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Faces of Courage, Albert


Albert lived in a home for orphaned boys in the working class section of the city. The Director of the Home forced him to leave school and work as a street sweeper because he refused to attend the Nazi Youth Club meetings. Small for his age and frail, Albert worked all day sweeping streets and carrying big bags of trash. One afternoon, he dropped a bag of garbage and began to sweep it up, when he heard a friendly voice whisper, “So you are a member of the slave gang” Albert turned and saw an older boy dressed in a checkered shirt and black hat.

“You don’t have to be a slave. I’ve been watching how hard they make you work. Why don’t you just leave?” Berthold whispered.

Before Albert could answer, his boss began screaming at him and raised his fist, but Berthold came up from behind and held the boss’ arms.

“Run away,” he shouted. Albert dropped his broom and ran away. He knew he was going to be punished by his boos of he stayed and he knew that the Director would punish him if he went back there. He didn’t know
where to go. When Berthold caught up with him, Albert was close to tears. He could barely speak when Berthold asked him where he lived.

“I have no place to go. I can’t go back to the orphan home. The Director said he’d send me to reform school if I caused more trouble.

“Don’t worry, you don’t have to go back. I know a place where you can stay and I’ll take you there”.

“But I have no money”, Albert swallowed hard.

“Don’t worry. You’ll be O.K. There’s other guys who have run away and you can all help one another,” Berthold told him, putting his arm around the frightened boy who looked much younger than his 14 years.”
Besides I think I can help you find a job.” Berthold took him to the empty warehouse that had become a home for six other homeless boys.

The boys slept on mats on the floor and shared whatever food they could find. Sometimes they had to steal food. But the Pirates often brought food to the warehouse. The older boys looked after Albert who
began to feel safer than he had for a long time.

For most of his life, Albert lived in the orphan home. His mother died when he was an infant and he lived with his father and grandmother. There was no work and when his grandmother got sick, his father took a
job in another city and put Albert in the orphan home run by Herr Weinstein who made sure that Albert had contact with his father. He lost his contact when the new Director came to the Home.

Herr Weinstein was a Jewish man was like a father to the boys in the home. A gentle kindly man, Herr Weinstein treated the boys like they were his family. Older boys helped the younger ones. There were always outings and picnics and Herr Weinstein helped the boys with their schoolwork. Boys who needed special help received it. Albert felt safe and cared for in the Home. Then one afternoon while Albert was in school, the police came and took Herr Weinstein away. When Albert came home from school that day, there was another Director there. Under the Nazis, Jewish people were not allowed to be teachers or Social Workers.

More and more boys were crowded into the Home and those who were failing in school or had other difficulties were sent away. The boys Albert knew and trusted were sent to work all day and others disappeared. The new Director did not interfere when younger boys were slapped or pushed around by older boys. Albert who was small for his age was often the target of jokes and teasing. The Director, a cold and cruel man, never called the boys by name; he was only interested in forcing them to attend Nazi youth meetings. The boy who bullied and
tormented Albert was the leader of the Nazi Youth club.

Albert dreaded the meetings and found it hard to keep up with the others. He didn’t know how to defend himself against the bullying and began to skip the meetings. When the Director found out, he scolded Albert and threatened to send him away. Under the new social welfare system, boys as young as 12 could be removed from the school and sent to work as garbage collectors, street sweepers and other menial jobs. They worked as much as 48 hours a week or more. Albert worked with the street sweepers and found the work very hard. He could barely manage to lift the heavy bags of trash.

Berthold took a special interest in the small boy who looked much younger than his 14 years. He even found a job for him in the steel factory and took him to the meetings of the Edelweiss Pirates. With the money he earned Albert bought himself a checkered shirt and trousers. He went on outings and hikes with Berthold and Franz. Albert was devoted to the two older boys who made him feel like he was someone. He had new confidence and he volunteered to be the one to watch for the Nazi Patrols. He also helped to distribute the leaflets and write anti Nazi slogans on the streets. Dressed in regular clothes, he often stood guard outside when the Pirates were having a meeting. Alert and inconspicuous, Albert knew when to warn the others when he saw the Patrol.

One evening as soon as the bombing stopped, the boys left the shelter and started walking to the park, when they saw the Nazi Youth Patrol. They began running toward the park, but Albert could not run as fast as the others and he tripped and fell. Before he could get up, he felt someone kicking him. Pain flashed through his body as they pulled him to his he feet and slapped him hard. They turned him over to a policeman who took him to Gestapo Headquarters.

Albert could only hope that they had not captured anyone else and he refused to answer any questions or give the names of the other boys in the group.

“You riff raff are nothing but troublemakers, and you will pay heavily”, the Gestapo officer shouted at him and took him to a jail. Once inside the jail, he saw Franz, Berthold, and some of the other boys. Albert, Berthold and Franz were sent to a concentration camp along with hundreds of other Pirates.

The Gestapo and the Hitler Youth brought an armory of repressive measures including sending Pirates to concentration and labor camps. For many Edelweiss Pirates the hunt ended in death. In Cologne, sixteen year
old Bernard Schink was publicly hanged in November 1944.