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Photographer: Wisconsin boys' Nazi salute photo was innocent

"The photo of students posted to #BarabooProud is not reflective of the educational values and beliefs of the School District of Baraboo," a post by the school district said.

The photographer who took a picture of boys from Baraboo High School giving what appears to be a Nazi salute says he simply asked the students to wave goodbye to their parents and the photo was just ill-timed.

Pete Gust, whose son Matthew appears in the photo, says there was no intention "in any way, shape or form to simulate anything that was offensive to anyone." Gust tells The Associated Press that the boys' arms were extended in various stages of being raised when the shot was taken.

Gust posted the photo on his website, Wheels Memories, after he took the pre-prom shot on the steps of the Sauk County Courthouse in Baraboo in May. The photo circulated on social media this week, drawing strong rebukes online and from Jewish organizations.

Gust has removed the photo from his website and wrote, "To anyone that was hurt I sincerely apologize."

The school district posted a message on its Facebook page on Monday, condemning the depiction.

"The photo of students posted to #BarabooProud is not reflective of the educational values and beliefs of the School District of Baraboo," the post said.

"We are investigating and will pursue any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal, to address."

Later Monday morning, the district sent the following e-mail to district parents:

"Early this morning, a photo that was taken last spring of some Baraboo School District students who appear to be making extremely inappropriate gestures began circulating on social media. The District has confirmed at this time that the photo was not taken on school property or at a school-sponsored event.

"The school district is investigating the situation and is working with parents, staff and local authorities. If the gesture is what it appears to be, the district will pursue any and all appropriate actions, including legal, to address the issues.

"With that, we want to be very clear: The Baraboo School district is a hate-free environment where all people, regardless of race, color, religion, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin or ancestry, are respected and celebrated."

The note was signed by Superintendent Lori Mueller.

The photo also drew a response from the Auschwitz Museum, which tweeted "It is so hard to find words...."

The museum added: "This is why every single day we work hard to educate. We need to explain what is the danger of hateful ideology rising. Auschwitz with its gas chambers was at the very end of the long process of normalizing and accommodating hatred."

The Baraboo area is represented by State Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton), who said he was appalled by the photo and wants to know more about how it came to be taken.

"I saw it and it's disgusting," he said. "There is absolutely no place in the world for something like that."

He added: "If kids today think racism is OK, then we know where that's coming from and that's coming from the White House."

The Baraboo Police Department said in a Facebook post that it was aware of the photo controversy and officers are assisting the school district's investigation.

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