Flowers in the Gutter
Flowers in the Gutter
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Annotation: A photo-illustrated account documents the story of the Edelweiss Pirates, a group of working-class teens who survived the Third Reich in their Cologne neighborhoods while resisting the Hitler Youth, helping POWs and sabotaging Nazi factories.
Genre: World history
Catalog Number: #199158
Format: Publisher's Hardcover
No other formats available
Publisher: Penguin
Copyright Date: 2020
Edition Date: 2020
Pages: 301 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: 0-525-55541-2
ISBN 13: 978-0-525-55541-4
Dewey: 940.53
LCCN: 2019047969
Dimensions: 24 cm.
Language: English
Publishers Weekly
Gaddy-s debut draws from memoirs and extensive research to share the true stories of three teens in Nazi Germany. Gertrud, Jean, and Fritz were non-Jewish, fairly typical German teens, hanging out with groups known as Bündische Jugend (free-federated youth). The Nazis considered such groups far too tolerant and nonconforming, and as Hitler came to power, they were subjected to imprisonment and interrogation. The senseless brutality they witnessed prompted the Bündische to risk their lives in acts of rebellion, vandalism, and sabotage because -at least if they were fighting back against the Nazis, they might die doing something meaningful.- Despite awkward translations (for example, a foreman tells Fritz, -You are not bearable for the German people,- to express contempt) and frequent use of undefined German phrases, this compelling account conveys the profound brutality of Hitler-s Germany and how some children responded with acts of breathtaking bravery. Age 12-up. (Jan.)
School Library Journal Starred Review
Gr 710 As young children living in Germany during the uprising of the Nazi party, Gertrud Kühlem, Jean Jülich, and Fritz Theilen resisted joining the Hitler Youth. They grew up in Cologne, Germany, in the aftermath of World War I and the Depression; their fathers were unemployed, there was not enough money to buy food, and there was a general sense that life was getting scarier as the Nazi Party came to power in the 1930s. Gertrud's parents, who were Communists, hated Hitler. Fritz's parents were members of the Social Democratic Party and did not want another war. Jean was eventually sent to an orphanage when his father, grandmother, and aunt were taken by Nazis due to his father's allegiance to the Communist Party. Other teenagers in Germany, who were anti-Hitler and anti-Nazi, embraced all people. These groups were called the Edelweiss Pirates or the Navajos. The democratic, inclusive groups did not discriminate against people based on sexual preference or race. Many supported the Allies and openly fought with Hitler Youth members. The narrative, broken into seven parts, highlights the true story of these hundreds (maybe thousands) of German teenagers who resisted and risked their lives in order to save Jewish people. Told from the three teens' perspectives, this compelling book is carefully and expertly researched. Gaddy utilized memoirs and interviews that Gertrud, Jean, and Fritz have given since the end of the war. VERDICT Readers will enjoy learning about these resistance groups in this truly new and unique addition to the YA World War II literary canon. A a must-read. Gretchen Schulz, Schaumburg Township District Library, IL
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School Library Journal Starred Review (1/1/20)
Publishers Weekly
Bibliography Index/Note: Includes bibliographical references (pages [272]-292) and index.
Word Count: 64,297
Reading Level: 6.8
Interest Level: 7-12
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 6.8 / points: 11.0 / quiz: 507237 / grade: Upper Grades
Guided Reading Level: Z+


Late 1942

Gertud Kühlem -- aka Mucki

Mucki stepped out of her apartment onto narrow Boisseree Street. On Fridays, she had a standing date with her friends in the Volksgarten. Wearing leather loafers that probably needed to be replaced and white socks hanging around her ankles, Mucki made her way toward the park.

The mile between her house and the meeting spot was surrounded by destruction. Some buildings had roofs that looked like they had been removed by giants, others were just walls, or piles of brick and stone. Sides of buildings had black scorch marks streaming up around the windows. Trees with massive trunks had been snapped in half like matchsticks. Mucki was lucky the apartment where she and her mom lived still stood.

As she moved through the city, she knew at any moment a siren could go off, signaling another attack, and she'd have to duck into the nearest air-raid shelter.

