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German Children Seized From Parents for Crime of Homeschooling

The German government forcibly seized four children from their parents in a raid last Thursday in Darmstadt, Germany. Why? Because the Wunderlich children were home schooled – an illegal activity viewed by the German government as “child endangerment.”

Reports by World Net Daily [1] and The Daily Mail [2] said the police were armed with a battering ram, and held father Dirk Wunderlich to a chair while they removed the children. A team of 20 social workers, police, and special agents entered the home. According to a report [3] by the Home School Legal Defense Association [4] (HSLDA), an organization that advocates for parental choice in education, the children were taken to unknown locations and officials told the parents they would not be seeing their children “anytime soon.”

In a phone interview, Wunderlich called the episode a “nightmare.” He said that for several days, he has felt “very down and crushed,” but is trusting that “this terrible thing is one piece in God’s big plan.”

Michael Donnelly, lawyer for HSLDA, said, “This shouldn’t happen in Germany. This is a very peaceful family.”

Not only did the German government seize the children – they seized the children’s passports as well. This prevents the family from attempting to move to another country where homeschooling is permissible. According to Wunderlich, the children could be taken from them permanently if they made such an attempt. “Our children are prisoners of the German government,” he said.

The Wunderlich family has been trying to homeschool their family legally for years, and attempted moving to other countries with greater educational freedoms. Although they found refuge in France, Mr. Wunderlich was unable to find a job. They had to return to Germany.

For the Wunderlichs, homeschooling is preferable for both religious and educational reasons. Wunderlich believes school can be a rather “artificial place for learning.” Via homeschooling, their children can immediately pursue and study specific interests. He also believes homeschooling has bolstered family relationships. But living in Germany has been hard for them. There are few homeschooling families in Germany. “In America, it’s perfect,” Wunderlich said. “But here in Germany, most parents are alone … if people were gentle and nice, it would be better, but society and authorities are against homeschoolers.”

German law states children must attend school from age six to 18. Homeschooling is not permissible. Two German Supreme Court rulings on the subject have given the state equal authority as parents over children’s education. The law is meant to ensure children receive the appropriate socialization, Donnelly said.

But according to Donnelly and other homeschooling advocates at HSLDA, this law is in direct contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Germany has signed. The ICCPR gives the following permissions to parents: “The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.” This parental liberty, Donnelly says, includes the right to homeschool.

In addition, Germany has signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which says states party to the covenant “undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents … to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”

However, Germany is also party to the European Union Convention on Human Rights: a document less sympathetic toward parental choice. The European Court of Human Rights ruled against a German homeschooling family in the 2006 Konrad case [5], after the parents petitioned for the ability to homeschool their children.

The Wunderlich’s lawyers will argue their case on the basis that the current education law is too vague. They are also arguing on the basis of the international treaties Germany has signed, since they appear to be violating those treaty obligations. HSLDA is helping support the Wunderlich’s lawyers on the ground, raising funds for their legal defense and bolstering awareness for their case. Although the Wunderlichs are hoping for a court date in September, they are still waiting.

Mr. and Mrs. Wunderlich have had no contact with their children since the raid one week ago.

Germany is a liberal democracy. Yet the actions of the state in this instance are antithetical to democratic government. The raid seems overtly harsh towards a family that—the state has already acknowledged [2]—treats their children well. There are no allegations of abuse or neglect. According to HSLDA, the government hasn’t even claimed that the parents are providing an inadequate education.

Although the government should have the ability to monitor a child’s education, it should not control it entirely. Parental freedom and choice are also necessary and important factors in the equation—especially when a family’s ethical and religious convictions are involved. Without such educational freedoms, children truly become “prisoners of the state” and its teaching methods.

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#1 Comment By FN On September 5, 2013 @ 8:23 am

One may argue that Germany should allow homeschooling. However, the laws being what they are at the moment, it was clear that sooner or later the children would be taken away from their parents. For years, the parents steadfastly refused to comply with the law and sooner or later – in this case rather late – it has to be enforced. They knew what was going to happen and could easily have avoided it. This is not overly harsh, especially given the fact (at least according to the authorities) did not nearly have the level of education that they should have had at their age. The article should have mentioned this latter point.

