A Brief History
On February 27, 1943, a most unusual event took place in Berlin, Germany, the capital city of the Third Reich, a government possibly remembered more for its virulent anti-Semitism than any other trait. That event, known as The Rosenstrasse Protest, consisted of non-Jewish people, mostly the non-Jewish German wives and families of Jewish men, who were protesting the arrest and planned deportation to concentration or work camps of 1800 of these Jewish men.
By 1943, Adolf Hitler and his NAZI henchmen had already gotten well along with their ultimate goal of enslaving and/or killing of as many of Europe’s Jews as possible in accordance with the infamous Nuremburg Laws of 1935. Millions of European Jews had already been rounded up and shipped off to concentration camps where they were starved, executed, or worked to death. A certain number of Jewish men with German, non-Jewish wives and families had so far escaped such a fate, and the government authorities desperately wanted to “correct” that oversight and send these Jewish men off to the same grim fate as other Jews.
So why had the German government failed to take action against these inter-religious marriages by 1943? In a word, optics. The Reich was hesitant to call attention to the many “Aryan” women that had married Jewish men, and instead had encouraged such women to seek divorce to “correct” the situation. Most German women married to Jewish men had no desire for seeking a divorce and refused. Frustrated by the persistence of the “Aryan” German women to stay married, the Reich finally ordered the arrests of the Jewish husbands and carried out the pogrom with deliberate speed and brutality. (Note: The “Aryan” race was an invention of Adolf Hitler and his followers to describe the German people but has no basis in any sort of historical or genealogical sense, nor any biological basis. The same phony connection between Germans and “Nordic” was also much celebrated and just as false.)
The protests by the wives and families of those arrested was nearly immediate and was conducted with great energy. The German secret police, the Gestapo, carried out the arrests, sometimes with phony criminal charges as cover for the arrests. Faced with government threats, these brave women refused to back down and made it plain that they would be willing to die before giving in to the government plan of genocide. The government arrests did achieve the goal of “registration” of “Mischlinge,” those people considered to be “half-Jews.”
In Berlin near the location of the building in which the arrested Jews were held (the building being destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II) is adorned with a memorial “Litfaß column” (a cylindrical advertising column invented in the 19th Century by Ernst Amandus Theodor Litfaß). During the 1980’s, when Berlin was still split between the Soviet sector and the Western Allies sector, sculptor Ingeborg Hunzinger created a stone memorial to the brave women that had participated in the protest, calling his work “Block der Frauen.” A movie about the incident was made in 2003, with the appropriate name, Rosenstraße, and the electronic game firm, Unruly Design, has produced a video game called Rosenstrasse.
As far as we know, the Rosenstrasse Protest was the only public protest ever conducted in Germany during the Third Reich against the “Final Solution” of eliminating European Jews. The courage necessary for the women to take part in a potentially suicidal protest must have been enormous. We salute that sort of courage and wonder if we could rise to the same moral level if confronted with a similar situation. Could you?
Questions for Students (and others): Did you ever hear of the Rosenstrasse Protest? What other protests can you think of that required extreme courage?
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For more information, please see…
Potter, Hilary. Remembering Rosenstrasse: History, Memory and Identity in Contemporary Germany. Peter Lang AG, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften, 2018.
Stoltzfus, Nathan. Resistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany. Rutgers University Press, 2001.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Niki Sublime from Boston, USA of “Block der Frauen,” a sculpture by Ingeborg Hunzinger that commemorates so called Rosenstraße-Protest, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.