The Edelweißpiraten (lit. Edelweiss Pirates) were formed in 1938/39, after the Bündische Jugend had been banned and the decree on »compulsory youth service« of 25 February 1939 had finally forced young people into the Hitler Youth or the Bund deutscher Mädels. Members of the Edelweißpiraten were mainly young workers from the Rhine-Ruhr area. Their distinctive mark was an edelweiss under the left lapels of their skirts or an edelweiss-coloured pin.
It is estimated that the Edelweißpiraten had several thousand followers, aged between 14 and 17. Initially, the name »Edelweißpiraten« was a provocation for opposition youths, which was then adopted by the resisters themselves only in the middle of the Second World War. The Edelweißpiraten‘ resistance to the Nazi regime manifested itself in the early stages in the organisation of forbidden trips and camps. The free trips of the »Wandervogelbewegung« had been banned by the HJ leadership. Instead, HJ trips and camps were introduced. Here the daily routine was regulated by military discipline, ideological training and paramilitary exercises dominated.
On the Edelweißpiraten‘ trips they met other groups, camped together and sang forbidden Bündische songs. At first, the songs were mainly taken from the Bündische Jugend, but some of them put an ironic spin on them or on songs of the enemy HJ, giving them political content and wishes for freedom. The Edelweißpiraten in particular were also joined by many girls who did not want to be forced into the National Socialists‘ »wife and mother role«. On 1 June 1938, new guidelines for HJ patrols were issued, authorising the HJ to »intervene« in the »open street« and in »closed rooms«. Conflicts with the HJ patrol service became increasingly inevitable.
Another means of resistance was the distribution of leaflets and the painting on the walls of anti-fascist slogans and information from intercepted »enemy reports«. When the streets were almost deserted during aerial bombing raids, the Edelweißpiraten wrote on trains, house walls and streets, with the help of leftover paint or school chalk, slogans such as: »Down with Hitler«, »the OKW is lying«, »Medals and Honours for the Great Murder«, »Down with the Nazi Beast« and »Nazi heads will roll after the war«.
The youths also listened to enemy radio stations and spread the news as widely as possible. Listening to enemy stations and spreading this information was a life-threatening thing to do. The Nazi regime intensified its control and repressive measures, especially as the course of the war worsened.
At first, attempts were made to reintegrate the opposition youth groups into the system. Nevertheless, the Tor youths had long since been declared enemies of the state and high traitors. Since there were no penal provisions for youth cliquishness in the Reich Penal Code, general penal provisions were used to apply to the youths. This was laid down in the so-called »Guidelines for Combating Juvenile Cliques«, issued on 25 October 1944 by Eric Kaltenbrunner (a prominent Nazi jurist).
Even before this directive was issued, state repression determined everyday life in the resistance. Getting a vacancy or attending school was almost impossible. The repressive measures did not only begin with informing, denunciation and Gestapo terror. The Nazi regime punished oppositional youths with welfare education, prison, youth concentration camps and did not even shy away from the death penalty. The Moringen youth concentration camp was established as early as 1940. Here, »non-conformist« youths were permanently imprisoned. Many Edelweißpiraten were among the approximately 1000 inmates.
A large part of the group members knew each other only by their nicknames or first names, which was also a protection during torture interrogations. In 1943, some members of the Edelweißpiraten decided to go into illegality and make contact with the political opposition, such as the probably best-known Edelweiss Pirate group from the working-class district of Ehrenfeld in Cologne, the so-called »Ehrenfelder Gruppe«.
This group consisted of escaped forced labourers, Russians, Jews, deserters and young people who had been active in anti-fascist actions in the Ehrenfeld district of Cologne since August 1944. The groups were often locally based and organised independently of each other. At the latest due to the turmoil of war and the decision to join the resistance, the group members had also become each other‘s family reference and substitute in the underground.
How many of the Edelweißpiraten were murdered can only be roughly put into figures. Large numbers of them were interned in prisons and camps towards the end of the war. The Edelweißpiraten on the Rhine and Ruhr continued to exist until about 1947. Since the 1980s, some Edelweißpiraten have published biographical texts, which represent an indispensable and valuable basis for historical reappraisal and make their decisive contribution in the fight against historical revisionism.