Edelweißpiraten (Edelweiss Pirates) (2004)



Director:     Niko von Glasow.

Starring:     Ivan Stebunov (Karl Ripke),  Bela B. Felsenheimer (Hans Steinbrück),  Jochen Nickel (Josef Hoegen),  Anna Thalbach (Cilly Serve),  Jan Decleir (Ferdinand Kütter),  Simon Taal (Peter Ripke),  Jean Jülich (Alter Karl),  Florian Wilken (Franz 'Bubbes' Rheinberger),  Dominik Bromma (Günther Schwarz),  Johannes Schaller (Barthel Schink),  Pavel Metyanin (Adolf "Dölfes" Schütz),  Volker Röhlich (Roland Lorent),  Svetlana Gajtan (Aunt Maria),  Wolfgang Michael (Peter Hüppeler),  Susanne Bredehöft (Social worker).

 group of young men resisting Hitler's regime


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

March 1945, Germany.  Karl tells his war story.  The Americans are in Cologne.  The Gestapo take the prisoners from their cells.  They line them up against a wall outside.  Women are also lined up against the wall.  The Gestapo are waiting for the order to liquidate, but the man on the line to his superior lies and says the line is dead.  Just outside the Americans are fighting their way down the street.  The Gestapo man leaves and the official shoots himself through the mouth. 

Cologne has surrendered.  The prisoners were not killed, but rather liberated by the Americans. 

Flashback.  One and a half years earlier.  Karl was living with his brother Peter.  They moved there after their mother died in a bombing raid.  Their father was at the front.  His other brother Otto died while fighting in Russia.  In their place, his younger brother dressed in a Nazi uniform for young boys, listens to German military music.  Karl gets angry and struggles with the brother to change the channel. 

Karl and his friend called themselves Edelweiss Pirates.  They would roam around the streets of town.  They kept moving so the Nazis would not catch them.  Karl sees his friend Cilly being pawed by a Nazi in uniform, but she gets away from him.  His friends were Bubbes, Gunther, Barthel and Dolfes.  Together they were just one of many groups mounting into thousands of young men.  There were also some young women in the groups.  They all wore edelweiss badges.   

A boy shouts from his lookout position that the Hitler Youth are descending upon them.  The pirates are outnumbered by the Nazis but the fight is on.  The pirates have to beat a retreat.  Peter is out ahead of his buddies and finds a pirate.  The two are just about to hit each other when they realize they are brothers.  Peter tells the others that there is no one here.  After a short wait, Peter runs off to join his comrades. 

Two concentration camp men are used to clear away the unexploded bombs dropped by the Allies.  One of them named Hans decides to explode the bomb.  He rigs it up so he can accomplish this and then tells the guards he has to go pee.  Hans then sets off his little contraption so that the bomb starts rolling, falls into a little cavity and explodes.  The two German guards are probably killed.  Another guard rushes over and the bomber has to run for his life.  The German starts shooting at him, but the fellow gets away.  He checks on one of the guards only to find out he is dead already. 

The Allies start dropping more bombs on the city. Hans is hit in a bomb explosion.  Karl sees a Nazi named Soentgen that he detests more than the others.  Soentgen and the other are headed for the bomb shelter.  When they are in the bomb shelter Karl and his friends write something on the wall with white paint.  They then walk away.  They come across the concentration camp bomber; find that he is alive; pick him up; and take him to a place of safety.   

A two-man search group arrives.  They are looking for Hans Steinbruck who is the best bomb defuser.  He has successfully defused over 1,000 bombs for the Germans.  The two German soldiers grab one of the dead guards; put him in the back of their truck; and take off. 

Karl talks to Cilly about hiding Steinbruck with her, but she says she can't.  Soentgen gave her a letter saying they want to take away little Anton and Flitzi, her children.  Cilly says Soentgen has been after her ever since Otto died.  Anton and Flitzi are playing with a ball outside.  The ball falls into a bomb cavity and Anton goes after it.  Jumping down the side of the bomb cavity, the soil starts running down the side of the cavity and an unexploded bomb rolls down the slope and lands on poor Anton.  He can't get out from under the heavy bomb.  Flitzi goes to get their mother. 

