Jewish community leaders are reacting with “great worry” following a revelation in the German media that a class of ninth graders was using Nazi salutes and neo-Nazi slogans in their communications on WhatsApp.
The Times of Israel reported that the teens in a high school in Landsberg near Leipzig in eastern Germany had set up a neo-Nazi fan club and were using the cellphone messaging app to share their controversial material.
German police last week interrogated two of the boys who shared photos of themselves posing in Hitler salutes.
“There is something very rotten in the German province of Saxony,” Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group, told TheBlaze Sunday.
“The situation in this respect in former East Germany is cause for concern,” said Zuroff, who is well-known for the work he has done to track down fugitive Nazi war criminals.
“Despite decades of ‘anti-fascist’ education, neo-Nazi ideas have found numerous supporters in recent years,” Zuroff added. “In that respect, some people just switched their extremist brand from Communist totalitarianism to neo-Nazi totalitarianism.”
Berlin Jewish community leader Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal told RT television that he reacted “with great worry” when he heard of the teens' fascination with Nazism.
“[W]hen one sees an entire class or group of teenagers greeting each other in this form, it is a root for concern and worry,” Teichtal said.
“I believe that this ideology unfortunately ... is not limited specifically to Germany at all,” Teichtal said. “We find it in a number of countries across the spectrum even many well-known countries that stand strong for democratic values.”
Anti-Israel demonstrations over the summer in major European cities including Berlin and Paris included overtly anti-Semitic displays prompting German Chancellor Angela Merkel to issue a statement of condemnation.
“The chancellor and the entire government welcome the revival of Jewish life in Germany and will continue to stand up for the security of Jewish citizens,” Merkel’s spokesman said in July.
Under German law, the public dissemination of Nazi phrases and symbols is illegal and can result in a maximum six-month jail term.
The Times of Israel reported that the teens’ messages included references to Hitler as a “fantastic person,” using the banned phrase “Deutschland – Sieg Heil!” or Germany! Hail Victory!
German media reported that the communications appeared to have been limited to one ninth grade class which has apologized for the activity and said it was a joke that had gone too far.
Parents were quoted by German media outlets saying they were unaware of the controversial content of their children’s online communications.
Eli Gampel, the father of the only Jewish boy in the class said according to the Times of Israel, “I thought it was a bad dream when I opened the newspapers and read the article.”
“[T]he incident should be a wake-up call for the educators and school system,” Zuroff told TheBlaze.