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'The Enemy of Our Enemy': A View of the Edelweiss Piraten from the British and

'The Enemy of Our Enemy': A View of the Edelweiss Piraten from the British and American Archives Author(s): Perry Biddiscombe Source: Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Jan., 1995), pp. 37-63 Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/260921

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Perry Biddiscombe



of our Enem/: A View of the

Edelweiss Pirotenfromthe Britishand


Although it is a story little known outside Germany, the seemingly monolithic Hitler Jugend (HJ) was challenged at the very height of the Third Reich by a number of oppositional youth gangs. Most of these were set up by working-class teenagers and were particularly clustered in the great cities and industrial conurbations of western Germany, where many such groups called themselves 'Edelweiss Piraten'. Even a conservative estimate suggests that 5 per cent of the adolescent population may have been involved in these bands, at least peripherally. Edelweiss Piraten and similar groupings were purely local clubs, which organized camping trips and sing-along gatherings, specifically outside the stifling field of control imposed by the Hitler Jugend. After 1939, when member- ship in the HJ became mandatory, opposition could no longer be


developed through the establishment of 'cliques' within the HJ itself. In certain areas, a kind of miniature civil war broke out within the nazi youth movement, with Edelweiss elements launch- ing physical attacks upon HJ leaders and the infamous HJ-Streifen- dienst, or 'patrol service', which was a rallying point for hardboiled nazis and served as a recruitment channel for the SS. It is especially notable, however, that while the Edelweiss reso- lutely opposed the disciplinarianism of the HJ, its own members rarely adopted any political goals at odds with the predominate National Socialist agenda. At most, there were a few nebulous connections to the Catholic and communist undergrounds, and several groups displayed some vaguely bundische influences reflected in a demeanour and sense of style reminiscent of the 'free federated youth', or biindische Jugend, of the 1920s, and even of the earlier Wandervogel groups which had proliferated in the

by mere


from the


and it thus

Journal of Contemporary History (SAGE, London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi), Vol. 30 (1995), 37-63.


Journal of ContemporaryHistory

Wilhelmine period. Overall, however, the political development of the Edelweiss was clearly limited by the age of its membership cadre and by the oppressive power of the nazi police state, which atomized all forms of social and political opposition. Historiographically, the discussion about the Edelweiss has been marked by several stages of development. Originally, some of the most prominent historians of the German youth movement either cast aspersions upon the Edelweiss or they ignored it, mainly

because it lacked positive political goals and contained a criminal element which seemed to anticipate the anti-social 'teddy boys' of the postwar period. The most notable antithesis to this view was


that the

by Arno Klonne, who argued as early as the 1950s Edelweiss was a legitimate resistance movement which

accomplished as much as the adult opposition, and which had a vague ideological character bequeathed to it by the pre-nazi youth Biinde, and possibly also by pre-1933 communist, socialist and Catholic youth groups. This claim was echoed in 1973 by Daniel Horn, although Horn admitted that the biindische Jugend had few


the latter

tended to synthesize some of these claims while at the same time rejecting irreconcilable elements. Drawing on an extensive study

of an Edelweiss-type organization in Leipzig called the Meute, Lothar Gruchmann argued that there was no overt bundisch

influence within the youth cliques, although National Socialist

police agencies persecuted

it was the most

convenient line of prosecution. Writing in 1982,

Heinrich Muth agreed with this assessment, quoting Reich Justice

Ministry documents

to show how the nazis used charges of

biindisch influence as a formula against anyone caught harassing the HJ, whether or not they were truly politically motivated. In a partial throwback to earlier lines of argument, Muth rejected any attempt to connect the Piraten to the concepts of Widerstand or

Resistenz, and thought that the phenomenon

regarded as part

German society. By the early 1980s, Detlev Peukert had emerged

as the most important regarded the Edelweiss

the Alltag history of

nazi Germany.