Another Allied bombing raid makes the rescue of Anton even more risky.  Karl and his friends come out and tell Cilly that Hans will defuse the bomb.  Hans successfully defuses the bomb and frees Anton.  Karl helps Cilly carry Hans to a bed.  Cilly will take care of him. 

Karl goes home and writes a letter to his father.  He has to be careful about what he says in the letter.  He refers to Hans as a cat they found.  Gunther's grandpa was hurt during a bombing raid and Aunt Maria, a nurse, came to help her father.  She fixed up grandpa and she also fixed up the cat.  Cilly takes care of the cat now.  Karl asks his father if it was okay to save the cat?  He says he often feels like screaming, but his throat keeps getting choked up. 

The Allies have landed on the beaches of Normandy, France.  Karl says the war will be over soon.  He sees Soentgen asleep on a stoop and takes his pistol and his papers.  He goes to check on Cilly and Hans and is shattered to see them having sex.  He turns around and runs off.  He sees a new sign up:  "Edelweiss Pirates Stay True". 

Karl gives the German Lugar and the papers to Hans who is now up and working to make Cilly's place look better.  In return, Karl asks Hans to get out of here.  He says his brother is alive, but Hans knows that his brother is dead.  Hans says he is taking care of Cilly now. 

Cilly comes in and Hans tells her that they tried to assassinate Hitler.  She doesn't react except to say that they are out of food.  Hans says he knows what they will be eating tonight.  He goes out to ask a man he knows where they can get food.  At night he and the pirates blow a door open with dynamite.  They get into the food stores and confiscate a lot of food. 

At night, the pirates eat with Hans and Cilly.  They play music and Karl dances with Cilly.  Hans gets jealous and angry, takes over forcefully from Karl and dances way too roughly with Cilly.  She gets away from Hans and tells her children it's time for bed. 

Hans shows the pirates lots of money with which they can buy all kinds of weapons and ammunition.  He says they should blow up the Gestapo headquarters.  Karl says it's bullshit and Hans calls them all cowards.  So the pirates start saying one by one that they are with him.  Karl only says that the guys are beyond help.  He leaves. 

The next day Soentgen arrives to tell  Karl and Peter that their father was a hero who died bravely for his fatherland.  Before he leaves he asks the guys to tell Cilly Serve that he is stopping by tonight.  Soentgen says he needs a little pick-me-up.  Karl goes out and Peter opens the letter from his father to Karl.  In the letter dad tells Karl to be true to his self for that is what is important now.  Dad also says not to tell Peter because he won't understand.  He ends by saying they will play soccer together when he gets back. 

Karl gets drunk.  He bumps into a fellow who says that he is out shooting Nazis.  Karl sees Soentgen coming their way and remarks that the fellow should shoot Soentgen because he goes around telling the women that their husbands have been killed in the war so he can take advantage of them.  Almost as soon as he finishes his statement, the fellow shoots Soentgen dead.  Both guys take off running.  Karl goes to Cilly to tell her his father is dead and that Soentgen is too.  Peter arrives and gives Karl some of his mail from their dad that he just read.  Cilly goes out for a walk.  Peter asks Karl why didn't he tell him earlier?  Hans comes in.  Karl leaves. 

Hans can see that Peter is upset and asks him what's wrong.  Peter tells him and adds that his father was against the Nazis.  He asks Hans why his father never told him?  There's a knock at the door.  With a gun stuck in the back of his pants, he opens the door.  It is the lady from the welfare office.  She says that she has been send to check on Felicitas, age 7, and Anton, age 5, regarding child neglect.  Hans says that he's Cilly's cousin and the children are not neglected  He is the man of the house now.  She says she must see the children and Hans throws her out of the apartment. 

Hans show the pirates how to shoot in the basement.  Cilly comes down and tells them to stop it.  She doesn't want any guns in the apartment.  Hans says they have to know how to defend themselves, but Cilly says that all that Hans wants is revenge.  She tells Hans to come with her.  They go upstairs.  A woman sitting at the table shows Karl an anti-war flyer.  She needs Hans to get her some paper to produce the flyers.  Hans just laughs at the women saying the Nazis will just laugh at their flyer.  So Cilly says she will buy the paper.  

