A Brief History
On October 25, 1944, SS Chief Heinrich Himmler of the German Third Reich ordered a crackdown against the youth culture anti-Nazi government resistance group known as “Edelweisspiraten,” or “Edelweiss Pirates.” This group of teenagers had dodged mandatory induction into the Hitler Youth organization and worked to help others hide from government authorities, whether those avoiding service in the Hitler Youth, draft dodgers, or army deserters. A German produced film, Edelweiss Pirates, detailed the exploits of these resisters in 2004.
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was an early associate of Adolf Hitler and was with Hitler for the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. One of Hitler’s earliest and most loyal supporters, Himmler joined the Schutzstaffel (SS) in 1925, and was appointed as Reichsfuhrer in charge of the SS by Hitler in 1929. Later, in 1943, Himmler also took on being Minister of the Interior and head of the Gestapo national police. A pathetically wimpy guy, Himmler avoided combat in World War I and was trained as an agronomist, a field he was excluded from because of his involvement in the anti-government activity associated with the Nazi party. Along with his growing involvement with Hitler and the other party organizers, Himmler rejected his Catholic upbringing and replaced his belief system with fierce anti-Jewishness and mystical belief in occult subjects. His fierce anti-Semitism meshed well with his duties as architect of the Holocaust, the effort by the Third Reich to eliminate all Jews from any area controlled by Germany. By October of 1944 Himmler was probably the second most powerful man in Germany, Luftwaffe commander Herman Goring having lost influence due to the failure of the Luftwaffe to stop Allied bombing of German cities.
The Edelweiss Pirates formed in the late 1930’s when teens that avoided membership in the Hitler Youth, a gender segregated organization, formed a loose association of male and female teens that rejected governmental intrusion into their lives. The fact that boys and girls were not allowed to mingle in government organizations (Hitler Youth for boys, League of German Girls for girls) made the Edelweiss Pirates attractive to teens of both sexes. At first, the non-conformist nature of the Edelweiss Pirates led to minor acts of dissent and provocation, such petty vandalism and graffiti. Later more serious actions were taken, such as beating up Hitler Youth members and hiding deserters and draft dodgers. Regional chapters sprang up, such as the Navajos, the Roving Dudes, and the Kittlebach Pirates. All these groups were identifiable by their edelweiss badge (edelweiss is an alpine flower in the daisy family of flowers).
At first, government response was somewhat measured, considering the youth and petty offenses of the pirates, but as the fortunes of war worsened for the Third Reich and the pirates took on a more serious role, the government transitioned from shaving the heads of offenders and brief incarceration, to deportation to concentration camps and after the crackdown, execution.
After World War II ended and Germany was occupied by the Allies, the Edelweiss Pirates did not disappear. The non-conformist nature of the members did not just melt away, and the Allies took the groups quite seriously, courting their cooperation in establishing a new government and social order. At first the pirates were at least somewhat cooperative, as they sought favors and interceded on behalf of their friends and families, but their anti-establishment and anti-political nature reasserted itself and group activity once again became somewhat of a counter cultural movement. Edelweiss Pirate reprisals against Russian and Polish people and against collaborators resulted in the arrest and threatened execution of some members, with prison sentences of 25 years handed down. Never numbering more than a few thousand members, the Edelweiss Pirates slowly disappeared as Germany moved toward normal conditions after the War.
Other government resisting German youth groups of World War II include the Swingjugend (Swing Youth, or Swing Kids) and the White Rose, two groups that had some cross relations with each other. Readers fascinated by the Edelweiss Pirates can read the two novels about the group by author Mark Cooper.
Question for students (and subscribers): If a tyrant were to take over America, would you join the resistance? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Bankes, James. WW II: THE YOUNG EDELWEISS PIRATES CHALLENGED NAZI TYRANNY. James Bankes, 2014.
Cooper, Mark A. Edelweiss Pirates: Operation Einstein (Volume 1). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.
Cooper, Mark A. Edelweiss Pirates: The Edelweiss Express (Volume 2). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Christoph Rückert aka Dstern of a memorial for the Cologne victims on Schönstein Str, next to the Bahnhof, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.