The German Teens Who Rebelled Against Hitler

These adolescents, aged between 12 and 17, hang around late in the evening with musical instruments and young females. Since this riff raff is in large part outside the Hitler Youth and adopts a hostile attitude towards the organization, they represent a danger to other young people.

—Nazi Party Report, Dusseldorf, Germany, July 1943

From the time Adolf Hitler rose to power and prominence in his native Germany, his mission had been to indoctrinate the next generation of citizens to be fearless, cruel, and unwavering—all the qualities he needed to combat democracy. The Hitler Youth organization was developed to satisfy his goals. Enrollment was mandatory; members played sports and contributed to Nazi-approved artistic endeavors. Military training followed.

But not all of Germany’s adolescents were willing to be subordinates to Hitler’s cause. A small but subversive number of teenagers severed ties with state-approved groups and rebelled both culturally and politically, listening to American music, growing their hair long, and eventually graduating to sabotage. They were known as the Edelweiss Pirates, and their delinquency would grow to become a very sharp thorn in the side of the Reich.

Regardless of social class, boys and girls under the age of 14 were expected to affiliate themselves with the German Youth Group. From 14 to 18—the age in which they became eligible for military service—teens were corralled into the Hitler Youth movement. Disinterest wasn’t tolerated. If a child refused, Gestapo would threaten families with relocation to an orphanage.

Owing to either fear or loyalty, it’s estimated that more than 90 percent of German children were enrolled in the groups. But by the end of the 1930s, a growing number of members began to feel the tug of teenage rebellion. With fathers off to war, parents killed for Communist activity, and bombing raids loosening adult supervision, kids began to resist the conformist status quo. They disliked being told how to think, what to wear, and where to go.

The Edelweiss Pirates, which named themselves after the edelweiss flower covertly pinned to their lapels as a sign of their affiliation, began as a loosely organized resistance in the working-class areas of towns like Cologne and Essen. Checkered shirts, white socks, and scarves distanced the boys (there were very few female members) from the sterile attire of Hitler Youth squads; they let their hair grow long and loose. Guitars and other instruments accompanied parodies of Hitler Youth songs that they sang while camping or hiking, away from the Gestapo constantly on the lookout.

Initially, the Pirates were meddlesome simply for leading by bad example: The SS was concerned their activities could influence youths that were already in line. Depending on the region, police waved them away as a nuisance. In other areas where officials were more concerned, the Pirates would be detained and beaten, their heads shaved to send a message.

The group met the increasingly violent response to their presence with an escalation of misbehavior. Hitler Youths spotted on the street were challenged to fights; anti-Nazi graffiti dotted buildings; leaflets air-dropped by Allied forces were gathered and stuffed into mailboxes. Word spread that army deserters or camp escapees could find safe harbor in their homes. Eventually, the Pirates began organized raids on munitions factories. If a Nazi car was in sight, it was a likely target for sugar in the gas tank.

While the Pirates grew to express open hostility, another faction—the Swing Youth, or Jazz Youth—rebelled by embracing the banned music and culture of the American enemy. Big band sounds would echo through dance halls that attracted up to 6000 attendees performing the jitterbug or other salacious moves. In contrast to the Pirates, the swing cliques were generally made up of upper-middle class teens who could afford contraband records, clothing styles, and audio equipment. When the Gestapo cracked down on public gatherings and violated curfews, they moved to private dances in their own homes. According to a report filed with the Hitler Youth about a February 1940 dance in Hamburg:

The dance music was all English and American. Only swing dancing and jitterbugging took place…The dancers made an appalling sight. None of the couples danced normally … sometimes two boys danced with one girl…When the band played a rumba, the dancers went into a wild ecstasy …They all ‘jitterbugged’ on the stage like wild animals.

Notorious SS official Heinrich Himmler told officers that anyone caught listening to jazz should be “beaten.” But after a long stretch of dealing with both the Pirates and the swing members, Himmler decided to send a more serious message to anyone thinking of joining their movement.  

While captured Pirates being tortured and sent to “re-education camps" may have proved individually discouraging, Himmler felt the need to broadcast the Reich’s distaste for free thinkers. In October 1944, he captured 13 agitators, including seven Pirates, and marched them to the gallows in the middle of Cologne. All prisoners were hung in full view of the public.

Other Pirates had been sent to forced labor camps, where they maintained a ritual of singing songs in protest of the Nazi regime. Before the war ended in 1945, at least one rebel, Herbert Schemmel, was able to retrieve his stash of confiscated records.

