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Reich Ministry of Justice Report on the Emergence of "Youth Cliques and Gangs" and the Struggle against Them (early 1944)

The monopolistic and coercive nature of the Hitler Youth after 1933 was supposed to ensure that all children and young people conformed to National Socialism and were educated according to its principles. It could not, however, prevent the formation of several oppositional groups, whose members rejected the Hitler Youth’s mandatory membership policy and opposed its militaristic drills in particular. The Edelweiss Pirates and the Swing Youth, both of which are mentioned in the following text, were two of the most widely known oppositional groups. Both groups were non-political and primarily interested in maintaining their own individuality. But because group members refused to join the Hitler Youth, they were persecuted by the Gestapo. The following Ministry of Justice report from 1944 makes clear that the regime viewed any type of behavior that deviated from Nazi dictates as intolerable and potentially subversive.

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The problem of the threat to youth and juvenile criminality manifests itself in particular in the formation of youth gangs. For, since the beginning of the war, and above all since the start of the terror air raids, there has been an increasing number of reports about combinations of young people who are pursuing partly criminal, but also to some extent political and ideological, goals.

[ . . . ]

In Gelsenkirchen a gang of approximately fifty young people were involved in thefts and robberies. They called themselves 'Edelweiss Pirates', met together every evening and were opposed to the HJ. Similar observations have been made in Essen, Bochum and Wattenscheid. In Cologne the Edelweiss Pirates have also made an appearance. They carried out propaganda for the bündisch (see below) youth and printed leaflets.

Düsseldorf has also reported Edelweiss Pirates who, in addition to harmless ringing of doorbells, have beaten up pedestrians. In some cases they have smeared human excrement on the faces of other national comrades. There was a particular increase in attacks on HJ members.

The same conditions are prevalent in Leipzig, for example; there a large number of young people set up a party-like organization in order to oppose state measures of youth education and to beat up members of the HJ.

In Wismar/Mecklenburg young people set up the Ring bands with the same aim. In addition, they aimed to disrupt law and order in the state and were prepared to mount armed attacks on the police. In the event of revolution they intended to string up the HJ patrols and the HJ leadership from trees. Their attitude was deliberately anti-German. In Düsseldorf the gang 'Club of the Golden Horde' printed pamphlets with the heading 'Down with Hitler—we want freedom'. In Duisburg the Edelweiss or Kittelsbach Pirates became active in opposition to the HJ.

Finally, there are several reports of illegal youth associations which are essentially liberal with a clear tendency towards an 'easy-going English life style'. The main representatives are the so-called 'Swing gangs', who were particularly evident in Hamburg, but also in other parts of the Reich, e.g. Dresden and Vienna.

This section alone suffices to show that we are dealing with three different sorts of gangs:

a) The politically hostile gangs.
b) The liberal-individualistic gangs.
c) The criminal-anti-social gangs.

Their development has clearly shown that they initially emerged in big cities but then spread to the countryside (possibly through the evacuation measures). In order to combat this problem effectively it is necessary to examine how these gangs came about, what makes them tick, and whether they pose a threat, and what sort of threat, to the state and youth education.

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