the issue of

portrayed the Edelweiss as a form of specifically working-class

links with the Piraten, and that unlike the Binde,

were largely working class. More recent studies have

the Edelweiss on such grounds because

should properly be

of a more extended

'youth problem' in modern

of historians who

of a new generation as a key element of

Peukert concurred with Gruchmann and Muth on

continuity (vis-a-vis the biindische Jugend), but he

Biddiscombe: 'The Enemyof our Enemy'


protest against the nazis. In search of an alternative to regarding the Edelweiss either as 'hooligans' or as fully-fledged resistance fighters, Peukert was influenced by recent British theory on pro- letarian youth 'subcultures', and came to see the Edelweiss in these terms. According to Peukert, the Piraten manifested 'forms of insubordination' to bourgeois culture of a type that had tra- ditionally been ignored by the workers' movement before 1933, and this was combined with a rejection of National Socialism that he described only as 'semi-political'.' Most of this existing historiography is based upon Gestapo and Kripo records that provide a detailed history of the Edelweiss, but which also screen all information through a National Socialist lens and which suffer from the typical deficiencies of the nazi Weltanschauung. Muth notes, for instance, that very little sociologi- cal material was gathered on youth during the Third Reich, at least in empirical fashion, and that most contemporary obser- vations were made on the basis of antiquated assumptions about human nature and social relations.2In contrast, this essay is based upon Allied records. One must first of all approach this resource with the frank admission that information generated by Allied intelligence units was naturally affected by the nature and quality of those organizations, no less than the way in which the Gestapo and Kripo put their distinctive stamp on their material, and these Allied security agencies were not always first-class. The Counter- Intelligence Corps (CIC), for instance, was not famous for its competence, and grew even more infamous as it was ravaged by demobilization and the better elements returned across the Atlan-

tic, leaving virtual carpetbaggers in their wake. Such people also filtered information through a lens coloured by a certain set of biases and perceptions, although their records at least provide a radically different point of view from the base of documentation used in earlier studies. On the positive side, one must also point out that Allied observers were never as constrained as their German counterparts in the pursuit of rational inquiry, and even despite

the immense weight of wartime

there were a few specialists who developed some surprisingly perceptive insights about the condition of German youth. In fact, the way in which Allied analysts reacted to incoming reports of Edelweiss activity is a fascinating aspect of the more general Allied response to the German resistance movement, and constitutes a story in itself. Even more importantly, Allied records span the end

prejudices and incompetencies,


Journal of ContemporaryHistory

of the war, and reports from the immediate postwar period provide an important coda to the overall story of the Edelweiss Piraten. To state the matter boldly, the Allied archives show, first, that the Edelweiss was nearly useless to the Allied war effort; and second, that the nature of the movement eventually made it a conduit for the scattered remnants of National Socialism. By 1946, the Edel- weiss had degenerated from being a kind of Allied co-belligerent into being an outright resistance movement pitted against the occupying powers.

records on the Edelweiss Piraten began with a brief

mention of the movement in a POW interview from 1943, but they only reached a significant level in 1944, when the trickle of information from POW interrogations was transformed into a virtual flood.3 Perhaps this was attributable to the increasing pro- liferation of the dissident youth cliques, or to the escalating seriousness of Edelweiss attacks on nazi officials, all of which gave

the movement a higher profile. German prisoners (some of them former members of the movement) reported a gradual inflation of numbers: one POW who had served over a year as a trainer in an HJ-Wehrertuchtigungslager claimed that 50 per cent of the boys he knew were 'spiritually Edelweiss Piraten'. Another informant spoke of 30 per cent of the HJ in Recklinghausen 'sympathizing' with the Edelweiss, and 7 per cent of the teenage population of Essen were said to be directly involved (including 90 per cent of the youth in the working-class quarter of Segeroth). Almost all prisoners agreed that the movement was mainly working-class in its composition, although there was also frequent mention of participation by students. They also claimed that there was an increasing scale of violence undertaken by the Edelweiss: in some

western German cities, teenage Piraten had graduated from beat- ing up HJ leaders to full-scale assassination attempts against Party

and SS-police

testimony of German POWs also seemed to suggest that

although low-level members of the Edelweiss had no knowledge

ideology or of a large-scale command

of Catholic and communist influences in

of a developed political structure, the presence

various clubs showed

sway of political agencies. In Disseldorf,

weiss Gruppe held meetings under the cover of 'Bible Study' discussions organized by local Catholic clergymen, and in Frank- furt, most members of an Edelweiss cell amongst Wehrmachtmedi-




that the movement was not immune to the

for instance, one Edel-

Biddiscombe: 'The Enemyof our Enemy'


