At 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, August 29, 2013, in what has been called a “brutal and vicious act,” a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, forcibly removing all four of the family’s children (ages 7-14). The sole grounds for removal were that the parents, Dirk and Petra Wunderlich, continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.
HSLDA Founder and Chairman Mike Farris meets with the Wunderlich family during the Global Home Education Conference held in Berlin, Germany in October 2012. Farris is asking homeschoolers to contact German officials on behalf of the Wunderlichs.
The children were taken to unknown locations. Officials ominously promised the parents that they would not be seeing their children “anytime soon.”
HSLDA obtained and translated the court documents that authorized this use of force to seize the children. The only legal grounds for removal were the family’s continuation of homeschooling their children. The papers contain no other allegations of abuse or neglect. Moreover, Germany has not even alleged educational neglect for failing to provide an adequate education. The law ignores the educational progress of the child; attendance—and not learning—is the object of the German law.
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Judge Koenig, a Darmstadt family court judge, signed the order on August 28 authorizing the immediate seizure of Dirk and Petra Wunderlich’s children. Citing the parents’ failure to cooperate “with the authorities to send the children to school,” the judge also authorized the use of force “against the children” if necessary, reasoning that such force might be required because the children had “adopted the parents’ opinions” regarding homeschooling and that “no cooperation could be expected” from either the parents or the children.
In October 2012, state youth officials had been granted formal legal custody of the Wunderlich children by a German court based solely on the fact that the family was homeschooling. German lawyer Andreas Vogt sought appellate relief on behalf of the Wunderlichs and was able to forestall immediate removal of the children. But, yesterday, as the family quietly began their homeschool day, a ringing at the door signaled the interruption that turned their lives upside down.
Dirk Wunderlich described the frightening turn of events.
“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,” he told HSLDA.
“The police shoved me into a chair and wouldn’t let me even make a phone call at first,” he said. “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. You would never expect anything like this to happen in our calm, peaceful village. It was like a scene out of a science fiction movie. Our neighbors and children have been traumatized by this invasion.”
Looking for a Home
Over the past four years, HSLDA has reported on the Wunderlichs’ saga as they have moved from country to country in the European Union looking for a place to call home where they could freely homeschool their children. Although they found refuge from homeschool persecution, Mr. Wunderlich was unable to find work, and last year the family had to return to Germany.
The family resettled near Darmstadt, just 25 miles south of Frankfurt, with some trepidation. It is mandatory that all residents of Germany register with their local municipal authorities. Within days of the family registering their presence in the town, authorities initiated a criminal truancy case, and just months later the “Youth Welfare Office” was granted legal custody of the children. However, the court left the children in the residence with the parents since they were being well treated and otherwise cared for by their parents (see also: “Come Peacefully Now or by Force Later”).
Authorities even took the children’s passports, making it impossible for the family to escape—a violation of a number of human rights guaranteed to them by the European Convention of Human Rights, said HSLDA Chairman and Founder Michael Farris.
“The right to homeschool is a human right,” said Farris. “So is the right to freely move and to leave a country. Germany has grossly violated these rights of this family. This latest act of seizing these four beautiful, innocent children is an outrageous act of a rogue nation.”
The right of parents to decide how children are educated is a human right of the highest order, said Farris.
“The United States Constitution is not alone in upholding the right of parents to decide how to educate their children. Germany is a party to numerous human rights treaties that recognize the right of parents to provide an education distinct from the public schools that so that children may be educated according to the parents’ religious convictions. Germany has simply not met its obligations under these treaties or as a liberal democracy,” Farris said. “HSLDA and I will do whatever we can to help this family regain custody of their children and ensure that they are safe from this persecution. This case demonstrates conclusively why the Romeike asylum case is so important. Families in Germany need a safe place where they can educate their children in peace.”
Following the raid, Dirk Wunderlich told HSLDA Director for International Affairs Mike Donnelly that he and his wife were devastated.
“These are broken people,” Donnelly said. “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.”
“I’ve been fighting for German homeschool freedom for years,” he continued, “and I had hoped that things were changing in Germany since it has been some time since brutality of this magnitude has occurred. But I was wrong.”
“Mike Farris and I spent time with the Wunderlichs at the first global homeschool conference in Berlin in November 2012,” Donnelly went on to say. “They are a delightful family with precious children. They are really just regular people who are doing what millions of people here in the United States do every day.”
“My question to the political leadership of Germany is: How long will you permit these kinds of brutal acts to be perpetrated against German families?” said Donnelly. “Why is it so important to you to force people into your state schools? The echo of this act rings from a darker time in German history. When will leaders stand up and make changes so that brutality to children like the Wunderlichs no longer happens because of homeschooling? Isn’t there any German statesman willing to stand up for what is right anywhere in Germany?”
Wunderlich said that his 14-year-old daughter Machsejah had to be forcibly taken out of the home.
“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. They weren’t being nice at all. 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?”
After the children were taken away, the family was “invited” to a meeting with the senior social authority in charge at the scene, Mr. Behnis. The Wunderlichs agreed to the meeting and were joined by their attorney, Andreas Vogt, who came as soon as he was notified, traveling hours by train.
When the parents asked when they could seek a hearing to contest the seizure of their children, they were told they would have to wait until the regular judge returned from vacation. Vogt told HSLDA that the authorities had displayed little sympathy. Vogt has become a key lawyer in the German homeschool movement, representing many active cases. He has taken some to the German Supreme Court with no success to date.
Petra Wunderlich said her heart was shattered. “We are empty. We need help. We are fighting, but we need help,” she said.
You can support our fight for the Wunderlich family by donating to the Homeschool Freedom Fund.