VIENNA, Austria — Five Austrian school students are being investigated for playing Nazi guards as part of coursework designed to teach them about the risks of indoctrination, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
“This is the first such case as far as I know… an investigation has been opened based on the law against Nazi activities,” prosecutor Johann Fuchs told AFP, confirming a report in the daily Kurier.
The students allegedly put on the role play during breaks after a teacher at their school in Zurndorf in Burgenland state asked them to study the 1981 American film “The Wave” and the book of the same name by Todd Strasser, alias Morton Rhue.
Used frequently around the world, these works are based on a 1967 real-life experiment in California by a history teacher. Seeking to highlight Nazi indoctrination mechanisms, the teacher enlisted students in a fascist experiment but instead of revulsion, it drew more enthusiasm from them than anyone expected.
At New Middle School Zurndorf, some students pretended to be SS guards, while others took on the roles of ‘dirty Jews,'” the Kurier newspaper said. The supposed leader, 15, demanded to be addressed with the Nazi salute; those who resisted were locked into a “gas chamber.”
Burgenland prosecutors initially launched an investigation against 10 students. But five are below 14 years old and so are considered minors under the law and are no longer being pursued, Fuchs said.
The alleged leader has since said what the group did was a “big stupidity. No one took it seriously,” according to the Kurier.
Austria — which the Nazis “annexed” into the Third Reich in 1938 — has some of the world’s strictest laws against Holocaust denial and pro-Nazi activities. Despite this, offenses involving expressions of pro-Nazi sentiment are not uncommon.
A coalition of the center-right People’s Party (OeVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) — founded by former Nazis in the 1950s — has governed Austria since December after winning votes on an anti-immigration platform.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.