Imagine our millions of muslims homeschooling their kids.

#2 Comment By German_reader On September 5, 2013 @ 8:44 am

None of America’s business.

#3 Comment By balconesfault On September 5, 2013 @ 9:00 am

Do homeschooled conductors make the trains run on time?

#4 Comment By Rachel On September 5, 2013 @ 9:22 am

Europeans value social cohesion over individual religion expression. Germans in particular are deeply distrustful of splinter communities. That’s the real issue here: they don’t want people raising children is “separate societies”.

We can agree or disagree, but we ought to at least recognize that a fragmented society is a bad thing and that homeschooling contributes to it.

#5 Comment By Johann On September 5, 2013 @ 9:53 am

FN, there can never be justification of taking children from their parents short of serious bodily harm inflicted on the children by the parents. The law goes against a basic human right of parents to raise their children. There can be other ways to ensure the children get the education they need to be productive citizens.

#6 Comment By E O Anthropus On September 5, 2013 @ 10:03 am

One could also argue that the government has no authority to remove children from their parents, particularly in this case irrespective of their educational achievements. And by the same token how many millions of schoolchildren do not achieve the level of education they should have as they plough through the mess that state provided education has, in so many cases, become?

#7 Comment By Johann On September 5, 2013 @ 10:07 am

The Prussians were the first to implement compulsory education for all in the 1700s, which was later applied to all of Germany after unification in 1871. The education was strict, and emphasized the three Rs. It gave the general population what they needed to be productive in an industrialized society. Much is made now-days about how the education was too regimented and was therefore not good, which is 100% false. It forced kids to learn to read well and understand mathematics, which opens the world to children for real learning. Our own US system was based on the Prussian system. Too bad its drifted into mediocrity.

BUT, what was and is wrong about it is that the state should not be able to take kids away from their parents if they do not comply with the law. And there should be some option for home schooling where it can be demonstrated that the kids are learning.

#8 Comment By TimmyC On September 5, 2013 @ 10:09 am

“This is not overly harsh” – are you serious??

Wow – I just don’t understand the readers of TAC. It seems that the majority are mostly died in the wool liberals who would be more at home at Mother Jones or The Nation. I think it’s obvious that they’re drawn to TAC to read “conservative” writers bashing “movement” conservatives and the Republican Party, which unfortunately is typical of of what is written here (but not exclusively, which is why I keep reading).

#9 Comment By Matt On September 5, 2013 @ 10:24 am

None of America’s business.

Well I don’t think anyone is suggesting a drone strike.

But seizing children from their parents should only be done in cases of some proven dire threat to the children, which this case doesn’t remotely fit.

#10 Comment By Johann On September 5, 2013 @ 10:31 am

@German Reader

“None of America’s business.”

From a legal standpoint and US government standpoint, you are right, but you’ll have to forgive us individual citizens for having an opinion on the matter.

#11 Comment By MikeS On September 5, 2013 @ 10:39 am

Summary of this post seems to be: Germany is a bad place because it enforces its own laws and because its laws are different from America’s.

#12 Comment By Tim On September 5, 2013 @ 12:57 pm

MikeS et al.

I’m sure if Russia or Uganda went ahead and enforced its laws intended to curtail homosexuality you would be holding the same “nothing to see here” mentality.

#13 Comment By Sean On September 5, 2013 @ 1:04 pm

“Summary of this post seems to be: Germany is a bad place because it enforces its own laws and because its laws are different from America’s.”

No, the summary of this post is: Germany is bad in this respect because it enforces bad laws. America’s laws have nothing to do with badness of German law.

As far as it being “none of America’s business”, well, no one’s suggesting cutting off diplomatic ties with Germany. No one’s calling for regime change. As far as I know, no one of importance in the US government has taken a stance on the matter. We’re just regular people who think it’s a shame when children are stolen from their parents.

Also, German_reader, you do realize you are on the website of (say it with me now) “The American Conservative”. Obviously you have some interest in American politics. Why? Don’t you realize American politics is none of your business!?

#14 Comment By Mightypeon On September 5, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

I for one would love to know how much “behind in educational attainment” the kids were.
I mean, I do think that a childs rights are violated if that child, due to ineffective homeschooling, ends up with absolutly no marketable skills and scant social experiences. We have a considerable social safety net, and I would be paying for those via transfers for the rest of their lifes.

