By Author / Illustrator
Dirk Reinhardt, Michael Rosen, Rachel Ward
Pushkin Children's Books
Paperback / softback
When 16-old Daniel befriends Josef Gerlach, he feels the old man is haunted by a secret from his past. Sure enough when Josef gives him his teenage diary to read, Daniel discovers a shocking story of rebellion and struggle.
The diary tells how Josef left the Hitler Youth for a gang called The Edelweiss Pirates. Their uniform: long hair and cool clothes. Their motto: freedom! At first the Pirates are only interested in hanging out and having a good time, but as the situation in Nazi Germany gets worse, they start to plan dangerous missions against Hitler's regime and soon, they are fighting for their lives.
On his regular visits to his grandfather’s grave, Daniel notices an old man watching him from a nearby monument. One day, Daniel plucks up the courage to speak to the man; they begin to talk and the man tells Daniel his name is Josef Gerlach and the grave he has been visiting belongs to his brother, Horst Gerlach, who was murdered in 1944. It's a long story, says Josef, but one which will be of particular interest to Daniel, and he gives Daniel an old diary to read. Intrigued, Daniel begins to read…
Josef's diary entries make up most of the narrative, beginning in March 1941 when 13-year-old Josef, a working-class boy from Cologne, is being bullied at school and in the Hitler Youth (HJ). Eventually, he has had enough and decides to quit the HJ and instead, starts hanging out with other teenagers who are disaffected with the Nazi regime. German patriots are all expected to be part of the HJ and fight for the Fatherland. Josef and his friends don't want anything to do with that, so they attract all the wrong kind of attention, initially from local patrols but later (as they become more and more involved in fighting against the Nazis), from the SS and even the dreaded Gestapo. As the allies advance across Europe, the Nazis become more and more determined to quash the resistance, at any cost. Occasional flash-forwards document the growing friendship between Daniel and Josef - but still Daniel does not understand why the diary should be of particular interest to him. It is not until the very end of the diary that this mystery is solved.
An introduction to The Edelweiss Pirates from Michael Rosen reminds the reader that this historical thriller - full of tension and with moments of brutal violence - is no work of fiction. Josef's story is based on true events and first-hand accounts of German teens who were part of the Edelweiss Pirates - a loose collective of young resistance fighters within Germany throughout World War 2. For a long time, little was known about them but in recent years their contribution to destabilising the Nazi regime has been recognised, making this a great read for anyone in KS3 and up studying history. Some of the events described in the diary are harrowing and tragic, with an awful ring of truth to them. But there is also joy and hope; despite everything that he recounts in the pages of his diary, Josef lives to see the Nazis defeated and knows that he helped in their defeat.
I hope that today's teens, fighting for other kinds of freedoms, will draw inspiration and courage from this remarkable story of standing up against oppression and injustice.
288 pages / Reviewed by Kimberley Lawson, school librarian
Suggested Reading Age 11+