At 8 a.m. on August 29, as Dirk and Petra Wunderlich began the day’s homseschooling classes with their four children, a team of twenty armed special agents, social workers, and police with a battering ram stormed the family’s home in Darmstadt, Germany. The children were forcibly taken from their parents in a raid that was described by observers as “brutal and vicious” and transported to unknown locations, while the officials told the parents “they would not be seeing their children anytime soon.” The reason for the raid was that the parents homeschool their children, which is forbidden by German law dating from the WWII era.
Judge Koenig of Darmstadt family court signed the order authorizing seizure of the children because the parents failed to cooperate with the authorities to send the children to school. The Judge authorized the use of force against the children “because the children had adopted the parents’ opinions regarding homeschooling and that no cooperation could be expected from either the parents or the children,” according to the Home School Legal Defense Association, which reported the incident. HSLDA obtained the court documents, which do not allege abuse, neglect, or even failure of the parents to provide adequate education.
Dirk Wunderlich described the events to HSLDA: “I looked through a window and saw many people, police, and special agents, all armed. They told me they wanted to come in to speak with me. I tried to ask questions, but within seconds, three police officers brought a battering ram and were about to break the door in, so I opened it. The police shoved me into a chair and wouldn’t let me even make a phone call at first. It was chaotic as they told me they had an order to take the children. At my slightest movement the agents would grab me, as if I were a terrorist. ” He said his 14-year-old daughter Machsejah resisted and was taken forcibly from their home.
Mr. Wunderlich told HSLDA: “When I went outside, our neighbor was crying as she watched. I turned around to see my daughter being escorted as if she were a criminal by two big policemen. When my wife tried to give my daughter a kiss and a hug goodbye, one of the special agents roughly elbowed her out of the way and said—‘It’s too late for that.’ What kind of government acts like this?”
Dirk and Angela Wunderlich left Germany with their four children to avoid the persecution for homeschooling and began a four-year sojourn from one country to another in Europe to try to find a place to live where they could continue to teach their children. When they moved to France in 2009, they were stunned by officials who appeared at their door without notice to take the children into custody. It was three days before their parents could see them. German authorities had requested the French intervention, claiming that the children were “socially isolated” and “in grave danger.”
The Wunderlich family eventually returned to Germany, because the father was unable to find work elsewhere. In October 2012, the German court placed the four children in formal legal custody of state youth officials, solely because their parents were homeschooling them. The parents sought appellate relief, but that hope ended the morning of August 29.
“These are broken people,” says HSLDA Director for International Affairs, who is helping to defend the Wunderlich family. “They said they felt like they were being ground into dust. They were shaken to their core and shocked by the event. But they also told me that they had followed their conscience and the dictates of their faith. Although they don’t have much faith in the German state—they have a lot of faith in God. They are an inspiring and courageous family.”
This is not the first case of this sort. In 2007, fifteen-year-old Melissa Busekros was taken by force from her home in Germany by a police squad and placed in a psychiatric hospital because she was being homeschooled. After her stay in the mental institution, she was placed in a foster home. When she turned sixteen, she walked away from the foster home to return to her parents, where she was permitted to stay only after being subjected to evaluations by the state’s youth welfare agency. What caused this conflict? Melissa had fallen behind in math and Latin and was being tutored at home. When school officials found out, they expelled her and then took her to court, where they obtained the order to place her in a psychiatric institution.
If anyone thought totalitarian tactics had ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, think again. Germany is one of the most aggressive opponents of homeschooling, despite international law protecting human rights. Even the UN criticized its harsh treatment of homeschoolers in a 2006 report on the German education system.
I know from the fourteen years that I lived in Germany, as a parent you have no say on what your children will be exposed to at school. When I met with parents at the beginning of the school year and was told about the sex education they were going to give to my then fifth-grade daughter, Stephanie, I objected that abstinence was not even one of the options they would discuss. Not only the teacher, but the other parents laughed at me. When my then second-grade son came back from school, he told me about a conversation with his instructor in religion. (Children were required to take a class in religion, but the content was perfect to inoculate one against the real thing.) “You don’t believe any of this, do you?” Tommy asked his teacher, who lowered his head and shook it slowly. “But if you don’t believe in Jesus, why are you teaching this class?” Tommy asked with indignation. “Because it was the only course open and I needed a job,” his teacher replied with surprising candor. When one of Stephanie’s fifth grade teachers was out sick for six weeks (with no substitute), I offered to form a co-op with the other parents and their children to pick up the instruction the youngsters in my daughter’s class were missing. Nothing doing. We were forbidden to do so, even informally. Now I realize I would have been breaking the law, which makes me wish I had done it anyway.
Homeschooling may not be for everyone. But the right of parents to teach their children themselves is one of the most fundamental of human rights. Kudos to Mike Farris and the HSLDA in defending homeschooling families in America and abroad. The Gestapo tactics of the Germans against the Wunderlich family are outrageously reprehensible.
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