The German Teens Who Rebelled Against Hitler

These adolescents, aged between 12 and 17, hang around late in the evening with musical instruments and young females. Since this riff raff is in large part outside the Hitler Youth and adopts a hostile attitude towards the organization, they represent a danger to other young people.

—Nazi Party Report, Dusseldorf, Germany, July 1943

From the time Adolf Hitler rose to power and prominence in his native Germany, his mission had been to indoctrinate the next generation of citizens to be fearless, cruel, and unwavering—all the qualities he needed to combat democracy. The Hitler Youth organization was developed to satisfy his goals. Enrollment was mandatory; members played sports and contributed to Nazi-approved artistic endeavors. Military training followed.

But not all of Germany’s adolescents were willing to be subordinates to Hitler’s cause. A small but subversive number of teenagers severed ties with state-approved groups and rebelled both culturally and politically, listening to American music, growing their hair long, and eventually graduating to sabotage. They were known as the Edelweiss Pirates, and their delinquency would grow to become a very sharp thorn in the side of the Reich.

Regardless of social class, boys and girls under the age of 14 were expected to affiliate themselves with the German Youth Group. From 14 to 18—the age in which they became eligible for military service—teens were corralled into the Hitler Youth movement. Disinterest wasn’t tolerated. If a child refused, Gestapo would threaten families with relocation to an orphanage.

Owing to either fear or loyalty, it’s estimated that more than 90 percent of German children were enrolled in the groups. But by the end of the 1930s, a growing number of members began to feel the tug of teenage rebellion. With fathers off to war, parents killed for Communist activity, and bombing raids loosening adult supervision, kids began to resist the conformist status quo. They disliked being told how to think, what to wear, and where to go.

The Edelweiss Pirates, which named themselves after the edelweiss flower covertly pinned to their lapels as a sign of their affiliation, began as a loosely organized resistance in the working-class areas of towns like Cologne and Essen. Checkered shirts, white socks, and scarves distanced the boys (there were very few female members) from the sterile attire of Hitler Youth squads; they let their hair grow long and loose. Guitars and other instruments accompanied parodies of Hitler Youth songs that they sang while camping or hiking, away from the Gestapo constantly on the lookout.

Initially, the Pirates were meddlesome simply for leading by bad example: The SS was concerned their activities could influence youths that were already in line. Depending on the region, police waved them away as a nuisance. In other areas where officials were more concerned, the Pirates would be detained and beaten, their heads shaved to send a message.

The group met the increasingly violent response to their presence with an escalation of misbehavior. Hitler Youths spotted on the street were challenged to fights; anti-Nazi graffiti dotted buildings; leaflets air-dropped by Allied forces were gathered and stuffed into mailboxes. Word spread that army deserters or camp escapees could find safe harbor in their homes. Eventually, the Pirates began organized raids on munitions factories. If a Nazi car was in sight, it was a likely target for sugar in the gas tank.

While the Pirates grew to express open hostility, another faction—the Swing Youth, or Jazz Youth—rebelled by embracing the banned music and culture of the American enemy. Big band sounds would echo through dance halls that attracted up to 6000 attendees performing the jitterbug or other salacious moves. In contrast to the Pirates, the swing cliques were generally made up of upper-middle class teens who could afford contraband records, clothing styles, and audio equipment. When the Gestapo cracked down on public gatherings and violated curfews, they moved to private dances in their own homes. According to a report filed with the Hitler Youth about a February 1940 dance in Hamburg:

The dance music was all English and American. Only swing dancing and jitterbugging took place…The dancers made an appalling sight. None of the couples danced normally … sometimes two boys danced with one girl…When the band played a rumba, the dancers went into a wild ecstasy …They all ‘jitterbugged’ on the stage like wild animals.

Notorious SS official Heinrich Himmler told officers that anyone caught listening to jazz should be “beaten.” But after a long stretch of dealing with both the Pirates and the swing members, Himmler decided to send a more serious message to anyone thinking of joining their movement.  