cal students were concurrently participants in Neudeutschland, a Catholic youth organization previously banned by the nazis.5One of the popular founding myths of the movement was that its original hero had been a Catholic priest who had rebelled against the regime and had been executed early in the nazi period. With all this in mind, it was hardly a surprise for the Allies to learn that in the Rhineland, many priests had been called in by the police and berated for inciting rebellion. Several prelates slipped this noose by pointing out that anit-nazi slogans blamed on the Edelweiss were frequently painted on churches. 'Do you think it likely', they asked, 'that members of the Catholic youth would write their views on churches?' After this harassment, however, the higher clergy ordered local priests to withdraw from any nebu- lous contacts with the Edelweiss in order to preserve the papal concordat with the Reich (and thus maintain their few surviving


As for communist influence, some Edelweiss members told the Allies that the movement was tinged with communism, although this sway was exercised so indirectly that most members were unaware of its presence. Given the Edelweiss's working-class base, it was natural that many parents of the Piraten had voted for the KPD prior to 1933, and that they sometimes encouraged their children to join dissident cliques in order to negate nazi influences. Five children of former communists were captured as POWs in Italy - all of them Edelweiss members - but they claimed not to be communists and were vague about the meaning of communism 'except [to say] that it is anti-nazi and anything that is anti-nazi must be good'. Only in one documented case could the Allies find evidence of an Edelweiss member, who was a self-declared communist, having direct contact with an underground KPD organizer. In this case, which occurred in Cologne, the individual in question was provided with communist propaganda leaflets and scattered these around town several days prior to the city's occupation by the Americans.7 A British Control Commission study probably hit the mark in noting that, as a movement, the Edelweiss was so vacuous that its members readily soaked up the influence of their surroundings. Since the movement's main strongholds were in working-class and Catholic areas, it was no surprise that communist or Catholic political inspiration some- times seemed to animate the members.8 Nothing was said about ties with the underground SPD.


Journal of ContemporaryHistory

Allied reports and interrogation summaries also shed light on the links between the Edelweiss and the biindische Jugend. Although Allied intelligence officers were careful to note that 'witnesses tend to know only the history [of the Edelweiss] in their

own particular localities, and fill up gaps in their knowledge with speculation', there was still a considerable weight of evidence tying the early Edelweiss to the pre-nazi Biinde. According to several Edelweiss sources, remnants of the biindische groups banned in 1933/34 maintained contacts among ex-members for the purpose of hiking and camping outside the framework of the HJ. This was certainly the case with such organizations as the Pfadfinderschaft St Georg, which went underground in 1934, or the Nerother Bund in Krefeld, also colloquially called the 'Navajo'. In fact, as early as 1933, some such groups had begun to call themselves Piraten and both Piraten and Seerauber were 'orders' of the illegal Nero- ther Wandervogel. Although the senior figures in these informal groupings were eventually drafted into the army or the Labour Service, the bands they led subsequently evolved into the embry- onic Edelweiss Piraten, and presumably much of the movement's ethos and sense of style dated from this early period in the mid- 1930s. Moreover, some Edelweiss members remained self-con- sciously bindisch: one working-class boy from Wuppertal, in describing his Edelweiss cell, consistently preferred to call it the biindische Jugend. Finally, this biindisch influence re-emerged at the end of the war, at least in some bands. In early July 1945, 21st Army Group characterized the Edelweiss in the Ruhr simply as a 'subsidiary' of the biindische Jugend, and an underground biindisch youth group in Solingen was also described as 'possibly synony- mous with Edelweiss'.9All of this reinforces the school of thought associated with Klonne (although we will reject some of Klonne's


conclusions about the value of such biindisch resistance).

