Edelweiss Pirates
The Edelweiss Pirates (Edelweißpiraten) were a loose group of youth culture in Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

. They emerged in western Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 out of the German Youth Movement
German Youth Movement
The German Youth Movement is a collective term for a cultural and educational movement that started in 1896. It consists of numerous associations of young people that focus on outdoor activities. The movement included German Scouting and the Wandervogel...

 of the late 1930s in response to the strict regimentation of the Hitler Youth
Hitler Youth
The Hitler Youth was a paramilitary organization of the Nazi Party. It existed from 1922 to 1945. The HJ was the second oldest paramilitary Nazi group, founded one year after its adult counterpart, the Sturmabteilung...

. Similar in many ways to the Leipzig Meuten
Leipzig Meuten
The Leipzig Meuten, were anti-Nazi gangs of children, teenagers and young adults in Germany. They were similar to the Edelweiss Pirates, but came from more organised socialist or communist traditions. Between 1937 and 1939, die Meuten in Leipzig had an estimated 1500 members....

, they consisted of young people, mainly between the ages of 14 and 17, who had evaded the Hitler Youth by leaving school (which was allowed at 14.) and were also young enough to avoid military conscription, which was only compulsory from the age of 17 onwards.

The roots and background of the Edelweiss Pirates movement were broached in the 2004 film Edelweiss Pirates, directed by Niko von Glasow
Niko von Glasow
Niko von Glasow is a feature film director as well as a documentary film director. Von Glasow is the son of Ernst Brücher and Majella Neven DuMont, founders of the DuMont Publishing house in Cologne....



The origins of the Edelweißpiraten can be traced to the period immediately prior to World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, as the state-controlled Hitler Youth was mobilized to serve the state, at the expense of the leisure activities previously offered to young people. This tension was exacerbated once the war began and youth leaders were conscripted. In contrast, the Edelweißpiraten offered young people considerable freedom to express themselves and to mingle with members of the opposite sex, whereas Nazi
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 youth movements were strictly segregated by gender, the Hitler-Jugend for boys and the Bund Deutscher Mädel
League of German Girls
The League of German Girls or League of German Maidens , was the girl's wing of the overall Nazi party youth movement, the Hitler Youth. It was the only female youth organization in Nazi Germany....

for girls. Though predominantly male, the casual meetings of the Edelweißpiraten even offered German adolescents an opportunity for sexual experimentation with the opposite sex. The Edelweißpiraten used many symbols of the outlawed German Youth Movement
German Youth Movement
The German Youth Movement is a collective term for a cultural and educational movement that started in 1896. It consists of numerous associations of young people that focus on outdoor activities. The movement included German Scouting and the Wandervogel...

, including their tent (the Kohte
The Kohte is the typical tent of German Scouting and the German Youth Movement. It was developed about 1930 by Eberhard Koebel as a variation of the Sami lavvu and became very quickly popular within the Bündische Jugend...

), their style of clothing (the Jungschaftsjacke), and their songs.

The first Edelweißpiraten appeared in the late 1930s in western Germany, comprising mostly young people between 14 and 18. Individual groups were closely associated with different regions but identifiable by a common style of dress with their own edelweiss
Edelweiss , Leontopodium alpinum, is a well-known European mountain flower, belonging to the sunflower family.-Names:The common name comes from German edel, meaning "noble", and weiß "white", thus signifying "noble whiteness".The scientific name Leontopodium is a Latin adaptation of Greek...

 badge and by their opposition to what they saw as the paramilitary nature of the Hitler Youth. Subgroups of the Edelweißpiraten included the Navajos, centred on Cologne
Cologne is Germany's fourth-largest city , and is the largest city both in the Germany Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and within the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Area, one of the major European metropolitan areas with more than ten million inhabitants.Cologne is located on both sides of the...

, the Kittelbach Pirates of Oberhausen
Oberhausen is a city on the river Emscher in the Ruhr Area, Germany, located between Duisburg and Essen . The city hosts the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen and its Gasometer Oberhausen is an anchor point of the European Route of Industrial Heritage. It is also well known for the...

 and Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf is the capital city of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia and centre of the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region.Düsseldorf is an important international business and financial centre and renowned for its fashion and trade fairs. Located centrally within the European Megalopolis, the...

, and the Roving Dudes of Essen
- Origin of the name :In German-speaking countries, the name of the city Essen often causes confusion as to its origins, because it is commonly known as the German infinitive of the verb for the act of eating, and/or the German noun for food. Although scholars still dispute the interpretation of...

. According to one Nazi official in 1941, "Every child knows who the Kittelbach Pirates are. They are everywhere; there are more of them than there are Hitler Youth... They beat up the patrols... They never take no for an answer."

Although they rejected the Nazis' authoritarianism, the Edelweißpiraten's nonconformist behaviour tended to be restricted to petty provocations. Despite this, they represented a group of youth who rebelled against the government's regimentation of leisure and were unimpressed by the propaganda touting Volksgemeinschaft
Volksgemeinschaft is a German expression meaning "people's community". Originally appearing during World War I as Germans rallied behind the war, it derived its popularity as a means to break down elitism and class divides...

("people's community").

During the war, many Edelweißpiraten supported the Allies and assisted deserters from the German army. Some groups also collected propaganda leaflets dropped by Allied aircraft and pushed them through letterboxes.

