Review: Flowers in the Gutter

Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis by K.R. Gaddy

Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Beth L. Gallego

Drawing on memoirs, oral histories, and Gestapo archives, this rigorously-researched volume focuses on Fritz, Gertrud, and Jean, children growing up in and around Cologne during the 1930s and early 1940s. All of them were working class, and none of them were Jewish: Gertrud’s father was arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp for Communist activities, and Jean’s father, aunt, and grandmother were also arrested for Communist affiliations. Through a tight focus on these three individuals, Gaddy brings to life a larger story of resistance with which many readers will be unfamiliar. Fritz, Gertrud, and Jean were among hundreds of teenagers who found refuge in local groups called Edelweiss Pirates. They enjoyed singing, hiking, and camping in the nearby mountains, following the model of earlier Bündische Jugend (“free-federated youth”) groups. Such groups were banned in the early 1930s, and “nonconformist” youth were frequently targeted for abuse by Hitler Youth patrols and arrest by the SS. As the war raged, the Edelweiss Pirates increasingly engaged in protest activities ranging from painting anti-Nazi graffiti to printing and distributing anti-Nazi flyers to outright sabotage, risking arrest, imprisonment, and worse.

Each of the narrative’s seven parts opens with a second-person vignette, drawing the reader into the scene while presenting background information in a natural, unobtrusive way. Short chapters based on memoirs written by Fritz, Gertrud, and Jean, interspersed with photographs and text from archived documents, including interrogation reports and arrest records, follow. An extensive bibliography is included, as well as notes explaining how sources were used and how any discrepancies between sources were resolved (or left unresolved).

This is an under-explored facet of World War II history for young people, and Gaddy writes in an engaging style with meticulous research. It is a notable work of non-fiction. There is minimal Jewish religious or cultural content, however, making it a questionable contender for this particular award.

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Reviewer Beth L. Gallego grew up outside Chicago, earned her Master’s degree in Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, and promptly moved to sunny Southern California, where she has been a Librarian since 2002.