Donny Gluckstein on ‘Resistance and Opposition’ within youth groups resisting Nazi Germany’s policies and war effort.
“The HJ (Hitler Youth) patrols, and since the very mixing of the sexes was thought seditious, fights were inevitable. Working class youth opposition was therefore far more physical and direct, and the title of ‘Pirates’ adopted by many of the gangs shows this. A typical HJ denunciation of some Babcock Works youth with suspected KPD connections was sent in 1941. The HJ member recognized them by the badges worn in their buttonholes, ‘a typical sign’: ‘I approached several of them and they used filthy language to insult me, expressions like “traitor to the workers” and “bloodhound”, followed by threats, we’ll bash your brains in.’
These gangs often went beyond mere words. Pre-war Gestapo reports talked of roaming Leipzig ‘packs’ which altogether involved 1,500 working class youth and which clearly had links with the KPD. Kittelsbach and Edelweiss Pirate gangs of 60 to 70 armed with brass knuckles toured the streets of Duisberg during the early 1940s. The level of repression of such activities could be high: ‘In a single day, on 7 December 1942, the Düsseldorf Gestapo broke up groups in Düseldorf, Duisburg, Essen and Wuppertal, including the Cologne Edelweiss Pirates’. By 1943 Himmler was having to establish special youth concentration camps. Such action ensured that only a minority of working class youth ever became involved in such oppositional activities.
The most spectacular example of youth resistance occurred in Cologne in late 1944 in the midst of the rubble of bombed out city full of deserters and of anger at the continuing futile war. The Edelweiss Pirates had working class backgrounds, often with anti-fascist connections, and the group itself developed some contact with the KPD. The nominal leader was 23 year old Heinz Steinbrük whose father been a Communist Red Fighter. The Pirates went beyond cultural protest and even gang fighting plan the blowing up of bridges. They successfully derailed a train and killed the chief of the local Gestapo. The Edelweiss Pirates financed their activities by robbery and the black market, and, through raids on military depots, acquired an armoury of machine guns, grenades, and pistols. Shortly after having freed a Jewish woman from captivity a number of them were captured. In 1944 on 10 November, 13 were hanged without trial, five aged just 16 or 17. The Gestapo congratulated themselves for stopping a Communist group bent on killing Nazis, encouraging Cologne to revolt, and ‘thereby bringing the war to a quicker end, to our disadvantage.” – Via The Nazis, Capitalism, and the Working Class