While captured Pirates being tortured and sent to “re-education camps" may have proved individually discouraging, Himmler felt the need to broadcast the Reich’s distaste for free thinkers. In October 1944, he captured 13 agitators, including seven Pirates, and marched them to the gallows in the middle of Cologne. All prisoners were hung in full view of the public.

Other Pirates had been sent to forced labor camps, where they maintained a ritual of singing songs in protest of the Nazi regime. Before the war ended in 1945, at least one rebel, Herbert Schemmel, was able to retrieve his stash of confiscated records.

The Pirates and the groups affiliated with them were labeled criminals by the courts of the era. In 2005, German officials officially relabeled them as resistance fighters and honored the surviving five members still in Cologne. The Edelweiss Pirates had fulfilled Hitler’s desire for German youths to be fearless and unwavering in the face of adversity. He just hadn’t anticipated it would be pointed in his direction.

Additional Sources: “Opposition and Resistance in Nazi Germany” [PDF]

6 Protective Mask Bundles You Can Get On Sale

pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus
pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Daily life has changed immeasurably since the onset of COVID-19, and one of the ways people have had to adjust is by wearing protective masks out in public places, including in parks and supermarkets. These are an essential part of fighting the spread of the virus, and there are plenty of options for you depending on what you need, whether your situation calls for disposable masks to run quick errands or the more long-lasting KN95 model if you're going to work. Check out some options you can pick up on sale right now.

1. Cotton Face Masks; $20 for 4

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2. CE- and FDA-Approved KN95 Mask; $50 for 10

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You’ve likely heard about the N95 face mask and its important role in keeping frontline workers safe. Now, you can get a similar model for yourself. The KN95 has a dual particle layer, which can protect you from 99 percent of particles in the air and those around you from 70 percent of the particles you exhale. Nose clips and ear straps provide security and comfort, giving you some much-needed peace of mind.

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These three-ply, non-medical, non-woven face masks provide a moisture-proof layer against your face with strong filtering to keep you and everyone around you safe. The middle layer filters non-oily particles in the air and the outer layer works to block visible objects, like droplets.

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If the thought of reusing the same mask from one outing to the next makes you feel uneasy, there’s a disposable option that doesn’t compromise quality; in fact, it uses the same three-layered and non-woven protection as other masks to keep you safe from airborne particles. Each mask in this pack of 50 can be worn safely for up to 10 hours. Once you're done, safely dispose of it and start your next outing with a new one.

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These masks are a blend of 95 percent polyester and 5 percent spandex, and they work to block particles from spreading in the air. And because they're easily compressed, they can travel with you in your bag or pocket, whether you're going to work or out to the store.

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6. Mask Protector Cases; $15 for 3

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You're going to need to have a stash of masks on hand for the foreseeable future, so it's a good idea to protect the ones you’ve got. This face mask protector case is waterproof and dust-proof to preserve your mask as long as possible.

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At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

10 Things You Need to Know About 'The Star-Spangled Banner'

The actual star-spangled banner is displayed at the National Museum of American History.
The actual star-spangled banner is displayed at the National Museum of American History.
National Museum of American History, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 1814, Francis Scott Key saw the tattered remains of the American flag still blowing in the breeze after Maryland's Fort McHenry had been bombarded by the British navy all night. Here are a few facts about Key's poem (yes, poem) that we know as the American national anthem today.

1. There really is a specific star-spangled banner.

It's the actual flag Francis Scott Key saw when he was watching Fort McHenry in Baltimore being bombarded during the War of 1812. His tale goes just like the song: after gunfire and rain all night, the flag was still standing when the sun rose. Inspired, Key wrote down what he was feeling—but when he wrote it, it was simply a poem called “Defense of Fort McHenry.” It became a song when Key’s brother-in-law discovered the poem perfectly fit the tune of a popular song called “The Anacreontic Song” (see #3).

