2021 Nov 7 – History – Youth against immoral coercion

The brave Pirates who stood up to Hitler

Special to National Post, by Bernie Farber and Len Rudner, November 7, 2021

As we enter Holocaust Education Month, Jewish communities throughout Canada are providing opportunities for children, adults and students of all ages to better understand the events that led to one of the most tragic episodes in human history: the murder of two-thirds of European Jewry by the Nazi regime.

The Edelweiss Pirates youth group in Nazi Germany.© Provided by National Post The Edelweiss Pirates youth group in Nazi Germany.
Despite all that has been written about the Holocaust, the voices of the deniers have not been silenced. They continue to claim that six million Jews were never murdered, thus nurturing a revival of the very same forces that brought fascism and Nazism to life.

Education is a necessary inoculation against hate. It’s through education that we learn about more than the villains and the victims, but also the heroes. Indeed, it is through the actions of those who refused to turn their backs on humanity, and instead stood strong against the forces of evil, that important lessons can be learned. Such is the story of the Edelweiss Pirates.

It was the late 1930s. Nazism had engulfed all of Germany, as Adolf Hitler transformed a nation ravaged by war into one that saw war as a means of regaining what they felt had been stolen from them. Against a backdrop of international diplomatic victories, Hitler promised that Germany would be returned to its rightful place of glory. And he was believed.

Their bitter lives, Hitler told the German people, resulted from the Versailles treaty, which robbed them of their dignity after the mythical “stab in the back” administered by the Jews and the “November Criminals” to end the First World War. Hitler’s Brownshirts intimidated and harassed many who tried to resist.

Despite the danger, some did push back, including a group of young students in the German Youth Movement, a network of loosely connected groups of teenagers who, prior to the rise of Hitler, were engaged in outdoor activities similar to the Scout movement today.

Rejecting the increasingly strict regimentation and the transformation of the movement into the Hitler Youth, these young people would not be segregated by sex, refused to wear the obligatory Nazi uniform and began to fight with quiet determination against their Nazi overseers.

By the time Hitler led Germany into war, the self-named Pirates had gained a reputation for their strength of purpose and courage. They were rebels who at first were only an annoyance. Rejecting the Nazi propaganda of the day and unimpressed with the strutting antics of the Hitler Youth, the Pirates engaged in physical altercations with their counterparts in Hitler’s youth movement.

One Nazi official said of the Pirates in 1941: “Every child knows who the Kittelbach Pirates are. They are everywhere … they beat up the patrols … they never take no for an answer.”

As the war continued, the Pirates became even bolder. They assisted the Allies by distributing propaganda leaflets, helped German deserters, hid Jews and ambushed Hitler Youth patrols. Indeed, one of the movement’s popular slogans was, “Eternal war on the Hitler Youth.”

Prior to the war, Nazi officials tried to disregard the activities of the Pirates, but as their aggressive actions against the state increased, Nazi terror was let loose on these young heroes. The Gestapo identified several of the Pirate cells and severe punishment followed. Young people were rounded up, beaten and tortured. Some were sent to concentration camps, others had their heads shaved as a sign of shame. Still others were sent to local prisons.

Nonetheless, the Pirates persevered. Attacks continued and, as the war neared its end, SS chief Heinrich Himmler took action. On Nov. 10, 1944, a group of 13 anti-Nazis were publicly hung in the centre of Cologne. Six of them were were teenage members of the Edelweiss Pirates.

We hear too little about those Germans, small in number as they were, whose spirit and yearning for freedom were not broken by the Nazis. As we remember those who were taken in the Holocaust, let us also celebrate the lives of those who stood for truth, love of neighbour and freedom. This is how we best learn.

National Post online version of article

Bernie M. Farber is chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. Len Rudner sits on its advisory board. Both were past leaders of the Canadian Jewish Congress.