The Edelweiss Pirates Fought Back Against The Hitler Youth Of WWII Germany
Edelweiss Pirates youth group in Nazi Germany. They emerged in western Germany out of the German Youth Movement of the late 1930s. Source: (Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)
You have probably heard of the Hitler Youth, an organization that sought to indoctrinate the young people of Germany into the Nazi ideology, but the story of the Edelweiss Pirates is not so well known. While the Hitler Youth worked to promote the Nazi party's agenda, the Edelweiss Pirates opposed Nazism and engaged in activities to undermine the Nazi control. Let's take a look at the story of how groups of German teenagers banded together to sabotage the Nazis and the Hitler Youth at the risk of imprisonment and execution.
Who Were the Hitler Youth?
The Hitler Youth formed in 1922, when it was originally called the Youth League of the Nazi Party. At first, it just included German boys between the ages of 14 and 18 years old, but it later expanded to include a girls' organization, originally called the League of German Girls. The two divisions were always kept separated from each other to make sure that there were no romantic temptations, and over time, both groups became more and more militarized, with the main focus on combat training. During its peak, the Hitler Youth had as many as eight million members. Starting in 1936, membership in the Hitler Youth became mandatory for Aryan teens. By 1939, non-membership was a punishable offense.
The Edelweiss Pirates Were the Anti--Hitler Youth Kids
As an increasing number of teens and their parents became outraged by the use of the Hitler Youth organization to train children for combat and brainwash them into the Nazi ideology, the Edelweiss Pirates formed in the late '30s as a direct response to the Hitler Youth. For starters, boys and girls could interact with each other. There was no call for the teens to sacrifice their fun and free time for military training. More importantly, members were encouraged to think for themselves rather than blindly accept the Nazi Party's ideology. Many members of the Edelweiss Pirates were former members of the Hitler Youth who had become disgruntled.
Edelweiss Pirates were Early Flower Children
Teen members of the Edelweiss Pirates were a lot like the hippie flower children of the 1960s. They rejected the conformity of the Hitler Youth. They kept their hair long and loose and wore plaid shirts under their lederhosen, while the Hitler Youth wore military-style uniforms that mandated crew cuts and other severe hairstyles. The Hitler Youth were only allowed to listen to state-sanctioned music, most of which was propaganda, but the Edelweiss Pirates reveled in songs written by Jewish composers.
Like the Hitler Youth, most teens joined the Edelweiss Pirates at the age of 14, which was the typical age that children in working-class cities and towns quit school, and membership in both groups ended when the teen turned 18. It was not because the group wanted its members to leave; it was because all German boys were forced to join the military when they reached adulthood. That meant that most members of the Edelweiss Pirates had only a short amount of time to be an asset to the organization.
Increasingly, the teen members of the Edelweiss Pirates engaged in acts of rebellion against the Nazi Party and the Hitler Youth, though much of their activities were shrouded in secrecy. Members spray painted anti-Hitler messages on walls and buildings, threw bricks through munition factory windows, and even dumped sugar into the gas tanks of Nazi cars. They tuned into BBC radio broadcasts even though it was forbidden and gathered up the anti-Nazi leaflets that the Allies forces dropped, which they disseminated in surrounding towns.
Aiding Resistance Groups
As World War II progressed, the Edelweiss Pirates engaged in riskier activities. They supplied resistance groups with munitions and explosives that they obtained by stealing, and they hid Jews, German deserters, escaped labor camp prisoners, and people who had escaped concentration camps. The teens took turns sneaking food and supplies to a network of hidden fugitives, knowing that they would face brutal punishment if caught.
Persecuting the Edelweiss Pirates
Membership in the Edelweiss Pirates was far from a bit of harmless rebellion. Much of the activities that the teens in the Edelweiss Pirates engaged in was illegal, and depending upon the crime, the punishment could be severe. Some members were humiliated with public head-shaving, while others were sent to prison or labor camps. Many were tortured and beaten, and some were even publicly executed for their activities despite their youth. Still, the Edelweiss Pirates remained mostly undeterred. They were committed to weakening the Nazi control over Germany, even if it meant sacrificing their dignity, freedom, and sometimes, their lives.
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