Auschwitz Memorial says freedom of speech no ‘excuse’ for apparent Nazi salute photo

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A group of Wisconsin teens won’t be disciplined for a photo in which the boys appear to hold their arms up in a Nazi salute, and the reason why isn’t holding much water with the Auschwitz Memorial.

READ MORE: Wisconsin students perform apparent Nazi salute in photo prompting investigation

On Saturday, the Twitter account representing the memorial and museum for the former Nazi concentration camp posted a rebuke to school officials’ argument that the boys are protected by freedom of speech.

“Let’s only hope that the protection of freedom of speech will not become a too easy excuse for parents, teachers, community and educators to do nothing about this painful public expression of hate speech in the form of the Nazi salute,” the tweet said.

The photo showing a group of teens in suits, many with a single arm outstretched straight overhead, went viral earlier this month, though the photo was apparently taken last spring. The photo received international attention, prompting both the Baraboo School District as well as local police to launch investigations.

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School officials condemned the photo at the time, referring in a statement Nov. 12 to the teens’ “extremely inappropriate gestures.”

READ MORE: Chinese tourists arrested after giving ‘Heil Hitler’ salutes in Germany

Officials now say free-speech rights would make it difficult to discipline students who appeared in the photograph.

The State Journal reports that Baraboo Superintendent Lori Mueller said in a letter to parents Wednesday that officials cannot know the “intentions in the hearts” of those involved. She also said the district isn’t in a position to punish the students because they are protected by the First Amendment.

WATCH: ‘It’s not what we meant’ says teen in apparent ‘Nazi salute’ photo

‘It’s not what we meant’: teen in ‘Nazi salute’ photo
‘It’s not what we meant’: teen in ‘Nazi salute’ photo

The person behind the camera, a parent of one of the teens, has argued that it was simply a poorly timed snap. Pete Gust told the Associated Press that the boys were waving to their parents at the time of the photo.

“There was nothing intended in any way shape or form to simulate anything that was offensive to anyone,” Gust said. “If there’s any error, it was me in timing the shot.”

This isn’t the first time the Auschwitz Memorial has commented publicly on the photo. In a Nov. 12 tweet, it warned against the normalization of hatred, noting “this is why we work so hard every day to educate.”

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Approximately 6 million Jewish people, along with Roma, homosexuals and other minorities, were killed by Nazi and Axis forces during the Holocaust. More than a million people died at Auschwitz through disease, starvation and in its gas chambers.

It was the largest of Adolf Hitler’s concentration camps and operated from 1940 until 1945.

Baraboo is a town of about 12,000 about 185 kilometres northwest of Milwaukee.

— With files from the Associated Press.