You’ve heard, I’m sure, of the Hitler Youth: young men (not quite of age to truly join the fight) that were indoctrinated into Nazism. Young women found an equal path through the League of German Girls.
Just smaller Nazis, honestly.
Father raved on and on about the Youth from the moment I turned ten years old. Oh, the unwavering pride he held for the Nazi Party and their great leader. The way he smiled when he talked about his son joining a militaristic group of innocent children….
I kept my mouth shut, but my mind never stopped screaming. To live a childhood tied to the short chain of my father, and then be forced to spend my teenage years training? It was too much.
I had it all planned out, the noose in my closet and the note for Mother, until I heard a whisper through the streets of Cologne.
The Edelweiss Pirates.
I turned fourteen in 1939, when membership in the Hitler Youth became required and non-membership was punished. Father practically bounced on his heels, twitching to haul me off. Mother tearfully hugged me the night before our planned departure. I waited until I heard their snoring before running.
Following the whispers took days (and very nearly my life, too), but I soon melted into the open arms of the Pirates. My earliest duties consisted of petty crimes: graffiti, throwing eggs, that sort of thing. I rose quickly in rank until I held the esteemed title of Captain of the Navajos, the western tribe of the Edelweiss Pirates.
It wasn’t until 1944 that I received my first real mission: finding The Treasure.
I would find The Treasure. I would find it, or die trying.
We huddled in Hambach Forest. I represented the Navajos from Cologne. Captain Lukas led the Roving Dudes of Essen and Captain Fynn, the Kittelbach Pirates of Dusseldorf and Oberhausen.
Commander Felix reigned over the entire group Edelweiss Pirates, all three thousand of us. He was the first one to welcome me to the organization and the one to crown me Captain of the Navajos. I couldn’t help but feel a fierce protectiveness over him.
“Let’s get to business,” murmured Commander Felix. “Captain Fynn--news?”
“Just rising membership, in both the Pirates and the Youth.” Captain Fynn shuffled his feet. He stood at least a foot above the other boys despite being the youngest.
“Aye. Captain Lukas?”
“Not looking good. Kids are getting scared, Commander. Pirates getting sent off to the camps, or killed….” Captain Lukas sported a scar that ran from his forehead to his jaw. He refused to discuss it.
The Commander pursed his lips. “And Captain Ben?”
I cleared my throat. “More of the same, Commander.”
He tapped his foot, staring around at each of us before finally settling back on me.
“It’s time, Ben.”
I stiffened, every muscle in my body tensing. “You have a lead?”
I looked at Captain Lukas and Captain Flynn, who nodded their heads determinedly.
I would find The Treasure: the weapon to kill all the Nazis.
We weren’t exactly sure what it was, of course. A bomb, perhaps. The little ones were convinced it was poison that only affected the Nazis.
The rumors of The Treasure spread through the tribes of the Edelweiss Pirates like wildfire, setting alight the flame of hope. Of desire.
We were a nuisance, of course. We assumed the Nazis thought of us like one would a pesky fly; irritating, small, yet too much work to squash.
The Treasure would propel us from frustrating to dangerous.
I would not let Commander Felix down. I would find The Treasure, or die trying.
“Navajos,” I said, nodding. The small group broke out in smiles. We sat at a grassy spot close to the lake.
“Heya, Captain.” There were only twelve of us among the higher ranked. Giselle, my second in command, was the only girl in the tribe. “News?” she asked, her eyes fierce.
“It’s time,” I said in a low voice.
Gasps rushed throughout the Pirates.
“You have a lead?” said Giselle.
I nodded. “It’s in Munich.”
Jonas, one of the younger Navajos, cleared his throat. “When--when do we leave?”
I stayed quiet for a moment, staring at my team. Sean wouldn’t meet my eyes. Leon stared at his shoes. Jonas rubbed his arms.
“You’re scared,” I said quietly.
Giselle scoffed. “Ridiculous, Captain.”
I raised my hand and she closed her mouth. “I’m scared, too.”
Sean snapped his head up. “You are?”
“Of course I am. But you know what I’m more scared of?”
“The Nazis,” answered Leon.
I stood. “Yes. I’m more scared of...pain. Of torture. Of either becoming a damn Nazi or dying in the camps.”
The tribe nodded, sharing looks. “Yeah!” said Sean, clenching his fists.
“And I’d rather die free than live imprisoned,” I said, raising my voice.
“Yes!” said Giselle, rising to her feet.
“Captain Ben!” shouted Leon.
“Captain Ben! Captain Ben!” they cheered, pumping their fists in the air. I let their shouts fill my soul as I grinned at my tribe.
We would find The Treasure and live in infamy as the Pirates that eradicated the Nazi Party.
I suppose I should've realized it was all too good to be true.
He got in our way, that Gestapo chief. We set off to Munich and ran into him, and who better to test our strength? He lay dead upon the ground before we could comprehend the implications.
They found us not long after.
As I sit in my cell now, preparing for hanging, I have no regrets. We did not kill all Nazis, but I’m holding strong to the belief that we saved countless lives by destroying just one.
I will stand by my Pirates tomorrow, hands tied and head held high.
If you find this letter, trust that we will be long dead--but the spirit of the Edelweiss Pirates will live on in the young, in the free, and in the hearts of those brave enough to push away fear and stand up to injustice.
Captain Ben Wolf
The Edelweiss Pirates