In the end, though, her trip was uneventful and when she arrived, the Volksgarten was empty. Before the war, the park would have been filled with people on a late afternoon like this: a mom out walking with her kids, a couple sitting on the bank of the pond whispering to each other, little dogs prancing around on their leashes. None of that happened anymore. The park was all but deserted, and that was how Mucki and her friends liked it.

This time, the Mountain Climber, Banjo Willi, Ätz, and Jus showed up. Sometimes there were more people, sometimes fewer. Usually they talked, hung out, and sang songs--all stuff that would have been typical for bündische youth groups in the early 1930s in Germany. Lately, they'd been planning some stuff they didn't want anyone to hear about.

"Listen up, I know what we should do next," said the Mountain Climber. He was skinny, with sinewy arms and legs, and on hikes, he was always the first to the top of a rock, or you'd find him up in a tree somewhere. He was newer to the group, but really committed, and really trustworthy.

"And what have you been thinking about?" Mucki asked.

The Mountain Climber looked around the park to make sure no one was lingering.

"I thought that we could fill a backpack full of flyers, I'd throw it on my back, and make my way to the Cologne Central Station," he said.

He was crazy. They all knew that the main train station in Cologne was crawling with activity. Every day, the military used the trains to ship German soldiers to battle, and to send Jews, leftists, homosexuals, and anyone else they didn't like to a KZ--a concentration camp. Every day, supplies and food arrived, along with forced laborers from Poland or occupied territories in the East. The Mountain Climber wanted to take the flyers and make them flutter down like dead leaves in an autumn wind, to show people that there was a resistance.

"That's a way for you to find yourself in a camp," Mucki said. She knew this was not the plan of a person merely intent on surviving the war. She knew well that the punishment for this kind of thing could be jail, possible torture, concentration camps; her father had experienced it.

Ätz agreed with Mucki and added, "I don't want to see my neck in the noose yet. I have a lot to live for." Ätz was tall and scrawny too, and generally slanted his body in a way that made it seem like he didn't really care. But right now, he cared, and he wasn't convinced by the Mountain Climber's plans.

"Do you think I want to play a game with my own life?" the Mountain Climber asked. "Look, we only take calculated risks, and we make the decision together. But at least hear my plan.

"I know the train station. In the middle is the big glass dome, and all around it are ladders for the workers, for when, you know, the electricity isn't right or they have to fix some other problem. I thought that I could climb one of those ladders with the backpack and just let all of the flyers go. Two or three of you keep watch below and I come back down. You'll all be safe. And then we get out of there."

"You realize that's really risky, right?" said Jus, who hadn't said a word yet. Jus and Mucki trusted each other; they'd been friends a long time.

"But what do we have to lose?" Mucki started to change her mind. "Yeah, we could get caught. But we could have also got caught when we graffitied buildings around town. We've done a lot and people haven't noticed. We need something to motivate us and something that reaches more people. I say we go for it."

"Do we have a choice? We're already in it pretty deep." Ätz seemed to change his mind too. "I'm in."

"There can't be a worse fate than Hitler," Banjo Willi said.

"It'll go well," Jus said. Sometimes, he knew exactly what to say. "So far we haven't had any big problems; why would it be any different this time?"

The long August evening had almost come to an end, and dusk started to settle in. They hurried up and made their plan before dark, when they had to be home. They gave themselves two weeks.

Mucki took on the duty of getting the flyers. She made her way to a small street in Pesch, on the northern border of the Cologne city limits.

Jus had introduced them to a man with a small print shop in his basement. He normally printed church newsletters for Catholic congregations in the area. He knew that what they were doing was dangerous. If he got busted with the flyers, he wouldn't get off easy. Creating the material was one of the riskier parts of the operation. He couldn't play dumb like someone just carrying the flyers. So he had one stipulation: no one could know his name. They called him Tom.

"Hello, Mucki," Tom said as she entered the shop. He didn't know her real name either.

Tom printed his church bulletins in a large font so that the older readers in the congregation could easily make out the words. This was perfect for the flyers since no one would dare pick one up for fear of being carried away by the police. Even looking too long at one on the ground could be risky. People would need to be able to read the messages as they walked by.

