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PERRY BIDDISCOMBE: `The Enemy of our Enemy´ - A View of the Edelweiss Piraten from the British and American Archives


Everybody knows the Hitlerjugend (HJ), the German Youth Movement whose members were faithful and devoted to the Führer Adolf Hitler. Less known is the story of several oppositional youth gangs.  An important one called itself `Edelweiss Piraten´ (edelweiss pirates, applying to a small white flower that grows in the Alps of Central Europe and was traditionally regarded as a symbol of freedom).  Mainly set up by working-class teenagers, organized in local clubs they gathered “specifically outside the stifling field of control imposed by the Hitler Jugend” .  Therefore their antagonism was not so much to the National Socialist doctrine but to the “high degree of control to which the State Youth system has subjected them.”   At first, their actions were harmless and later on went much further than fighting the HJ-Streifendienst (patrol service) and against those who remained loyal to the organization.  They were engaged in all sorts of anti-Nazi pranks and small acts of sabotage. They helped even Jews, army deserters and escaped slave workers.  The Pirates worked alone or in small groups.  In many ways they were doing things that teenager gangs do everywhere, but they focused on actions troublesome to the Nazis and their sympathizers.  In the historiographical discussion we are faced with different opinions: either historians cast aspersions upon the Edelweiss or they see it as a legitimate resistance movement .

Biddiscombe`s essay is based upon Allied records, mainly provided by the Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC) and the Psychological Warfare Division (PWD).  Their function was among others to approve anything that might interrupt the stability of the Third Reich.  It was hoped, that the Edelweiss might be able to help the Allied forces on their advance like the maquis did in France but it became apparent, that the Edelweiss movement was nearly useless to the Allied war effort and even became opponent to the occupying powers in 1945/1946.  Following the leadership-principle, the group was not a democratic movement and hence “…it is the enemy of our enemy; it is not our friend” as it was described by the PWD .  There are further reasons for such negative appraisals: an increasing scale of violence, burglary and looting in the group.  It was even suggested, that agents were planted within the Edelweiss by the Gestapo.  Especially at the end of the war the destination of the individual Edelweiss groups differed from region to region.  There was active aid to the occupation forces in the same way as they attacked the Allies.  The `new Edelweiss´ was often infiltrated with former SS men and followed the programme of `Germany for the Germans´.  Thus they terrorised Polish DPs (displaced persons) and Germans who collaborated with Allied troops .

One must conclude, that the edelweiss pirates played a two-faced game.  The anti national socialist behaviour during the war changed after the occupation and they became an adversary to the Allied forces.  Biddiscombe illustrates, in a well substantiated manner, a new facet of the Edelweiss story overthrowing the `clean´ image of the Nazi-resistance movement.


PERRY BIDDISCOMBE; `The Enemy of our Enemy´: A View of the Edelweiss Piraten from the British and American Archives, in: Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 30 (1995), p. 37-63.