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The Anti-Hitler Youth Movement

Lawrence Bush
August 10, 2017

Gustav Bermel, a member of an anti-Nazi group centered in Ehrenfeld, Cologne, was born on this date in 1927. Known as the Ehrenfelder Group and, alternately, as the Steinbrück Group, after their 23-year-old leader, Hans Steinbrück, a concentration-camp escapee, the group consisted of scores of anti-Nazi resisters, Jews, escapees, deserters, artists, and refugees who lived in a bombed-out district of Cologne. Many, including Bermel, were youthful members of the Edelweiss Pirates, refugees from the Hitler Youth, many of them school drop-outs. The Ehrenfelder Group built an armory and food store, requisitioned primarily by theft, and provided temporary shelter for Jews in hiding and runaway slave laborers. On November 10, 1944, thirteen members of the network, including Steinbrück, Bermel, and four other youths, were summarily and publicly hanged by the Gestapo, charged with five murders. After the war, a controversy raged as to whether the Ehrenfelder Group should be considered resisters or criminals. In the Soviet zone of occupation, members of the Edelweiss Pirates were generally imprisoned for long sentences.

“Dissatisfied with the increasingly transparent purpose of the Hitler Youth and the loss of any freedom or fun which membership originally offered, a number of young boys and girls began looking for a way in which they could avoid association with the group altogether. Some did so by leaving school, which was permissible (and often the norm among children of working-class families) at the age of 14, or dropping out of the Hitler Youth, which, it must be remembered, was compulsory. If found they faced severe consequences. Nevertheless, in the period just before World War II, small groups (between 10 and 15 members), consisting primarily of boys between the ages of 14 and 18, began seeking each others’ company outside of the Hitler Youth. Such groups began forming in the larger cities of Nazi Germany like Hamburg, Leipzig, Frankfurt and especially in Cologne, and identifying themselves with titles like ‘swings,’ ‘packs,’ ‘cliques,’ or ‘pirates’. The Farhtenstenze, or Traveling Dudes, for instance, came from Essen, the Kittelbach Pirates from Oberhaussen and Dusseldorf, and the Navajos from Cologne. Together, the members of these groups are thought to have totaled more than 5,000, about 3,000 in Cologne alone, and although each group maintained a separate identity due to its location, all considered themselves Edelweiss Pirates.”--Katie Kellerman, Raoul Wallenberg Foundation

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.