Five Auckland schoolboys who made a tearful apology to war veterans for worshipping Nazi symbols will now teach museum visitors about the horrors of the Nazi regime.
The five students caused outrage when they kissed a swastika, bowed before a Nazi banner and gave a Nazi salute during an Auckland Grammar School visit to the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
Pictures of the students which appeared on social networking website Facebook deeply upset museum staff and war veterans.
Today the five students and three school staff went back to the museum, where each student apologised to two war veterans and museum staff.
The two veterans had met the boys on an earlier trip before they paid homage to the Nazi symbols.
Today's meeting was a "very emotional, full-on and quite an intense experience for the boys", said Russell Briggs, the museum's director of communications and technology.
"There were tears in the eyes and it was very emotional. The boys expressed a great deal of sorrow and apologised directly to the veterans for their actions."
Mr Briggs said the museum was happy the apology was genuine and it was a good learning experience for the boys.
"This is the first time it has ever happened and this is decades and decades of working with Auckland Grammar and hundreds of other schools."
Mr Briggs said the boys characterised their actions as an immature prank.
"It was something that got out of control and they didn't understand the effect it would have on their families and their school and the people of New Zealand.
"They apologised to all the people they hurt, including all the people of New Zealand, which I thought was a brave thing to do, and it made me think that they really understood the magnitude of what they had done."
He said the boys would be part of a special project to teach people about Nazi history, including the horrors of the holocaust .
Earlier this month, Lincoln University fined 15 students $200, made them write an essay on the Holocaust and visit the Holocaust Centre and the German embassy, both in Wellington, at their own expense. They had attended a party last month dressed as Nazis and concentration camp victims. The students were scheduled to visit the Holocaust Centre today.
Meanwhile, Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres said he was ashamed to be an old boy of Auckland Grammar after the actions of the schoolboys.
Auckland Grammar principal John Morris said the incident happened at the beginning of the year, although the school first learned of the photos on Friday after a former pupil viewed them on Facebook. Mr Morris said there was "absolutely no justification for the immature and unthinking actions of the boys".
The pupils' families were told yesterday and the boys will face unspecified disciplinary action.
This is the second high-profile embarrassment for Auckland Grammar this year. Four of its first XV students were suspended for up to six weeks by an Auckland Rugby Union disciplinary committee after a brawl with Kelston Boys High players during an Auckland secondary schools rugby semifinal.
Holocaust Museum director Inge Woolf wants a meeting between the pupils and Holocaust survivors such as herself.
"It might seem a long time [ago] to them, but it's still in the lifetime of young survivors."
Ms Woolf fled from Vienna when the Nazis invaded, and came to New Zealand in 1958 after her family were killed in the Holocaust.
"It's very upsetting for anyone that understands how terrible the Nazis were. We certainly don't want that here in New Zealand – it's not the way the New Zealand society behaves," she said.
Mr de Bres said the behaviour was totally inappropriate. "As an Auckland Grammar old boy I feel somewhat ashamed and I expect the school to deal with it, as they appear to be doing."
He encouraged schools to use the Holocaust Centre to educate pupils about the war.
"It's a kind of thing that certainly ought to be taught and, you know, in a sense there's a failure when students take it this lightly."
Secondary Principals Association president Peter Gall said the Holocaust was included in the social science curriculum but not every school covered it.
Returned and Services Association national president Robin Klitscher said the boys' actions were disgusting. "Above all it's profoundly ignorant and I think that is probably what causes the greatest offence."
- With NZPA