There are ways to homeschool in Germany (just dont do it in Bavaria, easily one of Germanys most authoritarian states), one can usually do find some agreement with the authorities as long as the children met educational standarts. A completely secular homeschooling family actually remarked how difficult finding “secular homeschooling materials” is, this of course was liberal Bremen.
The parents also burned a number bridges by for instance refusing a schooling them in a private catholic school (at either a state negotiated discount or even a subsidy by the state iirc).

There are some news about this in Germany, and none of those mentions SWAT equivalent teams, battering rams etc.
Germany does not have as much of a warrior cop thing as the USA does in general, although police has become more militarized here too.

#15 Comment By The Wet One On September 5, 2013 @ 1:44 pm

“Yet the actions of the state in this instance are antithetical to democratic government.”

I’m pretty sure that statement is wrong. It is action that is inconsistent with a free and liberal government, but I’m pretty sure the German government is plenty democratic and that it was duly and validly elected by the people of Germany and that the people of Germany are reasonably satisfied with their government’s education policy.

I can’t say I agree with their government’s action, but then I look at American criminal law policy which I don’t really agree with either, but I blame that ridiculously punitive, draconian and inhuman criminal law policy on the American people. The policy is just the way the American people want it. I assume it’s the same with Germany’s educational policies and laws. Because both are in fact democracies, even when they’re wrong and putting in place illiberal and tyrannical policies.

#16 Comment By Matt On September 5, 2013 @ 2:12 pm

One thing we can learn from the comments is that the left will offer nothing beyond token opposition to such a law, were it ever to be passed here. After all, it’s the law, and the government is just enforcing it. What’s the problem?

#17 Comment By JB On September 5, 2013 @ 3:31 pm

Hey, German_reader: Doch.

Just as our government’s oppression of people both here and abroad are the “business” of freedom-loving Germans to criticize. I don’t mind people criticizing the gang (government) that exercises power in my country; I welcome it. The government of Germany is authoritarian as well, and we should say so loud and clear, no matter where we are from. Tschues!

#18 Comment By JB On September 5, 2013 @ 3:37 pm

Rachel: massive Third World immigration, legal and illegal, combined with a loss of will to demand assimilation to our language and culture, have “fragmented” our society — not actual native-born legal Americans who are exercising their natural right to raise and school their own children.

Homeschoolers are trying to defend their children from the filth pushed into our culture by major media outlets and government “schools.”

In some cases they find homeschooling to be a good alternative to government (“public”) schools which offer an atmosphere of ignorance, stupidity, violence, drugs, casual sex, and disrespect. Who the Hell are you to dictate that they submit the most precious and beloved people in their lives — their children — to a school which threatens their kids’ safety, education, or morals?

Pro-choice on homeschooling.

And to the commenter who implied that the government should outlaw homeschooling so that millions of Muslims couldn’t homeschool their kids: how about minimize the number of Muslims admitted to this country in the first place, rather than restrict the freedom of the rest of us because we then can’t adequately trust much of that new “American” population.

#19 Comment By Tran On September 5, 2013 @ 3:48 pm

@ TimmyC
I am fairly left but I read TAC because 1. it is always important what the other side thinks and 2. because people from both the left and the right can exchange opinions in the comments here, which is becoming increasingly rare. You can join the leftist circle-j**k on daily kos, or be run out from sites like HotAir, where you are automatically a socialist statist and traitor if you challenge their opinions. And vice-versa for conservatives. I hugely value the opportunity to discuss with those on the other side of the political spectrum, to counteract the incresing political polarization.

In regards to the homeschool issue, I agree that it is overly harsh how the state acted. They wrote that it is the first time that the German authorities took away children who were homeschooled.

But in general I think it is right that the state demands a certain level of education. I don’t understand why they did not send their children to a religious school?

