Saturday, July 26, 2008

The White Rose and German "Punks"

It's interesting that the more one reads history, the more one encounters analogs from some distant past period to things one perhaps used to think were the types of things only a person from one of the generations of the past 30 or 40 years or so would have thought up.

I've been reading a book called Sophie Scholl and The White Rose for a few days now. If you want to learn about the anti-Nazi resistance group The White Rose, I recommend reading the book The White Rose, Munich: 1942-1943 by Sophie Scholl's sister, Inge, instead (for reasons I'll write about another time) or even watching the German movie Sophie Scholl (the DVD features subtitles in English). But Sophie Scholl and The White Rose does have a lot of history and facts in it. Take this for instance:

[I]n 1936, when membership in the Hitler Youth had become compulsory, gangs of hostile young men began to appear in the cities of Germany and especially in industrial districts. Among them were the children of workers with some degree of class consciousness; Communists were to remain the firmest opponents of the regime, suffering extreme torture in the hands of the Gestapo and in the concentration camps. But most of the young people seem to have been consciously "unpolitical."

Sharing a contempt for playing soldier, these groups would gather in pubs to drink alcohol, smoke, and play cards with their elders. Or they would behave like the "punks" of a later era, dressing in simple, almost ragged clothes to express their rejection of the stifling hypocrisy around them: they wore long hair, checkered shirts, old hats, and signet rings with skull and crossbones. Calling themselves the Navajos, the Black Gang, or the Edelweiss Pirates, they listened to so-called degenerate swing music, and jeered at the smug obedience of Hitler Youth stalwarts.

Some of these groups did more than jitterbug and look dangerous. Having been forced into the Hitler Youth, these youngsters played double roles: after-hours they gathered occasionally with criminal elements and tried to disrupt Hitler Youth meetings. In Munich a band calling itself the Red Anchor was said to have appeared in Haidhausen, the same working-class district from which Hitler had launched his beer-hall putsch. Their targets were not people in elegant furs and top-hats, but anyone alone and wearing a Hitler Youth uniform. In Leipzig in 1937, the police carried out a major action against a group that had spread to Berlin and Cologne as well. According to the Gestapo, 1,500 boys had banded together in 1936 to attack youth leaders at night; their explicit goal was to recruit more members in Leipzig than were in the Hitler Youth. Their two seventeen-year-old leaders were eventually caught and sentenced to three years' hard labor.
Now this is really interesting. I think I may have heard of this group once before at most, but that's it. From the impression I'd always gotten of the time, I wouldn't have thought such a thing could exist in Germany during the '30s. But that's the way history surprises you. And the stereotypes we have about Germany and Germany during the Nazi era are not quite right.

It's hardly inconceivable, anyway, that such a thing could exist, because in places like New Jersey and Baltimore in recent years, 19-year-olds who are members of gangs like the Bloods have been indicted for heading criminal empires encompassing hundreds of members and generating millions of dollars in illegal revenue.

Unfortunately, although this book contains a bibliography, it doesn't have footnotes or endnotes. I'd really like to see the research myself, and find out a little more about the extent to which these young men were really "hostile" rather than just non-conformist, and were a bunch of "punks" rather than thinkers who were intentionally politically-minded (that is, maybe at least many of the leaders and originators of these groups were young guys who were a little bit more educated about politics than just completely idle and spontaneously rebellious youths whose motivation was thinking that the Hitler Youth were square). A group calling itself the Red Anchor sounds to me like the pissed-off sons of a bunch of communists who were dragged away to camps, and messing around with the Hitler Youth does not seem to me like an entirely natural activity for guys who saw themselves as nothing more than non-conformist roughs to undertake-- because everyone had to know that there was much at stake with, and little reward in, messing with the Nazis.

Another interesting point from the same book:
Between 1940 and 1945, 1,807 inmates were executed in Brandenburg prison alone for political reasons, some after years of forced labor. Of these, 75 were under twenty years of age; 22 were high-school pupils or university students. In Hamburg between 1933 and 1945, of all those sentenced for political "crimes," 11 percent were youths.
One has to wonder whether these numbers would have been higher, except for the young people's ability to run a little faster than the cops and soldiers.

In any event, it's really astounding to me that I perhaps haven't even heard of this group before. You'd think that something like an uprising of 1,500 boys that had banded together in 1936 to attack Nazi youth leaders one night would be one of the most-famous events of Nazi Germany. Yet is seems like the protectors of the status quo and our mainstream media don't see any value in educating us about it, but instead prefer to keep showing documentaries that are almost 100% composed of footage from the propaganda "documentaries" that Hitler ordered his film-maker, Leni Riefenstahl, to compose for him.