Although the song was played at public events and on patriotic occasions from that point on, it wasn’t officially named as the national anthem until after Robert Ripley of Ripley’s Believe it or Not! noted in his cartoon that “Believe It or Not, America has no national anthem.” John Philip Sousa rallied for "The Star-Spangled Banner" to become the new national anthem, and on March 3, 1931, Herbert Hoover signed a law making it so.

The actual star-spangled banner that Key observed is now displayed at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

2. There were other contenders for the national anthem besides "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Other candidates included “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Hail Columbia,” and “America the Beautiful.”

3. The national anthem's tune is based on a drinking song.

Before it was a national anthem, the tune of "The Star-Spangled Banner" belonged to a popular British drinking song. The anthem takes its melody from “The Anacreontic Song” or “To Anacreon in Heaven,” a British drinking song sung by members of London’s Anacreontic Society.

4. Francis Scott Key wrote alternate lyrics for "The Star-Spangled Banner."

One version of the lyrics, handwritten by Francis Scott Key himself in 1840, changes the version we all know so well. It’s a subtle change, though: "Whose bright stars and broad stripes, through the perilous fight" was written as "Whose bright stars and broad stripes, through the clouds of the fight.” This version is now housed in the Library of Congress.

5. The lyrics of "The Star-Spangled Banner" are surprisingly difficult to remember.

It’s a hard song to sing musically because it stretches vocals an octave and a half, but it’s apparently a hard song to remember lyrically as well—at least for some people. In 1965, Robert Goulet sang the national anthem before the big Sonny Liston-Muhammad Ali fight. The crowd wanted to fight him, however, when he botched the lyrics right from the start: “Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early night.”

"I walked into that town and I was a hero. Then the fight lasted a minute and half and I walked out of town and I was a bum," he said.

In 2009, Jesse McCartney was asked to sing the famous song before the NASCAR Pepsi 500. He went right from “Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,” to “Whose broad stripes and bright stars." McCartney chalked it up to stage fright.

6. A fifth stanza was added to "The Star-Spangled Banner" during the Civil War.

It’s little known today, but it appeared in songbooks and sheet music in 1861. It goes like this:

When our land is illumined with liberty's smile,
If a foe from within strikes a blow at her glory,
Down, down with the traitor that tries to defile
The flag of the stars, and the page of her story!
By the millions unchained,
Who their birthright have gained
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained;
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave,
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.

You might be surprised that there’s a fifth stanza—in fact, you might be surprised that there’s a second, third and fourth. The others are rarely played, but you might hear them on really formal occasions. You’ll almost never hear the third stanza, though, which is pretty anti-British. Here are the lyrics to the song in their entirety.

7. Francis Scott Key's grandson was imprisoned in Fort McHenry.

Ironically, Francis Scott Key’s grandson was jailed in the very place that inspired his granddad to write “The Star-Spangled Banner." In 1861, residents of Baltimore who were deemed to be pro-South were held in Fort McHenry.

8. Other countries have played "The Star-Spangled Banner" to support the American people.

The song inspires all kinds of emotions in a lot of people, but there’s one instance where it really tugged at the heartstrings of the world. On September 12, 2001, the Buckingham Palace band played the American national anthem during their Changing of the Guard. The gesture of solidarity and show of support was repeated for Spain (with their national anthem, of course, not “The Star-Spangled Banner”) in 2004 after the bombings in Madrid.

9. "The Star-Spangled Banner" wasn't always played before baseball games.

The tradition of playing the national anthem before a baseball game wasn't standard until WWII. Before that, the song was typically reserved for the seventh-inning stretch.

10. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is really hard to sing.

Our national anthem is so difficult to sing well that radio host Garrison Keillor started a campaign to transpose the song to a more congenial key, G major. He argued that most singers are able to tackle that key with ease, unlike A flat major, the key in which it's typically sung today. So far, obviously, he has been unsuccessful.

A version of this story first ran in 2010.