October 25 – Edelweiss Pirates Face a Crackdown

Posted October 25, 2018

While writing these posts, I'm always looking at "On this date..." lists.

And on this date in 1944, I read, the powerful Nazi Heinrich Himmler ordered a crackdown on the Edelweiss Pirates.

And I instantly wondered, "Wow! Who are the Edelweiss Pirates?"

It turns out that they were a sort of a group of Nazi-resisters within Nazi Germany - a movement made up of young people, mostly ages 14 to 17!

They had evaded becoming part of the Hitler Youth by dropping out of school at age 14 - and they were not yet old enough to be conscripted into the military (which was mandatory from age 17 on).

The Hitler Youth was a paramilitary organization and was strictly male; the Nazi organization for teenage girls was called the League of German Girls.

Of course, I am using the English names for all of these organizations. The Edelweiss Pirates were called Edelweißpiraten in German, and the German names for the Nazi youth organizations were Hitler-Jugend and Bund Deutscher Mädel.

The Edelweiss Pirates had a lot of freedom, compared to the strictly controlled Hitler Youth - including having freedom to hang out with the opposite sex. The "Pirates" used some of the symbols of the German Youth Movement, which had been a force in society since the very late 1800s: the movement had hyped outdoor activities and scouting, so symbols included the tent and shorts and scarves. The German Youth Movement was outlawed by the Nazis...but the Edelweiss Pirates continued to hike and camp and listen to and sing jazz music - and that was dangerous in a nation that had become a totalitarian regime with restrictions on free movement and policies banning jazz.

The "Pirates" wore edelweiss badges - I am guessing some sort of embroidered badge, not sprigs of actual edelweiss flowers!

Edelweiss is a sort of mountain flower that grows in the Alps. It has become famous in the English-speaking world from a song written by Rodgers and Hammerstein for the musical The Sound of Music - and in that musical, the song "Edelweiss" is sung as a way of showing patriotism to Austria and a subtle form of resistance to the Nazi takeover of Austria. I wonder if Rodgers and Hammerstein knew about the Edelweiss Pirates, who really WERE resisters!

The Edelweiss Pirates were very loosely organized. Here are some things that some of them did to resist the Nazis:

In addition to evading being part of the Hitler Youth, some of the Pirates actually ambushed Hitler Youth patrols and beat them up.

Some assisted young men who deserted the German army, helping them to hide or escape. 

Some collected leaflets dropped by Allied aircraft and then got them into the hands of ordinary Germans by putting them into letterboxes or mail slots.

Some tagged walls with anti-Nazi slogans.

Some found other ways to actively help the Allies. Some raided military bases and derailed trains. They threw bricks at Nazi officials' cars, they beat up Nazi officials, they even killed a Gestapo chief.

At first, the Edelweiss Pirates were mostly ignored by the Nazis. Even though there are some reports that there were more of the "Pirates" than there were in the Hitler Youth groups, they were mostly dismissed. However, after the crackdown on this date in 1944, some were imprisoned, a few were sent to concentration camps, at least one was tortured, and a few were even hanged!

Only recently have the Edelweiss Pirates been recognized as anything other than criminal gangs - they have been given some props for resisting fascism and fighting the Nazis.

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