#20 Comment By Patrick On September 5, 2013 @ 4:15 pm

Bravo Germany. If the parents are violating the law in a representative democracy, they have to expect consequences. There is nothing unreasonable in requiring children receive an accredited quality education (indeed it sounds perfectly good). I personally think is this era of fracture, universal public education should be mandatory in any advanced industrial democracy. Between the internet, the lack of compulsory military service, the gating of communities, the segregation of neighborhoods, the availability of tailored news and entertainment channels, the fabric of society is being unwoven and to quote the small brilliance of the song Slice, we are getting “300 million little USA’s” It’s okay for children to be exposed too other people and ideas; perfectly okay.

#21 Comment By TimmyC On September 5, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

@ Tran – I appreciate your interest in actually exchanging ideas. I do get frustrated though because it does seem like much of the writing and the comments here are knee jerk in their anti-Republicanism and, at least until the recent Syrian fiasco, hardly EVER critical of the left, the Democrats or Obama.

In any event, as for homeschooling, I have no problem at all with the state enforcing minimum standards. It seems like that could easily be done with standardized testing. But I also think it is absolutely beyond immoral to outlaw homeschooling and worse, to forcibly remove children from parents absent physical/emotional abuse… As a parent of three little boys, this was a gut wrenching story to read….

#22 Comment By Aaron Whitley On September 5, 2013 @ 5:38 pm

While I am not a fan of homeschooling (in most instances I think it is tantamount to child abuse) this does seem a pretty extreme measure by the German government. According to the BBC it appears that the parents wouldn’t even allow the kids to be tested to see what their level of education was and that the court proceedings have been going on for several years.

At least they asked first before getting the battering ram. In the US they would have just started with it and not bothered to talk to the guy.

#23 Comment By Bob Jones On September 5, 2013 @ 6:08 pm

@JB,\

As the parent of kids in public school, I really get tired of seeing the type of ridiculous garbage you block headed homeschooling constantly trumpet about those imaginary public schools you are constantly tilting against.

if the only way you can justify your choice of homeschooling is to lie and bare false witness as the case maybe, then it sounds like you probably made an invalid choice. If that is how you are teaching your kids, then I pity your children.

#24 Comment By Anna Marie On September 5, 2013 @ 7:13 pm

I hope the US never has a law like this, but I have to agree with The Wet One’s comment:
It is action that is inconsistent with a free and liberal government, but I’m pretty sure the German government is plenty democratic and that it was duly and validly elected by the people of Germany and that the people of Germany are reasonably satisfied with their government’s education policy.

This is no different then the recent law passed in Russia that bans homosexual propaganda to minors. The law was passed by elected representatives and the majority of the Russian people support the law.
I prefer living in a country that is accepting of true diversity, which means the majority has to be tolerant of the unconventional. But I’m also sympathetic to the idea that a *people* or a * culture* cannot exist without the majority deciding what is conventional or normative for that society.

#25 Comment By JB On September 5, 2013 @ 7:25 pm

As someone who attended excellent public schools, and the son of someone who has taught and supervised in one of those generally-excellent public schools for over forty years, I am aware that there are some public schools which offer a safe environment and solid academics.

There are also, however, thousands of public schools, mainly but not entirely in our cities, which offer no such thing. You’d have to be willfully blind and out of touch with the real world to deny that.

In any event, it is not up to YOU to decide for other parents whether a given school, or school system, satisfies their values, goals, and priorities regarding the academic, social, and moral milieu they think best for their children. Other parents don’t need to prove to you, or to me, under threat of legal compulsion, that their assessment of a given public school or the public school system generally, is sound.

#26 Comment By jamie On September 5, 2013 @ 9:07 pm

In any event, it is not up to YOU to decide for other parents whether a given school, or school system, satisfies their values, goals, and priorities regarding the academic, social, and moral milieu they think best for their children.

Naturally this would apply to the muslim couple that chooses to have their divorce arbitrated by sharia law, or is such a thing a sufficient threat to the “cultural cohesiveness” of the Greater Charlotte Area that we’re going to send in the SWAT team to break it up?

But I also think it is absolutely beyond immoral to outlaw homeschooling and worse, to forcibly remove children from parents absent physical/emotional abuse…

This doesn’t hold in a lot of situations in the US. Most localities will take all sorts of non-violent behavior into consideration when deciding to remove a child:

* if a parent is a substance abuser
* if a parent is a convicted felon, or cohabitating with a convicted felon
* if the parent’s domicile is not up to the building or fire code
* if a parent is handicapped, either physically or mentally
* if a parent exhibits any number of subjective, non-normative beliefs. Claiming that “God protects your child” usually falls under this definition.

