Oral History

Walter Meyer describes his 1943 trial for looting, and the impact of his role in the Edelweiss Pirates on the sentence he received

Walter was born in Kassel, north central Germany, but grew up in the Rhineland. As a youth, Walter questioned the German superiority and antisemitism he was taught. His father, an anti-Nazi, refused to allow Walter to enter one of the Adolf Hitler Schools, but did permit him to join the Hitler Youth. However, Walter's rebellious streak led him to hide a Jewish friend in his basement. He also formed a gang that played pranks on young Nazis and helped French prisoners of war. They called themselves Edelweiss Pirates (as did other groups of opposition youth in Germany). In 1943 Walter was caught taking shoes from a bombed-out store, arrested, and imprisoned. He was eventually deported to the Ravensbrueck concentration camp, where he was forced to work in the stone quarry. In 1945, Walter contracted tuberculosis and decided to escape before he was killed. Under cover of heavy fog, he reached a farmhouse. The farmer gave him his son's army uniform and helped him board a train home to Duesseldorf. Walter recovered after hospitalization, and later moved to the United States.


On April the 12th, April the 12th, 1943, I was taken to court. By trial, the state attorney--I think they call it here, district attorney--state attorney, asked for the death penalty. My father--this was first time I saw my father and my mother--uh, my mother couldn't, couldn't control herself, so she was crying. My, my father didn't quite know what to do. They had two attorneys. When he recommended the death penalty, I know they kind of jumped over and held my arm and said, "That's not the last word." Then kind of the judge and the state attorney and somebody else, some functionary, they kind of argued about whether it was looting, or whether it was theft. The idea was that the two, uh, had different consequences. And, uh, so they retired then and when he came back, the judge decided, or had decided that it was--well, before that they had an argument and the state attorney said, uh,"I would call it theft, but this man, having had intimate contact with our enemy, and being the leader of, uh, the Edelweisspiraten [Edelweiss Pirates], having destroyed, uh, state goods, state property, does not deserve any kind of consideration." Well, when the judge came back and said, on the grounds of his outstanding, uh, involvement in, in athletism, and considering, uh, the age and the circumstances, I condemn you to one to four years in prison.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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