What’s wrong with this picture?

By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Photo Source: dailykos.com

Look at this photograph. What’s your first impression?

This is the class picture from what were soon to be the most recent graduates of the entry-level training program to become correctional officers in the state of West Virginia. Not exactly the “Your Mother Would Be So Proud of You!” picture, now is it?

Nazi Germans saluting Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Summer Olympic Games held in Berlin.

Where were the “adults” when this was happening? Turns out some of them are right there in the picture. One can assume that sometime between when this picture was taken, and the time it showed up on the Internet, that some other “adults” would have seen it. Yet, none of those “adults” did the right thing, which would have been to destroy the photograph and take the appropriate disciplinary actions towards everyone involved.

For more than 80 years now, the “Heil Hitler” salute has been recognized—along with the term Nazis and the swastika—as enduring symbols of the pure evil represented by Adolf Hitler and Germany’s Third Reich. The pure evil that sent 6 million Jews to their deaths at concentration camps with name like:

  • Auschwitz-Birkenau
  • Belzec
  • Bergen-Belsen
  • Buchenwald
  • Chelmno
  • Dachau
  • Ebensee
  • Flossenbürg.
Buchenwald Concentration Camp
Weimar, Germany.
In the eight years of its existence from July 1937 to March 1945, a total of 238,980 prisoners from thirty countries passed through Buchenwald and its satellite camps, of these 43,045 were killed or perished in some other fashion there.

Yet even after the U.S. and Allied forces put an end to Hitler’s madness and liberated the concentration camps and all of Europe that had fallen under Nazi control, white supremacist groups, neo-Nazi groups, and other hate groups have hijacked these symbols of evil for their own self-serving purposes.

So, why did anyone with authority for the conduct of this training academy for future correctional officers in the state of West Virginia not see how wrong this was? The story first broke on our local Charleston television station WSAZ-3 on December 5th, 2019 and according to the story:

The photo was taken in November and handed out to attendees at the division’s November 27th graduation ceremony.

WSAZ-3, December 5, 2019

Why did it take a week for the incident to become public knowledge? More to the point, what kind of environment and culture exists at the training academy run by the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR) that gave everyone in that photo the “comfort level” to display one of the most recognized symbols of racism and hatred in the world for their class photograph? That’s the real question.

And it’s one that’s not likely to get an answer. Because it’s easier to conduct investigations, find some people to fire, and move along to other stuff. Because it’s hard to change an organization’s culture.

How would you handle this type of situation in your organization? 

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for FireRescue1.com and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, [email protected].