Every generation has its punk rock all-stars and the Edelweiss Pirates, the counter culture to the Hitler Youth, bring that to mind with an added heroic edge. They weren’t all of noble intention, but they did thwart Nazi control knowing the risks, and that’s something.
This sort of confederation of smaller groups that were lumped together under a common name was known for basically being the opposite of the Hitler Youth. Ranging from 12-17 years old, they avoided being conscripted, usually by dropping out of school, and took on a social mission of doing everything they weren’t supposed to be doing as young Aryan men, or in a few cases, young Aryan women.
They drank, they smoked, danced to Jazz and Blues, and went hiking and camping – which was strictly forbidden. Free in the wilderness, they were able to cut up and sing verboten songs and do as they pleased. They listened to the BBC news for outside information when listening to a foreign radio station was illegal. The Pirates had fun with criminal pranks like pouring sugar in petrol tanks, graffiti, and general vandalism.
Some groups took on specific names, like The Navajos, the Kittelbach, and the Farhtenstenze (traveling dudes). While that seems to parallel a gang culture, unlike gangs, they respected and supported each other. Most of them wore a badge picturing the edelweiss flower, and there were shared fashion trends among the groups.
They wore colorful and patterned clothes, some wore lederhosen, they kept their hair longer than the norm and wore white stockings and neck scarves. Once they caught the eye of the Gestapo, many had their heads shaved in punishment, and this became an identifying feature, but not a universal one.
Hitler’s power may lay us low,
And keep us locked in chains,
But we will smash the chains one day,
We’ll be free again
We’ve got fists and we can fight,
We’ve got knives and we’ll get them out
We want freedom, don’t we boys?
We’re the fighting Navajos!
They didn’t just have fun – they committed subversive acts that were a bit more targeted than singing a few songs. Allied planes would drop propaganda, and the Edelweiss Pirates would make sure they weren’t scooped up and thrown away. The Pirates collected them and shoved them in letterboxes and under doors.
They were feared by the Hitler Youth and local Nazi officials because a very few Pirates were known to have ambushed these groups and beat them. Some groups claim to have only wanted to be left alone by the Hitler Youth and that they had nothing against the boys conscripted, but a common phrase was “Eternal War on the Hitler Youth.”
Although many adults saw them as punk kids too lazy to work and up to nothing but mischief, they tried and succeeded at making an impact against the regime. They destroyed and sabotaged Nazi equipment and ammunition. They stole supplies and bicycles from the Hitler Youth. They assisted deserters of the German Army.
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