The Pirates and the groups affiliated with them were labeled criminals by the courts of the era. In 2005, German officials officially relabeled them as resistance fighters and honored the surviving five members still in Cologne. The Edelweiss Pirates had fulfilled Hitler’s desire for German youths to be fearless and unwavering in the face of adversity. He just hadn’t anticipated it would be pointed in his direction.

Additional Sources: “Opposition and Resistance in Nazi Germany” [PDF]

The Time Baby Ruth Sued Babe Ruth

Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1920, the Curtiss Candy Company introduced the Baby Ruth candy bar, causing a certain baseball player with a very similar name to take notice. Babe Ruth was having a monstrous year—his 54 home runs in the 1920 season were more than any other team in the American League. If you were going to misappropriate someone’s name for a candy bar, Ruth’s was a logical choice.

Sensing opportunity, the Great Bambino struck back by creating his own Babe Ruth Home Run Bar. Curtiss quickly sued Ruth’s company for trademark infringement. But what happened next was surprising: When the Sultan of Swat accused the company of using his name, Curtiss feigned shock. Its bar was named after “Baby” Ruth Cleveland, daughter of President Grover Cleveland.

For years, this has been the oft-repeated explanation, but the argument makes no sense. Cleveland had been out of office for more than two decades and dead for 12 years when the bar debuted. “Baby” Ruth herself had died of diphtheria in 1904, at just 12 years old. Although the country’s most famous baseball star would seem much more likely to have a namesake candy than a former president's departed child, the courts sided with Curtiss.

When Ruth learned of the verdict, he bellowed, “Well, I ain’t eatin’ your damned candy bar anymore!” Somehow, the Baby Ruth bar survived without his support.

What Is the Wilhelm Scream?

iStock
iStock

What do Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Toy Story, Reservoir Dogs, Titanic, Anchorman, 22 Jump Street, and more than 200 other films and TV shows have in common? Not much besides the one and only Wilhelm Scream.

The Wilhelm Scream is the holy grail of movie geek sound effects—a throwaway sound bite with inauspicious beginnings that was turned into the best movie in-joke ever when it was revived in the 1970s.

Just what is it? Chances are you’ve heard it before but never really noticed it. The Wilhelm Scream is a stock sound effect that has been used in both the biggest blockbusters and the lowest low-budget movies and television shows for over 60 years, and is usually heard when someone onscreen is shot or falls from a great height.

First used in the 1951 Gary Cooper western Distant Drums, the distinctive yelp began in a scene in which a group of soldiers wade through a swamp, and one of them lets out a piercing scream as an alligator drags him underwater.

As is the case with many movie sound effects, the scream was recorded later in a sound booth with the simple direction to make it sound like “a man getting bit by an alligator, and he screams.” Six screams were performed in one take, and the fifth scream on the recording became the iconic Wilhelm (the others were used for additional screams in other parts of the movie).

Following its debut in 1951, the effect became a regular part of the Warner Bros. sound library and was continually used by the studio’s filmmakers in their movies. Eventually, in the early 1970s, a group of budding sound designers at USC’s film school—including future Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt—recognized that the unique scream kept popping up in numerous films they were watching. They nicknamed it the “Wilhelm Scream” after a character in the first movie they all recognized it from, a 1963 western called The Charge at Feather River, in which a character named Private Wilhelm lets out the pained scream after being shot in the leg by an arrow.

As a joke, the students began slipping the effect into the student films they were working on at the time. After he graduated, Burtt was tapped by fellow USC alum George Lucas to do the sound design on a little film he was making called Star Wars. As a nod to his friends, Burtt put the original sound effect from the Warner Bros. library into the movie, most noticeably when a Stormtrooper is shot by Luke Skywalker and falls into a chasm on the Death Star. Burtt would go on to use the Wilhelm Scream in various scenes in every Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie, causing fans and filmmakers to take notice.

Directors like Peter Jackson and Quentin Tarantino, as well as countless other sound designers, sought out the sound and put it in their movies as a humorous nod to Burtt. They wanted to be in on the joke too, and the Wilhelm Scream began showing up everywhere, making it an unofficial badge of honor. It's become bigger than just a sound effect, and the name “Wilhelm Scream” has been used for everything from a band name, to a beer, to a song title, and more.

But whose voice does the scream itself belong to? Burtt himself did copious amounts of research, as the identity of the screamer was unknown for decades. He eventually found a Warner Bros. call sheet from Distant Drums that listed actors who were scheduled to record additional dialogue after the film was completed. One of the names, and the most likely candidate as the Wilhelm screamer, was an actor and musician named Sheb Wooley, who appeared in classics like High Noon, Giant, and the TV show Rawhide. You may also know him as the musician who sang the popular 1958 novelty song “Purple People Eater.”

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