Book Review: Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis by K. R. Gaddy
The true story of the Edelweiss Pirates, working-class teenagers who fought the Nazis by whatever means they could.
Fritz, Gertrud, and Jean were classic outsiders: their clothes were different, their music was rebellious, and they weren’t afraid to fight. But they were also Germans living under Hitler, and any nonconformity could get them arrested or worse. As children in 1933, they saw their world change. Their earliest memories were of the Nazi rise to power and of their parents fighting Brownshirts in the streets, being sent to prison, or just disappearing.
As Hitler’s grip tightened, these three found themselves trapped in a nation whose government contradicted everything they believed in. And by the time they were teenagers, the Nazis expected them to be part of the war machine. Fritz, Gertrud, and Jean and hundreds like them said no. They grew bolder, painting anti-Nazi graffiti, distributing anti-war leaflets, and helping those persecuted by the Nazis. Their actions were always dangerous. The Gestapo pursued and arrested hundreds of Edelweiss Pirates. In World War II’s desperate final year, some Pirates joined in sabotage and armed resistance, risking the Third Reich’s ultimate punishment. This is their story.
Here’s the thing: I knew absolutely nothing about the Edelweiss Pirates beyond at some point having heard that name and knowing that they were an anti-Nazi resistance group. I absolutely devoured this book. Get this one up on your displays about youth activism and youth movements.
Told through the actions of many youth involved in the Edelweiss Pirates, we learn about their backgrounds, the political climate of the 1930s and 1940s, the expectations for young people (like joining the Hitler Youth or the League of German Girls), and how they came to form these resistance groups. Photographs, historical reports and documents, and song lyrics help fill in what was happening at the time and set the scene. Despite it being illegal, these young people came together to spend time in nature, sing songs, plan political activities, and, as time went on, take increasingly risky actions against the Nazis. The members of these subversive groups were repeatedly interrogated, arrested, imprisoned, and, for some, even executed.
The action, rebellion, resistance, sabotage, and survival of these young people is extraordinary. Some of them were as young as 13, which, as the parent of a 13-year-old, was mind-blowing. For me, though, the most interesting part of all of this is how little I know or have ever read about these groups, yet have read so many things over the years about the White Rose group, which was made up of older, upper-middle class young people. The Edelweiss Pirates were leftist, young, working class kids. In fact, they weren’t even officially recognized as a resistance movement until 2005. The stories of these brave children need to be more well-known and further underscore just how much children and young adults have always led the way in political activism and resistance against evils. A deeply affecting book.
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/07/2020
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
SLJ Blog Network