Apart from gatherings on street corners, the Edelweißpiraten engaged in hiking and camping trips, defying the restrictions on free movement, which kept them away from the prying eyes of the totalitarian regime. They were highly antagonistic to the Hitler Youth, ambushing their patrols and taking great pride in beating them up. One of their slogans was "Eternal War on the Hitler Youth". As one subgroup, the Navajos, sang:
Hitler's dictates make us small,
we're yet bound in chains.
But one day we'll again walk tall,
no chain can us restrain.
For hard are our fists,
Yes! And knives at our wrists,
for youth to be free,
Navajos lay siege.

Nazi response

The Nazi response to the Edelweißpiraten was typically harsh. Individuals identified by the Gestapo
The Gestapo was the official secret police of Nazi Germany. Beginning on 20 April 1934, it was under the administration of the SS leader Heinrich Himmler in his position as Chief of German Police...

 as belonging to the various gangs were often rounded up and released with their heads shaved to shame them. In some cases, young people were sent to concentration camps or prison. On October 25, 1944, Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was Reichsführer of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and the Minister of the Interior from 1943, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo...

 ordered a crackdown on the group and in November of that year, a group of thirteen people, the heads of the Ehrenfelder Gruppe
Ehrenfeld Group
The Ehrenfeld Group , was an anti-Nazi resistance group, active in the summer and autumn of 1944....

, were publicly hanged in Cologne
Cologne is Germany's fourth-largest city , and is the largest city both in the Germany Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and within the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Area, one of the major European metropolitan areas with more than ten million inhabitants.Cologne is located on both sides of the...

. Some of these were former Edelweißpiraten. The Edelweißpiraten hanged were six teenagers, amongst them Bartholomäus Schink
Barthel Schink
Bartholomäus Schink was a member of the Edelweiss Pirates, active in the Ehrenfeld Group in Cologne, which resisted the Nazi regime. He was among the 12 members of that group who were publicly hanged in Cologne by the Gestapo on 10 November 1944...

, called Barthel, former member of the local Navajos. Fritz Theilen
Fritz Theilen
Fritz Theilen, born September 27, 1927, was a German member of the anti-Nazi resistance group the Edelweißpiraten during World War II. Born to working-class parents, he joined the Deutsches Jungvolk division of the Hitler Youth in 1937, and was excluded for resisting orders in 1940. He started an...


Nevertheless, government repression never managed to break the spirit of most groups, which constituted a subculture
In sociology, anthropology and cultural studies, a subculture is a group of people with a culture which differentiates them from the larger culture to which they belong.- Definition :...

 that rejected the norms of Nazi society. While the Edelweißpiraten assisted army deserters and others hiding from the Third Reich, they have yet to receive recognition as a resistance movement (partly because they were viewed with contempt by many of their former Youth Movement comrades, because of their 'proletarian' background and 'criminal' activities) and the families of members killed by the Nazis have as yet received no reparations.

Post-World War II

Contrary to what the Allies had hoped, the Edelweißpiraten were not pro-British or pro-American. In the early days of the Allied Occupation, they sought contact with the Occupying Authority to intervene in the case of the friends and even to propose that they might go on patrol, as did the Wuppertal
Wuppertal is a city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It is located in and around the Wupper river valley, and is situated east of the city of Düsseldorf and south of the Ruhr area. With a population of approximately 350,000, it is the largest city in the Bergisches Land...

 Edelweißpiraten. They were taken seriously and courted by various factions; the first known pamphlets of the KPD (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands) in July 1945 were directed at them.

While a small number of Edelweißpiraten remained in the Antifascist Youth and the Free German Youth
Free German Youth
The Free German Youth, also known as the FDJ , was the official socialist youth movement of the German Democratic Republic and the Socialist Unity Party of Germany....

 organizations, the majority turned their back on these bodies as soon as they realized that, in the words of one member, "politics were taking centre stage again". For example, a group in Bergisch Gladbach
Bergisch Gladbach
' is a city in the Cologne/Bonn Region of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany and capital of the Rheinisch-Bergischer Kreis .-Geography:Bergisch Gladbach is located east of the river Rhine, approx...

 disbanded when young people of Communist orientation tried to form a majority in the group.

The Edelweißpiraten's turning away from the re-authorized political youth groups forced them into the role of social outcasts and brought them into conflict with the Allies. The headquarters of the American Counter-Intelligence Corps in Frankfurt reported in May 1946 that Edelweiss activities were known throughout the British and American Zones.

Groups identifying themselves as Edelweißpiraten conducted many violent attacks against Soviet Russian and Polish Displaced Person
Displaced person
A displaced person is a person who has been forced to leave his or her native place, a phenomenon known as forced migration.- Origin of term :...

s. Author Peter Schult witnessed such an attack against a Polish black marketeer. There were also attacks against German women who were known to have been friends or been intimate with British soldiers.

In a trial held by a military court at Uelzen
Uelzen is a town in northeast Lower Saxony, Germany, and capital of the county of Uelzen. It is part of the Hamburg Metropolitan Region, a Hanseatic town and an independent municipality....

in April 1946, a juvenile named as Heinz D. was initially sentenced to death, for his "...very active part in carrying out the nefarious schemes of the E. Piraten. An organization such as this might well threaten the peace of Europe." The sentence was commuted the following month to a prison term. In the Soviet Zone, young people suspected of being Edelweißpiraten were sentenced to a virtually obligatory 25 years in prison.

From 1946 onward, Allied Intelligence officials noted "resistance activities" by an organization which had appropriated the name of the Edelweißpiraten; this group was reported to be composed mainly of former members and officers of Hitler Youth units, ex-soldiers and drifters, and was described by an intelligence report as "a sentimental, adventurous, and romantically anti-social [movement]". It was regarded as a serious menace by US officials.

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