None of these things along will get your child removed, but they’re all considered relevant evidence. All of these may lead to abuse, but they’re not abuse.

And then there’s your word, “abuse,” which is an overt, malicious act. But then there’s also “negligence,” and then there’s “recklessness,” and being found to be one of these is highly contingent on social norms. Denying a child a blood transfusion isn’t “abuse,” but it’s reckless and how the government regulates such behavior is very controversial.

Similarly, if you’re a Turkish parent in Bremen and you decide to homeschool your kids in order to keep them from learning about, say, Germany’s elaborate constitutional prohibitions on sex discrimination, the median reasonable German might see that as reckless and an indicator of imminent abuse.

We may disagree with this, but I don’t think this attitude is “antithetical to a democratic government.” Quite the opposite. If the US was as “democratic” as Germany, we’d have prayer is schools and US conservatives would be cheering the arrest of homeschoolers for teaching their kids Howard Zinn.

#27 Comment By Greg On September 5, 2013 @ 10:58 pm

But the German Central Government on its webpage, while criticizing America for the NSA, states that, “Germany is a nation of freedom.” Well, after the German authorities seized these children, perhaps there is a good reason after all why the NSA is listening in: Perhaps fascism is on the rise again in Germany. Unfortunately the Obama Administration puts its own relations with the German leadership over the family. If Germany wants a fight over this issue then it shall have one– until this Nazi law is finally repealed in Germany once and for all time.

#28 Comment By AnotherBeliever On September 5, 2013 @ 11:33 pm

One reason Germany is so insistent on controlling education is society’s obligation to teach the Holocaust and guard against separatist movements which may deny the Holocaust. Given the presence of Neo-Nazis in the country, the insistence on social cohesion is not unjustified. However, it seems to me that they could simply require that all children participate in a certain number of civics field trips, including homeschooled students. Certainly, taking custody of these kids seems extreme. Facing that consequence, I would send my kids to school. Better to share them with the state 7 hours a day than to lose them completely!

#29 Comment By Fran Macadam On September 6, 2013 @ 12:15 am

“I’m pretty sure the German government is plenty democratic and that it was duly and validly elected by the people of Germany and that the people of Germany are reasonably satisfied with their government’s education policy.”

Yeah, Hitler was elected as well, duly and legally, and for quite a while the “democratic” majority were more than reasonably satisfied, as the German legislature voted its powers to the Chancellor, including war-making.

Nothing to see folks, whatever dire thing you’re disturbed by, you can rest reassured it’s all legal and democratic-like.

But there is an evil called the tyranny of the majority – which individual rights and liberties are supposed to be protected from. You don’t have freedom when it’s only allowed for what the majority decide. Democracies can be tyrannical when a majority votes to oppress a minority, as if might makes right. And in a sense, every totalitarian government has to have some semblance of support from the governed – but that democratic aspect certainly has not much to do with liberty or even human rights. For instance, a democracy could outlaw all other human rights than, say, gay marriage, and claim to be democratic still.

#30 Comment By Fran Macadam On September 6, 2013 @ 1:58 am

We’re American Indian parents who chose to exclusively homeschool our children right through high school. We even eschewed oversight. The result has been graduation Magna Cum Laude from the Honors College of a major state university, for all three of our children.

We had great difficulty convincing university admissions authorities they should be allowed entrance. Professional educators, often with a hyper-secular bias against Christians who homeschool, are not wont to believe those outside their accredited profession could perform an adequate job of preparation.

A politically-correct counteroffensive to initial admission rejection that emphasized how poorly American Indian children have been served by the public education system allowed for some liberal sympathizing. After all, public school prepared American Indian students have some of the more dire outcomes statistically in higher education.

Socialization? In large measure, our students were leaders amidst their peers of mainly Anglo students.

This was worth taking a stand for. To allow great success, you must be willing to tolerate risk of failure.