Command (SHAEF)

surprisingly, discovery of the Edelweiss created a hope in

certain quarters within the Allied

German resistance movement might be able to aid the advancing Allied forces. Perhaps it could provide intelligence and possibly conduct direct action against the Wehrmacht and nazi security

that a


forces,10 much as the maquis had done during the summer cam- paign in France. The work of the Edelweiss, said one intelligence

at least the organization of opposition, and that

report, 'suggests

[such activity] on a large scale is possible even if there is not yet evidence of their having achieved any very significant action'.11It

Biddiscombe: 'The Enemyof our Enemy'


was also suggested that the existence of the Edelweiss meant that the generation of Germans who had grown up under the shadow

of National Socialism might be less ideologically contaminated than otherwise believed, and some analysts regarded this alone as

a reason for hope. 'The numbers involved may not be large', said a Foreign Office (FO) appreciation, 'but the attitude shown

is in some cases extremely clear and firm, such as may radiate a

strong influence once the machinery of repression is removed.'12

The Allied agency most titillated by reports of Edelweiss activity

was the Psychological Warfare Division (PWD)

raison d'etre was to encourage anything that might disrupt the stability of the Reich. True to its mandate, PWD remained the last important Allied agency committed to the old British strategy of crippling nazi Germany from within. It was thus natural that officers of this unit could barely contain themsleves when they began receiving reports of Edelweiss unrest, or when indications arrived suggesting that Edelweiss members might regard the Allied

advance as a liberation.13 By spring

such trends finally bubbled over and provoked a nasty dispute with the British and American Political Advisors at SHAEF, whose job was to keep the military command running smoothly along the political rails set in place by London and Washington. The guiding spirit at PWD was Richard Crossman, the British socialist who later achieved fame as a Labour cabinet minister. It was Crossman who developed a controversial blueprint for propaganda that implicitly contravened the 'Unconditional Sur- render' doctrine by encouraging German adolescents to take their fate into their own hands. By 1945, the idea of Germans working their passage through anti-nazi resistance was no longer approved policy in either London or Washington. Crossman's aim, in con- trast, was to provide an example of heroism for German youth, thereby providing a clear alternative to the kind of self-destructive Werwolf activity then being promoted by the nazi regime. The Piraten, he argued, should be widely mentioned in Allied propaganda:

of SHAEF, whose

1945, the desire to encourage

The courage and fortitude of the men and women who chose to suffer appallingly rather than to compromise with the Nazis should receive their full due, as a

noble and inspiring example

the spontaneous and widespread, if largely

unpolitical and undirected, revolt of youth against regimentation should be adequately reported and discussed as an indication that Nazism had in its latter


Journal of ContemporaryHistory

days no appeal to youth, and has no future, and that there is hope for the German nation of a return to civilization.l4

Since this line of thought was not only suggested, but was actually implemented as a guideline for output, the British Political Officer at SHAEF was outraged and directed the attention of Whitehall to this contravention of the spirit of the 'Unconditional Surrender' doctrine. The Foreign Office, however, refused to take action - perhaps it secretly sympathized with Crossman - and rather con- tented itself with the knowledge that Crossman was expected to leave military service soon in order to contest a seat in the forth- coming British general election.15 However, outside the rarified atmosphere at PWD head- quarters, other Allied observers had begun to detect some unsavoury aspects of the Edelweiss movement, which gave con- siderable pause for thought. Alarm bells, in fact, had already begun ringing before the end of 1944, and grew progressively louder as new information came in from the field. Various reports, for instance, suggested that the Edelweiss existed not because its members had any fundamental objections to National Socialism, but merely because they were opposed to the rigid regimentation of the HJ. This interpretation seemed validated by the mild treat- ment meted out by the German police to Edelweiss members, at least until 1944.16 A report in December 1944 by the Political Warfare Executive (PWE) noted that the future pattern of devel- opment for the Edelweiss 'is in the direction of another romantic- authoritarian regime not unlike National Socialism', and added that even if the movement could be fostered by open Allied interest, which was unlikely, such a policy would probably back- fire.'7 The American historian Saul Padover, then serving as an


enthusiasms of his own unit: the Edelweiss, he reported, 'is not a

democratic movement. It follows the "leadership-principle" and is not identified with any enlightened political parties or principles it is the enemy of our enemy; it is not our friend.'18The British Element of the Control Commission and the Intelligence Section

