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Stir over Hitler salute in Munich school

Natalie MullerSeptember 15, 2016

Four German students who received warnings for performing the Hitler salute were told to learn more about the Nazis. The incident has sparked a debate in the community about how the school should handle the matter.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Kästle

A group of four ninth-graders from the southern city of Munich gave the Nazi greeting at the beginning of their religious education class, according to local press reports. Even if used as a prank, copying the gesture made famous by Adolf Hitler is a criminal offense in Germany.

The incident occurred in April, and at the time was met with a "strong reprimand" issued by the school's principal - such a reprimand is an official measure in the Bavarian school system that can lead to expulsion.

It wasn't the first time the students at the Wilhelm-Röntgen secondary school in Neuperlach had gotten into trouble. The pupils - three boys and a girl - had also allegedly been reported for making right-wing extremist statements in geography class.

On Thursday, however, German media reported that the warnings had been withdrawn, and downgraded to alternative "educational measures."

The reports said students' parents had gotten involved, even threatening the school with legal action. The school denied this was the case. Principal Irina Kuttner said the situation had been misrepresented and that the salute was just a silly prank by young people who didn't know what they were doing.

She defended the school's decision, saying an educational approach was often more effective than official warnings because it meant "the students had to deal with the issue." In this case, she said, the students were required to do a class presentation on the Nazi era.

"I was at the talks," Kuttner said. "It was very unpleasant for the young people. Something really stuck with them."