#31 Comment By jamie On September 6, 2013 @ 2:41 am

Okay Fran I’m sorry, but this is a huge pet peeve of mine:

Yeah, Hitler was elected as well, duly and legally, and for quite a while the “democratic” majority were more than reasonably satisfied, as the German legislature voted its powers to the Chancellor, including war-making.

Hitler never won a free and fair election. In March 1932 he stood for President of Germany, he lost, winning only 36% of the vote. There were two successive Reichstag elections in July and November, and in these elections the Nazis cumulatively lost seats. After the elections failed to produce a government compatible with the Weimar constitution, Hindenberg, counseled by right-wingers, the Christian Centre, and business interests, appointed Hitler chancellor.

He then used is position to appoint Goering, Goering set the Resichstag on fire, all the leftist Reichstag members were arrested, enabling acts, yada yada yada, 40 million people dead.

#32 Comment By johan On September 6, 2013 @ 11:40 am

Another take: the action was done to prevent child abuse.

[7]

#33 Comment By TimmyC On September 6, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

@jaimie –

I knew someone was going to jump on my comment… What I should have said instead of “absent abuse”, was that there may be circumstances where the state must act to protect children even if that means removing them from the parents, but the fact that the children are homeschooled is NOT such a circumstance. (And PERHAPS some of the ones you listed are not either, by the way. Perhaps.)

#34 Comment By Mrs T On September 6, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

Seems Germany is bent on repeating its history… Extreme state control of education and suppression of individual religious freedoms were two of the major contributions to Nazi Germany and the holocaust it created.

#35 Comment By Richard Henry On September 6, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

This is scary indeed. Those who balk at it or feel it’s “not a big deal” obviously do NOT HAVE CHILDREN. I do, 2 small ones, and I cannot imagine the feds coming in, with 20 people no less, and taking them away as if I were a drug lord or holding them as sex slaves. Th German feds have nothing better to do than go after this family? Really? Disgusting, the German government and those who support them should be ashamed of this vitriol act.

Curious what the outcome would be and where the human rights groups would be if this were a Muslim family. Only a hatred of Christ and His people are now permissible by any secular government, everyone else is off limits.

#36 Comment By Mrs T On September 6, 2013 @ 4:44 pm

Homeschooling was illegal in most states in the US about 30 years ago. It was only when people fought the laws and were willing to do it illegally while fighting that change came about.

I think this action of the German government will probably end up enabling homeschooling freedoms in Germany far more than the government ignoring homeschoolers would have. Not only do they now have international outrage by homeschooling supporters, but I’m sure they’ve inadvertently made Germans far more aware of the concept of homeschooling.

#37 Comment By Terry On September 6, 2013 @ 8:18 pm

I don’t think that TAC knows this, but some gay leaders in the US are saying that if parents and their minor decide that the latter has unwanted homosexual feelings, perhaps due to some trauma, and that the minor should try “reparative therapy” to rid him/herself of these unwanted feelings, that the state may have the right to take the child away because it is “child absuse.” You see, California and NJ have recently passed laws banning such “reparative therapy.”
I wish that TAC and its readers would realize that the gay agenda goes way beyond same sex marriage. Thus, we are not far behind Germany. Do you understand what I am saying?

#38 Comment By German_reader On September 9, 2013 @ 11:22 am

@Sean
“Also, German_reader, you do realize you are on the website of (say it with me now) “The American Conservative”. Obviously you have some interest in American politics. Why? Don’t you realize American politics is none of your business!?”

Well yes, America’s internal politics really are none of my business and I don’t comment on them – for example, I have zero interest in whether some US states use the death penalty or not, or whether there is government-mandated health insurance in the US or not; it doesn’t affect me and it’s none of my business (just as it isn’t the business of sanctimonious Americans to promote their personal pet projects like home-schooling in other countries). It’s different with foreign policy since US power is felt across the globe.

#39 Pingback By Is Homeschooling legal? | Carra Lucia Books On February 18, 2014 @ 6:50 am

[…] Other cases: German Children Seized From Parents for Crime of Homeschooling The German government forcibly seized four children from their parents in a raid last Thursday in Darmstadt, Germany. Why? Because the Wunderlich children were home schooled – an illegal activity viewed by the German government as “child endangerment.” [8]; […]