A non-Jewish German teenager from Dresden has been honored by the Jewish community for standing up to neo-Nazis at her school.
The 15-year-old, known as Emilia S., received the Prize for Civic Courage against Right-wing Radicalism, Anti-Semitism and Racism on Tuesday from the Jewish community of Berlin and the Association for the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
She was recognized for her response to an apparent trend in her school in Dresden, a city in the former East Germany: Classmates had started giving each other points for repeating neo-Nazi slogans when their cellphones were charged up to 88 percent. In far-right circles, the number 88 stands for “Heil Hitler,” since “H” is the eighth letter in the alphabet.
According to the dpa news agency, the game started with code words such as saying “Heilung” (“to your health”) if someone sneezed. Participants would get more points for saying “Heil Hitler” or showing the Hitler greeting with raised arm and flattened palm. Both are illegal in Germany.
They then started including the word for Jew (“Jude”) as an insult to other students and making Holocaust jokes.
Emilia reported the activity to police and filed charges against one classmate for incitement to hate. The police have visited the school, and the boy in question is no longer in Emilia’s class, according to news reports.
She told reporters she had been afraid to stand up to her classmate alone, but changed her mind after he started circulating anti-Semitic images via cellphone chats.
“The most horrible one was a picture of smoke with the caption ‘Jewish family photo.’ I reacted and said they should cut out the Nazi stuff,’” Emilia recalled.
Her classmates laughed at her, and then the person who had shared the images started sending texts about how Emilia “wanted to emigrate to Poland” and how she had “inhaled too many dead Jews.”
Emilia said she planned to share the prize money of 2000 euros, about $2,300, with a 14-year-old Jewish boy in Berlin whose family moved him to another public school earlier this year after classmates harassed him physically and verbally.
The boy’s family said they would in turn donate the gift to a new counseling center for victims of anti-Semitic attacks run by the Central Welfare Council of Jews in Germany.
Emilia told reporters that the atmosphere in her class hasn’t changed that much, even with the absence of the main antagonist.
“They still say ‘heilung’ if someone sneezes,” she said, “but they say it more softly.”