Cilly goes to buy 2,000 sheets of paper which raises suspicions about her purposes.  The woman tells her sister to call the Gestapo.  She tries to stall Cilly, but Cilly gets suspicious, grabs the papers in front of her and runs off.  The Gestapo arrives and the sisters point to a corner and say the suspicious woman went that way.  Cilly delivers the paper and the woman gives her a pistol for her self-defense.  Cilly doesn't want it, but the woman forces her to take it. 

Hans brings two Jewish refugees, probably mother and daughter, and their dog into the house to hide them.  He introduces Cilly as his wife. 

The Gestapo make a raid and captures some men.  The chief finds boxes of food stuffs. 

It's Peter's birthday, so they give him a little party with cake and gifts.  Hans gives Peter a harmonica.  Karl arrives later and gives Peter a harmonica too.  Cilly dances with Karl.   

A man the Gestapo caught in the raid is brought to the chief of the local Gestapo.  He tells the chief that the prisoner said that the terrorists in Ehrenfeld plan to blow up this Gestapo headquarters.   The chief has one of his men knock the prisoner down. 

Cilly finds the sheet of paper that the welfare lady had with her.  She demands to know from Hans what is this.  He tells her.  Hans also tells her that he threw the welfare woman out of the apartment.  Cilly tells him that he has put her life and her children's lives at risk.  She goes downstairs and dances with Karl again.  She even kisses him. 

The Gestapo gets their prisoner to tell them that the leader of the terrorist group is Bomber Hans and even gives the address. 

Cilly and Karl are really kissing now, as Hans comes down the stairs.  Hans starts beating up Karl and Cilly asks the pirates to help Karl.  The guys get Hans off Karl.  Hans tells everyone of the pirates to get out.  But Karl says it's Cilly's house and she will decide who stays and who goes.  She asks the guys to leave.  They start leaving and Cilly tells Hans that he has to go too.  Hans leaves.

The Gestapo are on their way.  They grab Cilly and the kids.  They put a pistol to the head of Flitzi and threaten to shoot her if Cilly doesn't tell them what they want to know.  The chief arrives and tells the agents to let the child go. 

Hans goes to a bar to get a drink.  Standing at the bar his Lugar falls out of his jacket.   Everyone looks at it.  The man who killed Soentgen calls Hans over to have a drink with him. 

The Gestapo find the two Jewish refugees.  The chief wants to know where is Hans.  Their abused prisoner tells them that Hans loves Cilly and will be back for her.  The chief says they will sit and wait for Hans. 

Aunt Maria tells Hans that the Gestapo have Cilly and the kids and are using them as decoys.  She says he has to leave without saving Cilly, because if he blasts his way in there, they will kill Cilly and the kids.  Hans goes to talk with Karl.  He tells him they must free Cilly.  Karl and Peter agree to help.  They will all meet in Licht Street.  They all do get together and wait for night to strike.  The killer of Soentgen is so drunk that he starts firing wildly from the car. 

The welfare lady packs up for the kids and takes them out.  The two Jewish women are also taken out. 

The Gestapo know the terrorists have arrived for Cilly.  Hans and Karl are already at the back of the apartment building.  A car with the pirates is in place in the front.  The Gestapo arrive by car and start shooting the pirates therein. The pirates return fire.  Hans and Karl go in through a window and start shooting.  A Gestapo agent run out of the building.  Peter tries to shoot him, but his pistol does not fire.  The young fellow just stands there wondering what's wrong with his pistol.  The agent is about to shoot Peter, when Hans shoots the agent.  Then two other Gestapo agents run from the building. 

The pirates all jump into the car, but it won't start.  And now a whole bunch of soldiers arrive to shoot at them.  They get the car started, but now they have to run a gauntlet of fire.  They get away.  Hans stops the car when they are away from the Gestapo.  He gets out and says he's going to kill them all.  He runs off with Soentgen's drunken killer following him. 