Army Group went even further in such negative appraisals,

of 21st

each claiming that the Edelweiss's inherent antipathy toward all forms of authority would eventually convert it into a likely instru-

ment for anti-Allied underground activities.19 There were other, more specific, problems as well. It was sus-

officer in the PWD, also poured cold water upon the

Biddiscombe: 'The Enemyof our Enemy'


pected, for instance, that the Edelweiss was a gathering point for young homosexuals - which seemed to explain some of the

generous aid allegedly provided to the boys by Ruhr industrial-

ists20- and it was also believed that the movement had been

penetrated by criminal elements whose main interest was burglary and looting, albeit under cover of righteous idealism.21The Edel-

weiss, noted a British interrogation report, 'appears to be an out-

of youthful gangsterism on a large scale'.22 By far the most


some of

them from the pro-Soviet

which suggested that the Gestapo had successfully planted agents within the Edelweiss Piraten, either to destroy the movement or to use it as a future cloak for nazi resistance to the occupying powers. Interrogations of active Edelweiss members did not bear out such claims of infiltration, but Allied authorities were still warned to interpret with caution all tales of anti-nazi youth


Some of this Allied commentary was undoubtedly influenced by the stereotyped view of all things German which existed in 1944-5. On the other hand, the sad fact was that much of the criticism directed at the Edelweiss was subsequently borne out by events: many of the Edelweiss clubs did in fact remain in oppo- sition to established authority, even once that authority was exer- cised by the Allied powers, and it was also true that semi-nazi resistance elements eventually draped themselves in the Edelweiss banner, a process which may not have been under way before the end of the war, but which certainly occurred during the immediate

postwar period. The fate of the Edelweiss Piraten at the end of the war was a complex tale, with elements varying considerably from region to region and from town to town, a natural development if one recalls the lack of any central direction within the movement. In a few cases, Edelweiss members admittedly provided active aid during the final Allied advance, or otherwise attempted to help



patrolled the streets during the last few hours before Allied troops

arrived, and they also intimidated last-ditch nazi resisters. Simi- larly, an Edelweiss member from Alsdorf reported that his group

collected vital intelligence, which was passed on to Frontsoldaten and was in turn conveyed to the Allies

American interrogators treated this claim with considerable

serious doubts, however, were provided by reports -

Freies Deutschland organization









Journal of ContemporaryHistory

reserve).24During the summer of 1945, when even semi-political German organizations were still formally banned by the occupying powers, many Rhenish Edelweiss cliques stubbornly remained in being, and sometimes continued to seek at least a vague form of co-operation with the Allied authorities. In the Rhein-Wupper- kreis, for instance, the local Edelweiss group asked permission to form a patrol service in order to fight the Werewolves, a kind of pathetic attempt to maintain modes of behaviour (e.g. beating up HJ activists) that had previously given the club a sense of pur- pose.25 Some of the groups dissolved once the HJ no longer existed as a foil for their attention. At Berg Gladbach, the Edelweiss disbanded after a band of communist infiltrators attempted to seize control of the group.26 In Krefeld, the local Edelweiss dis- solved, but by summer 1945, former members under Ludwig Kuch- Steinmuller were attempting to revive a bundisch club which had itself previously been absorbed by the Edelweiss.27 In certain instances, however, the fate of the youth cliques was not nearly so benign. Allied intelligence officers found that many Edelweiss groups were not only useless to the Allied war effort, but that their members frequently displayed a disturbing reluctance to reveal themselves to the occupation forces. 'Interrogators from higher headquarters indicate glowing possibilities for the Edel- weiss', reported a CIC unit in early 1945.

However this detachment entertains more pessimistic hopes based upon the observations that: no leader has yet been discovered; the few members are extremely young and apt to be unsuitable, impulsive informers; [and] members have not come forward to proffer information and help

The 503rd CIC Detachment conducted a ten-day experiment with two young Edelweiss members who were planted as informers,

but the results were not productive.28 As early as spring 1945,


underground and were purposefully avoiding the Allied authori- ties. In Cologne, the CIC on 2 April raided an illegal meeting of HJ adolescents who had formed a secret organization built on a cellular basis. Some of these boys claimed to be Edelweiss Piraten and were released, although the CIC subsequently made arrange- ments to penetrate the group with an informer.29 Unfortunately, it is still unclear how many groups refused to disband, as opposed to those which complied with the wishes of the new authorities.

was evidence

that whole




Biddiscombe: 'The Enemyof our Enemy'


