Anti-Hitler Youth Organization Bravely Defied Nazi Regime Without Tragic Consequences
Anti-Hitler Youth Organization Bravely Defied Nazi Regime Without Tragic Consequences

Anti-Hitler Youth Organization Bravely Defied Nazi Regime Without Tragic Consequences

Khalid Elhassan - November 11, 2018

Anti-Hitler Youth Organization Bravely Defied Nazi Regime Without Tragic Consequences
Edelweiss Pirates. Mental Floss

Crackdown and Aftermath

The Nazis initially dismissed the Edelweiss Pirates as minor irritants and teenaged delinquents going through a phase. Attitudes hardened once WWII began, when the authorities blamed the Edelweiss Pirates for collecting anti-Nazi propaganda leaflets dropped by British bombers early in the war, and stuffing them into mailboxes. That was viewed as subversion during wartime, and treason. In 1943, for example, authorities in Dusseldorf complained to the Gestapo that the local Edelweiss “gang” was a bad influence on other youth, as well as on young soldiers, who hung out with them while on leave. The report noted: “These adolescents, aged between 12 and 17, hang around late in the evening with musical instruments and young females. Since this riff raff is in large part outside the Hitler Youth and adopts a hostile attitude towards the organization, they represent a danger to other young people.

Nonetheless, local authorities were relatively lenient with the Edelweiss, when compared to how they dealt with adult subversives. For example, penalties for the “delinquents”, who often kept their hair long and their appearance bohemian to set themselves apart from the militarized regimentation all around them, were often limited to a stern talking to, then shaving their heads. That was not enough for SS head honcho, Heinrich Himmler, who wanted an example made of youths who failed to show complete loyalty, and deemed any half measures when dealing with them to be unacceptable.

Writing in 1942 to his deputy, Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler wanted the Edelweiss to do a 2 or 3 year stint in concentration camps: “There the youth should first be given thrashings and then put through the severest drill and set to work. It must be made clear that they will never be allowed to go back to their studies. We must investigate how much encouragement they have had from their parents. If they have encouraged them, then they should also be put into a concentration camp and (have) their property confiscated“.

By 1944, with Third Reich clearly circling the drain, Himmler ordered an even more brutal crackdown. In November of that year, thirteen youths were hanged in public in Cologne, many of them active or former Edelweiss Pirates. The repression failed to break the youth coalition, however, which continued as a defiant subculture, rejecting the norms of Nazi society, until the “Thousand Year Reich” went down to defeat after a mere twelve years’ existence.

Anti-Hitler Youth Organization Bravely Defied Nazi Regime Without Tragic Consequences
Public hanging of Edelweiss Pirates in Cologne, October 25th, 1944. Pintrest

After the war, some factions of the Edelweiss Pirates attempted to work with the Allied occupation authorities, and their advances were welcomed, particularly by the communists in the Soviet occupied zone. However, most of the rank and file membership, true to their ethos, turned their backs on the attempt to politicize their movement. Having risked their lives to evade the regimentation of the Nazis, they were not eager to embrace regimentation under the communists. As a result, those who remained in what became communist East Germany ended up as dissidents and social outcasts, with many of them doing long stints in prison. In an unfortunate irony, many Edelweiss Pirates in West Germany ended up as reactionaries, even less reconciled to defeat than the Nazis, and became notorious for attacking Germans – particularly women – known to have been friendly or intimate with occupation soldiers.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Encyclopedia Britannica – Hitler Youth

History – How the Hitler Youth Turned a Generation of Kids Into Nazis

History Learning Site – The Edelweiss Pirates

Holocaust Research Project – The Hitler Youth

Jewish Virtual Library – The Nazi Party: Hitler Youth

War History Online – Exhibition Shows the Dark Side of the Nazi Youth Movement

Wikipedia – Edelweiss Pirates

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