The two men open fire on the Gestapo.  Hans decides to go around back.  A Hitler Youth has a pistol pointed at Hans.  Hans just pushes by him, but the boy turns around and shoots Hans in the back.  The next morning Karl and Peter finds the wounded Hans hiding under a piece of metal.  They put Hans in a bed and then Karl tells Peter they have to go.  Peter refuses to leave Hans.  Karl pulls his pistol on Peter and tells him he is coming with him.  Still Peter refuses.  Hans tells Peter to go with Karl.  Peter refuses.  Karl leaves by himself. 

Now the Gestapo start rounding up the pirates.  Aunt Maria kills herself, but the Gestapo get her nephew.  They grab Adolf next.  Barthel runs from the Gestapo, but he is caught and handcuffed.  Karl says that within a few hours they caught all his friends.  Now he decides he must save Peter.  He goes to the door of the Gestapo headquarters, but turns around to leave.  A Gestapo agent named Joseph Hoegen comes out and grabs Karl.  Karl tells the agent that if they let him and his brother go, he will tell them where Steinbruck is.  The agent wants to make a deal with Karl.  He can't just let Karl go, but he can make sure that he and his brother live.  He will do this in return for a favor.  After the war is over, the agent wants Karl to testify that he let him and his brother live.  Karl agrees, but says the agent must not tell Peter that his brother turned him and Hans into the Gestapo.  Agreed.  The Gestapo grab Hans and Peter. 

Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Head of the Secret Police, writes to approve the Gestapo chief's desire to liquidate 13 Germans in Cologne Ehrenfeld.  But in the case of any Germans, there must be proof.  In other words, they are going to have to force the pirates to give them statements of their guilt.  It doesn't take long to get the incriminating statements and the names of other involved.  The chief is even willing to hang Cilly if they can prove that she was gathering paper for communist leaflets.  Hoegen says he can get the proof with a little time. 

They torture Hans to get incriminating information about Cilly.   They then tell Cilly that Hans told them all about her, as the preparations for her torture are made. 

The agent who made the deal with Karl, tells Peter that to save himself all he has to say is that Hans made him do it.  Peter refuses.  The agent straps Peter to a table for torture.  Peter still won't cooperate.  Hoegen takes him out and throws him down the stairs to the concrete floor below.  Peter is then put into a cell.  Karl sees his brother being brought in. 

Allied bombs start landing on the prison and Gestapo headquarters.  Karl talks to Peter by shouting to him.  He tells Peter that he betrayed him.  Peter says it's good.  Karl can go his way and Peter will go his way. 

November 10, 1944.  The day for the execution.  The nooses are waiting for the prisoners.  Peter, Hans and about fourteen others will be hanged together in public.  Karl is to watch from a Gestapo car.  The sentence is carried out.

Back to the present.  At the welfare office, Cilly finds her son Anton.  Flitzi is there too.  The welfare woman takes them back from her.  But Cilly has a pistol with her and welfare lady has to let the children go. 

Peter sees the Gestapo agents being taken out by the American soldiers.  Hoegen tells the Americans that Karl can testify for him that he saved his life.  Karl is asked if this is true and Karl says no.  The agent swears to Karl that he tried to save his brother's life.  Seeing it won't work, Hoegen starts insulting Karl's brother.  And finally Karl can scream!  He screams:  "No!" over and over again. 

Joseph Hoegen served nine years in prison.  He opened a grocery stored in Cologne.  Cilly died in the 1970's.  The two Jewish refugees went to America.  The Edelweiss Pirates were honored in 1984 at Israel's Yad Vaschem Memorial. 


Good movie.  The pirates started as a group of young men trying to stay out of the hands of the Nazis.  There were thousands of them.  But as hope grew of an Allied victory, they increasingly used violence against the Nazi regime.  Some of them paid for this with their lives.  The film deals with one particular group of pirates.  These pirates were up against some very bad men, the Gestapo.  They knew they could lose their lives by being with the pirates.  And there is a bit of a love story, actually a love triangle, in the film that makes things more interesting.  It was good that the Israelis honored them with a memorial.  The acting in the film was good. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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