The reason some of these groups remained underground does not originally appear to have been overtly subversive, but rather resulted from the particular sense of values supported and be- queathed by National Socialism, and from the difficult set of social and economic circumstances that confronted German youth. A considerable feel for these issues was developed by Allied sociolo- gists, psychologists and intelligence officers. According to these observers, the leaders of the National Socialist regime had deliber- ately fostered a sense of self-importance in German youth, and by so doing had undermined the influence of home and church by the substitution of the authority of the state. The Third Reich, after all, prided itself as a product of the vitality and dynamism of youth, and looked to the nation's youth as both an inspiration and as a cup to be filled with nazi doctrine. Regarded from the Allied viewpoint, the attempt to impose state control by cutting at the roots of natural authority seemed unwise, and it was not long before German children expressed their increasingly bound- less sense of contempt by developing doubts about the very power which had promised their 'liberation'. According to Allied appreciations, the disastrous consequences of nazi policies began to appear in the early 1940s, when the pressures of war diverted the attention of the state and eroded its

coercive power -

universities in order to serve in the military or work in industry,

and younger children were recruited for air raid defence or

to work in soup kitchens and first aid stations. Some children

basked in the glow of this premature responsibility, but many more were set adrift without the guiding hand of parental and school direction. The natural result was a drastic rise in juvenile

delinquency, a severe loss of respect for all forms of authority,

the growth of dissident youth cliques. National Socialist leaders

were also surprised to learn that the new generation did not judge the Third Reich by its comparative advantages to the bad times before 1933 - as did many older people - but that their thoughts

were shaped solely by the effect of the

and in this sense particularly by the attempt to enforce

and to impose the boring process of political indoctrination.

students were transferred from schools and



regime upon themselves,


According to the Allies, this house of cards finally collapsed at

the end of the war, when the shutdown of the school


and the

unemployment. The commander of US occupation forces noted,

mass youth



German industry created


Journal of ContemporaryHistory

for instance, that the presence of over 400,000 unemployed in the US Zone created a big reservoir of enlistments for potentially hostile underground groups. Moreover, millions of orphans were created during the final stages of the Allied bombing campaign, and the children of Party members found their fathers summarily dismissed from employment, which made their own futures equally

bleak. Cognizant of the dangers posed by this situation, the Allies established make-work programmes and reopened schools in autumn 1945, but these measures were counteracted by the release

of a million young soldiers from

stream of released POWs thereafter given their freedom at steady intervals, some of them afflicted with the second world war equiva-

lent of post-traumatic stress disorder. In short, the occupying powers saw themselves faced with a large pool of disgruntled and brutalized adolescents, disillusioned with the National Socialist regime but still inspired by many of its teachings and its tawdry glories.

the Wehrmacht, and the ensuing

natural, therefore, that many youth gangs which

developed during the war did not necessarily disintegrate because the war was over and the National Socialist regime was replaced. The existing bonds of cohesiveness remained intact, and were perhaps even strengthened as Germany's dire economic straits drove many Edelweiss members toward a life of crime and black

marketeering. It may be, however, that the members of what one

German POW described as the 'real' Edelweiss -

who were genuinely outraged by the HJ and devoted themselves

to 'resistance' -

were precisely those who dissolved their organi-

zations in summer 1945, and who thereafter drifted into the new

youth movements supported by the Allies and fostered by the German political parties and churches. The leftovers were perhaps

of a large fringe of rowdies and appropriated the romantic Edel-

It seemed

the teenagers

the pseudo-Edelweiss, composed juvenile malcontents who had

the end of the war and had already

weiss image well before


Whatever the case, many of the Edelweiss groups that survived

the immediate Stunde Null period

gangs of juvenile delinquents: the occupation force

to cite

the Edelweiss banner had begun organizing thefts and were terror- izing the inhabitants of the town.31

only one example - former HJ members operating under

the movement a bad name through their criminal activities.30

emerged as little more than G-2 section of the American

reported in autumn 1945 that at Offenbach -

Biddiscombe: 'The Enemyof our Enemy'


