a hero.”

Markus Sch.
"Do what you want and f*ck the rest":
From the Internet profile of Markus Sch.
Dominik Brunner's murderer

But what Brunner displayed was not so much heroism as what the Germans call Zivilcourage, a term best translated as “the courage to stand up for what one believes.” In a society where random violence is commonplace in many areas, and where it is unusual for passersby to intervene, actions like his provide a much-needed – but all too rare – model for the rest of us. The Süddeutsche Zeitung cites a sheet of paper left among the roses at Brunner's makeshift memorial in Solln with the words: "The more citizens with Zivilcourage a country has, the fewer heroes it will need in the future."

On September 16, the Free State of Bavaria held a minute of silence at 6:30 p.m. in Brunner’s honor. Some 2,000 people assembled at the station for a brief memorial ceremony. A Lutheran pastor praised him for “breaking the spiral of violence.”

Brunner was buried in a quiet ceremony in his home town of Ergoldsbach on September 18. He has been awarded the Bavarian Medal of Honor posthumously. He has also been recommended for the Federal Cross of Merit, Germany’s highest honor.

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That's terrible.

We all lost something with the loss of Herr Brunner.
Unbelievable hate confronts unrelenting compassion....and in the end game, compassion wins.
A great tribute Alan. I wonder sometimes about the thugs that Hitler sent out to beat the Jews and destroy their places of business. I wonder if someone like Mr. Brunner would have stood up to these "brownshirts"? I'm sure there were many who stood up and were never recognized for their bravery. This world needs a lot more Brunners!!
If there were more like him, the world would be a very different place.
We need a lot of Brunners in the United States, where the murder rate is far above the still relatively small rate of Germany's. You correctly honor his immense courage. And perhaps his family will learn that his heroism has been read about thousands of miles away, across the blogosphere.