The Edel­weiss Pirates

Jen­nifer Elv­gren; Daniela Sta­ma­tia­di, illus.

  • Review
By – June 11, 2018

Kurt’s old­er broth­er, Albert, is a mem­ber of the Edel­weiss Pirates, a group of young peo­ple who are ded­i­cat­ed to resist­ing Hitler’s edicts. Hitler has out­lawed jazz music, so the Edel­weiss Pirates play it every chance they get. Kurt, who plays the trum­pet, asks if he can join the group; Albert refus­es but gives him a Louis Arm­strong record, which Kurt and his Jew­ish class­mate, Fritz, lis­ten to so much, they can even­tu­al­ly play by ear. At school, Kurt wit­ness­es Fritz’s grow­ing degra­da­tions. Final­ly, at the band con­cert, Kurt is instruct­ed to play a piece by Wag­n­er, Hitler’s favorite com­pos­er. Instead, he breaks out with a riff on Armstrong’s Saint Louis Blues.” After the con­cert, he receives a note from Albert with his new code name: Blues.” Kurt is final­ly a mem­ber of the Edel­weiss Pirates.

Like Elvgren’s The Whis­per­ing Town (2014), this Jew­ish sto­ry is told from the per­spec­tive of non-Jews. The author uses music to demon­strate the increas­ing loss of free­dom suf­fered dur­ing the Holo­caust. Her book also weaves a tight­ly craft­ed nar­ra­tive, using first-per­son point of view and present tense, based on the pow­er­ful pic­ture-book for­mu­la of threes: Kurt asks to join the Pirates three times, and is shown learn­ing three dif­fer­ent sub­jects at school.

The col­or palette and style of Stamatiadi’s illus­tra­tions effec­tive­ly evoke the 1930s. Back mat­ter explains the real Edel­weiss Pirates, a brave corps of some 5,000 teenagers who defied Nazi Ger­many and the Hitler Youth.

Bar­bara Kras­ner is an award-win­ning poet and his­to­ri­an who focus­es her writ­ing on the Jew­ish expe­ri­ence in Amer­i­ca and dur­ing the Holo­caust. She teach­es in the his­to­ry depart­ment of The Col­lege of New Jer­sey and serves as Direc­tor, Mer­cer Holo­caust, Geno­cide & Human Rights Edu­ca­tion Center.

Discussion Questions