The fact that German schoolchildren are forming secretive Hitler fan clubs should not come as a surprise. The recent discovery of such a group near Leipzig, in the former East Germany, may only be the tip of an iceberg. The case appears to involve three students who communicated with a popular mobile messaging app, WhatsApp, exchanging greetings starting with “Deutschland – Sieg Heil!” and at least two of the boys were photographed making a Nazi salute while sporting or mimicking a Hitler-style mustache.
While the incident may be regrettable, the archaic laws and their application are half the problem. Under laws imposed by the Allies after WWII, anything that promotes, encourages, or supports Nazism, Hitler, the Third Reich, fascism, or German achievements dating from the time of the war, is illegal and punishable with quite severe fines and jail terms. This causes the whole period of time to be poorly discussed or taught in schools. Some children only learn that Germans are bad, had a war, persecuted and murdered Jews, and fought the entire world for no good reason. A quick trip to Dachau or Auschwitz, and that is the summation of their lessons. The teachers themselves are afraid to go into more details lest some parent be offended and make a complaint.
Instead of relying on the education system, many children today have access to high speed internet and the plethora of information and opinions that are available online. Doing a simple search for historical accuracy can easily lead to modern Neo-Nazi sites that in turn promote Nazism and Hitler. Given that pubescent teens tend to rebel, resisting conformity and authority, should any one be surprised at the latest case? With a variety of apps intended for more legitimate purposes, it is relatively easy for groups to remain hidden. Now that these children have been caught, we can be certain that any other groups will make it even harder to be found out, the New York Post reports.
It is unclear as to how the group was discovered. Neither the parents nor the teachers were aware of the activity being shared on social media. Prosecutor Andreas Schieweck confirmed that two students are currently under investigation, and school headmaster Lutz Feudel stated that a third student was on holiday with his parents. The three students belong to a class of 29 students aged 14 to 15.
The laws and the education system need to be updated and sensible discussions about how Hitler and the Third Reich came to power should be encouraged in the controlled setting of a classroom. Teachers need to be properly educated to deal with the reality of what happened and learn how to deal with the implications that Germany’s Nazi history has in today’s world. Germans can no longer shy away from talking about these issues with their children.