"The flyers are under the canvas bags," Tom said. "Goodbye." He had said ten words to Mucki and that was all he would say. The less they knew about each other the better. The less Tom knew about the operation the better.

She grabbed the package and put it under the padding of a baby stroller she'd borrowed from a neighbor. She arranged pillows and a blanket inside the blue stroller to make it look like a child was snuggled inside. She gripped the handles as she quickly pushed it down the street.

The big wheels bounced over cobblestones and destroyed sidewalks. Her heart must have been pounding as she pushed the stroller through the outskirts of Cologne. What if someone wants to peek at the sleeping angel? What if someone questions the fact that she was eighteen with a baby? How would she cover? What would she say?

In the end, people around her didn't pay her any attention. They had their own worries. Would another air raid come tonight? Would their rations last until the end of the week? Could they get a new coat for winter? Had their neighbor overheard that private conversation? People in Cologne were known to mind their own business, and since the beginning of the war, that was even more true.

Finally, Mucki made it to a specific pile of rubble in Cologne. To someone who didn't know the city, that's what it looked like: one of the thousands of piles of stones, mortar, wood, and bricks that used to be a home, office, school, or church in the city. This heap had been a Catholic church. The steeple had fallen; the bells had been taken off to be melted down for the war long ago. This was the perfect place to stash the flyers until they needed them.

Mucki looked around to make sure no one had followed her. Quickly, she placed the flyers in a hole and put stones on top. Her job was done. Tomorrow, the Mountain Climber would begin his. He'd be risking his life. They'd all be risking their lives.

The Central Train Station was a magnificent building, almost as grand as the nearby Cologne Cathedral. The main entrance was under a semicircular glass window, probably forty feet in diameter. The glass dome arched just behind that window. This was where the Mountain Climber would ascend. At the busiest time of the evening, he'd drop the flyers.

At 5:00 p.m., they were all there: the Mountain Climber; Mucki; Jus; Ätz; Banjo Willi; and the Guardian, who hadn't been at the park. They gathered near a ladder inside, and the flow of rush-hour traffic moved around them. They had been visiting the train station daily around this time to figure out the layout, the best ladder for the Mountain Climber to use, and whether it really was safe.

No one seemed to be paying them any attention. People just moved about as normal.

One of the group winked. That was the sign. Time to start.

The Guardian and Ätz went to two corner positions, Jus made his way to a platform across the tracks from where they had met, and Mucki and Banjo Willi stayed by the ladder, disguised as a couple in love. Willi slipped his hands around Mucki's waist and pressed his nose closer to her neck. Mucki's arms were around Willi's back. Their embrace was code: arms around each other's waists meant "hold." They looked over each other's shoulders and could whisper without looking suspicious.

They looked for men in uniforms, taking in a 360-degree view of the station. Mucki looked over Willi's shoulder and whispered in his ear. Was everyone in place? He looked over her shoulder and whispered back. Were any men in uniforms nearby? They whispered again. This was as clear as it was ever going to be.

The Mountain Climber was keeping an eye on them near the ladder, waiting for the sign to begin. They whispered one last time. Slowly, Mucki raised her arms from Willi's waist up to his shoulders, and he did the same.

This was the sign. Like a cat, the Mountain Climber bounded to the top of the ladder, his long, chestnut-brown hair bouncing as he climbed.

Mucki and Willi scanned the station. No one seemed to have noticed. No expressions changed. No one looked up. No one was screaming about the boy on the ladder. No police. No Gestapo. This was good. With each passing moment, the risk increased.

All at once, paper sailed down from the ceiling. 

The words on Edelweiss Pirate flyers tended to be simple, the messages clear. They were printed with phrases like:

put an end to the brown-shirted horde!

soldiers, lay down your weapons!

we perish in this misery. this world is no longer our world. we have to fight for another world or we will perish, we will perish in this misery.

Before the first flyer hit the floor of the train station, the lovers had let go of each other, the Mountain Climber was down on the ground, and the others were safe too. The whole action had probably taken under fifteen minutes. They didn't stick around. They all moved quickly in different directions away from the train station.

The next day, the newspaper had the story: the action at the train station had been committed by a group of criminals.

Excerpted from Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis by K. R. Gaddy
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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.

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