German principal admits school abuse stories ignored
THE HEADMISTRESS of Germany’s most prominent “progressive” school has admitted that victims’ tales of sexual abuse were ignored by teachers, police and the local authorities.
The admission follows new abuse allegations at the Odenwald School near Frankfurt, school of choice for the children of Germany’s left-wing Protestant elite.
Some eight teachers, including a former headmaster, have been accused of sexually abusing at least 33 former students.
Now former students have told of “torture rituals”, where older students raped younger students, and scalded their genitals.
“What I’ve heard completely goes beyond all imagining,” said Ms Kaufmann, headmistress at the school since 2007. “I just don’t know how this kind of behaviour carried on without teachers hearing cries of pain.”
In an interview with Die Zeitnewspaper, Ms Kaufmann said the school operated in the past “like a cult”, with abuse allegations suppressed out of a misplaced awe for the reforming pedagogical concepts of Gerold Becker, who was principal from 1972 to 1985.
Mr Becker, described by those who know him as a “fascinating personality”, spearheaded the boarding school’s broad curriculum and its concept of placing pupils in a “family”, on first name terms with one of their teachers.
According to former pupils, Mr Becker used this as a cover for his paedophiliac tendencies: he reportedly watched children shower, allegedly consumed child pornography, and woke boys in his care each morning by manually stimulating their genitals.
Mr Becker is reportedly seriously ill, and his partner Hartmut von Hentig, one of Germany’s leading education experts, has been left to respond to the sexual abuse allegations. “I have no doubt that these friendly gestures were never carried out against the will of the students,” he said.
Former students describe how teachers “saw themselves as revolutionaries”, throwing out conservative educational concepts and post-war prudery on the students’ behalf, and inducting them to the 1970s sexual revolution.
“It was suggested to students that the respected principal understood them very well and that it was even a sign of recognition to show mutual affection,” wrote author Amelie Fried, a former pupil, in the Frankfurter Allgemeinenewspaper.
“We students were happy to be able to explore our sexuality in an angst-free climate. That some teachers used this freedom as a cover for their assaults is a scandal.” The school’s board has resigned over the affair, a decade after it was first presented with sexual abuse allegations and voted to investigate internally rather than go to the police.
Ms Kaufmann has gone further, suggesting a lid was kept on abuse allegations because of “mafia structures”: Mr Becker counts former heads of state and newspaper publishers among his friends.
The first child abuse allegations at the Odenwald School surfaced in 1999 in the local Frankfurter Rundschaunewspaper, but were ignored by the rest of the German media.