On 16 February 2023 the pro-Russian influencer Milenko Nedelkovski (FB profile Milenko Makedonski) posted the Decree issued and signed by the Ukrainian President Zelensky through which Zelensky is assigning the name “Edelweiss” to the 10th Separate Mountain Assault Brigade of the Ground Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, in an effort to present Zelensky and the Ukraine Armed Forces as Nazis. The distortion that Nedelkovski makes in his post is the allusion that the name “Edelweiss” marks the notorious Nazi-Wehrmacht 1st Mountain Brigade. It appears that one important fact is being intentionally omitted by the pro-Russian propagandists, thus creating a distortion, and that is the existence of the “Edelweiss pirates”. This youth movement is a synonym of the earliest form of grass-root and organic resistance to Hitler’s Nazi rule, born in Germany in late 1930s.
Also, Russia’s Nazi narratives are even more pretentious because there was a regular Special force brigade within the Ministry of Interior that was named ‘Edelweiss”, which is another “neglected” fact by the pro-Russian infrastructure. In addition, since 2015, Putin has been building himself a paramilitary Youth Army (Yunarmiya), which very much resembles the ‘Hitler Jugend’.
The Edelweiss Pirates were a group of 12-18 year old boys in West German towns during the late 1930s. They disliked the oppressiveness and strictness of Hitler's Nazi regime and strongly opposed the Hitler Youth in their quest for freedom in Nazi Germany. To rebel against authority, they wore distinctive checked shirts with an edelweiss badge, dark short trousers, windcheaters, scarves, and flashy white socks. Girls who joined wore windcheaters, white sweaters, and white socks. They had longer hair than the norm in Nazi Germany. The Gestapo made lists of their clothing to identify and arrest them. The Edelweiss Pirates were connected to other youth groups, such as the Raving Dudes and the Navajos, who also wore checked shirts with either an edelweiss or skull badge. The Edelweiss Pirates operated in small local groups, often congregating on street corners, in parts of the city center, or local parks.
During the war (1939-45), the Edelweiss Pirates' subversive activities grew. They engaged in battles with the Hitler Youth in the cities and wrote anti-Nazi slogans in subways, such as "Down with Hitler - We Want Freedom", "Medals for Murder", and "Down with Nazi Brutality". They also distributed anti-Nazi leaflets dropped by British and American bombers to local people's letterboxes. Towards the end of the war, as Germany headed for defeat, many Edelweiss Pirates bravely shielded Jews, army deserters and joined forces with other resistance fighters, to sabotage industry. These actions show how the Pirates' youthful rebellion turned into an active resistance against the Nazi regime.
As a result, the Gestapo cracked down on the Pirates and arrested 739 of them in Düsseldorf, Duisburg, Essen, and Wuppertal in December 1942. They were sent to a "re-education camp" to conform to Nazi ideology. In October 1944, the SS issued a decree to combat youth ‘gangs’, leading to more arrests of Edelweiss Pirates' leaders.
In November 1944, the leaders of the Cologne Pirates were publicly hanged as a warning to deter others from joining the group.
BONUS FACT 1: Since 2015 Putin started its own Youth Army (Yunarmiya) which encompasses children from 8-18 years of age. Nowadays, based on the live tracker on the official website of this youth paramilitary movement, it has 1.25 million members. The ‘Yunarmiya’ was officially promoted at the Victory Day parade in 2017, reaching also the NMK online space.
This further speaks about the Russian disregard of the international law and treaties, since it is in a complete breach of the UN Convention for the Rights of Children. Additionally, in July 2021 the organization has been included in the 7th package of sanctions against Russia by the EU and described as a “paramilitary organization”.
The similarities with the Wehrmacht’s actions and Hitler’s strategy for the Third Reich from the 1930s are striking.
BONUS FACT 2: The 56th Separate Brigade Special Operational Purpose of the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia was officially named ‘Edelweiss’ in 2011.
This unit is operating in the region of Mount Verblyud, a mountain region between the Black and the Caspian seas.
This project was funded in part through a U.S. Embassy grant. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed herein are those of the implementers/authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Government.