From the Allied point of view, however, the rise of such teenage gangs was complicated by a much more ominous development: as millions of young German soldiers gradually returned home to their bomb-smashed cities and towns, many of them naturally drifted into the netherworld of the Edelweiss Piraten. Beginning in January 1946, Allied reports suggest that many local gangs of Piraten were swamped by large numbers of young ex-soldiers who drifted from town to town because they were unemployed, or because their houses had been destroyed by aerial bombing, or because their families and homes were in the Soviet Zone, to which they refused to return. 'The Edelweiss tag', noted an Ameri- can report,

is used by, or attached to, loosely knit groups of ex-soldiers and juvenile delin- quents without work, home or family, who move furtively between the large urban centers, mostly by railroad, living by devious means and talking big about

the things they are going to do

These young people have nothing to do, no

place to go. There is no effective authority that might reeducate or rehabilitate


Although there are few statistical details, a report from Munich,

based upon interrogations of 159 Edelweiss members, gives some indication of the composition of the movement, in particular its transient and nomadic character. In the heart of southern Bavaria, only 16 per cent of the 159 Edelweiss members were Bavarian; nearly 74 per cent were Prussian, and nearly 8 per cent were

foreigners (probably uprooted

Edelweiss detainees were from the Soviet Zone, and less than a

third - 31 per cent- were from the American Zone. Further-


more, this particular sampling of Edelweiss members showed

of extreme economic and social instability: over 90 per cent were

unemployed; over 85 per cent lacked a permanent address; and almost 22 per cent had a previous criminal record.33Worst of

all, almost all American and British reports from this same

agreed that leadership positions within the new Edelweiss had been taken over by former SS men or ex-officers of the German

navy (supposedly the most nazified of the German armed


As a result of such influences, the Edelweiss fully revived in

towns, and also developed a

developed along strictly

most western German cities and

revised pattern of internal organization

military lines. Some groups whole-heartedly adopted the leader-

Volksdeutsche). Nearly half the



Journal of ContemporaryHistory

ship principle, and in at least one case the Piraten's traditionally lax discipline was replaced by a rigid code of authoritarianism enforced by death sentences to 'traitors and deserters'.35The basic unit of the organization became a Zug, or platoon, of thirty to forty members, each with a headquarters in the local Bahnhof or in an abandoned air-raid shelter. The Zug was led by a chieftain who received instructions from an overall city leader - a large city was likely to have six or seven Zige - and in Munich the overall strength of the local organization was estimated at almost 2,000 members. Originally the local groups were independent, but the mobility of participants - and indeed of whole Zige - facilitated the gradual establishment of contacts and even co- ordination between city leaders. By late 1946, the Minster Piraten were directly controlled and financed by a parent group in Dort- mund, and the Hamburg gang retained a permanent liaison with its sister club in Hanover. Funding for the Zuge was provided mainly by looting raids and black market operations, and possibly also by individual contributions from former nazi leaders or mem- bers of the Royal Navy and the French Foreign Legion.36 Not content with mere criminality, the new leaders of the Edel- weiss sought to wrap their activities in a cloak of political intrigue, specifically based upon a volkisch programme of 'Germany for the Germans'. In many communities, they terrorized Polish DPs (displaced persons), who were the leftover remnants of forced labour imported into the Reich during the war. German women who dared to consort with Allied troops were also threatened, beaten up, or had their hair cropped, and in several cases, alleged 'collaborators' were threatened. In Traunstein, a civilian employee of Military Government was waylaid and threatened with death if he contributed to any further arrests of Germans. 'In the future', he was told, 'keep your hands off the Edelweiss members.' On an even more sinister level, there was evidence of Edelweiss attempts to establish caches of weapons and booty by attacking goods trains. In Schleswig-Holstein, a sixty-man band led by a former SS officer had the temerity to ambush British military transports, and a similar fifty-man Gruppe was uncovered in 1947, in the Bremen enclave where it had busied itself looting freight trains and supply


By early 1946, nervous Allied intelligence officers had heard

rumours of impending

and on this basis launched 'Operation Valentine', a counter-insur-

terrorist bombings and a youth uprising38

Biddiscombe: 'The Enemyof our Enemy'


gency dragnet which resulted in the arrests of hundreds of Edel- weiss leaders and the decapitation of many local Zuge.39 The French also launched a simultaneous series of raids aimed both at the Piraten and at a similar organization, Les Epingles de Couleur, all of which netted nearly 400 young resisters.4 Allied reports noted in late spring 1946 that the Edelweiss movement had been seriously weakened and had entered a phase of retrenchment,