The Rosenstraße Protest In Nazi Germany

The shifting Nazi directives regarding Jews married to Gentile Germans which I wrote about in my previous blog, also resulted in one of the few successful resistance efforts against Hitler’s Jewish policies.

By the winter of 1943, the Third Reich was moving steadily toward the Final Solution. As a 54th birthday gift to the Führer who was offended that the nation’s capital was still home to so many Jews, Nazi Party Director for Berlin, Joseph Goebbels, promised to make his city Judenfrei (free of Jews).

It is interesting to note that statistically, most of the intermarried Jews in Germany were men whose wives were Aryan Germans. It may be that in the preceding years, when divorce in mixed marriages was encouraged by the government, the traditional family values of the National Socialist Party actually discouraged women from divorcing even Jewish husbands.   Also, legally the head of household was considered to be the man, thus Jewish women married to Aryan men were termed “privileged” because they lived in an Aryan household.  On the other hand, a Gentile women married to a Jewish husband was anything but “privileged” as she had chosen to live in a Jewish household with a Star of David posted on the front door and subject to unannounced Gestapo searches.

Whether the mixed marriage was “headed” by a Jewish or an Aryan man, the non-Jewish spouse faced many difficulties.  Because the Jewish partner was subject to strict curfew regulations and restricted from most activities besides menial employment, the non-Jewish mate was forced to manage all shopping, wage-earning, and official business.

In order to fulfill his birthday promise to Hitler, Goebbels initiated what he intended to be the final roundup of Berlin’s remaining Jews on February 27, 1943.  The Jews still living in Berlin, not counting the men and women in hiding or living on forged papers and known as submarines, were mainly men working in protected labor factories and intermarried persons. Without warning, the SS stormed into factories, invaded Jewish homes, and stalked pedestrians on the street, arresting close to 10,000 Berlin Jews in the first twenty-four hours. Most of these Jews would shortly find themselves on cattle cars heading for Auschwitz.

About 2,000 of the Jews arrested, mainly men related to Aryan Germans, were imprisoned at a temporary location in the Jewish administration center at 2-4 Rosenstraße.  Though Goebbels intended to deport them as soon as possible to eastern labor camps, he hoped that detaining these Jews separately from the others would allay the fears of their German relatives, thus preventing objections.  However, by the end of the second day, a crowd of protestors, including 200 women, gathered outside the gate of the prison at Rosenstraße.   Soon impassioned chants of “We want our husbands back” rose from the assembled crowd which was made up mainly of Aryan women married to Jews being held.  The crowd grew as other family members rallied in support.

Inside the holding prison, conditions deteriorated. Food was limited to little more than chopped cabbage, and the sanitary conditions were appalling.  Only the sound of their wives’ protests leaking in from the street gave the men hope.

Efforts by Nazi officials to intimidate, threaten, even arrest, the women did little good. Within a week the crowd had grown to approximately 1,000 protestors who maintained their vigil day and night, chanting continuously.  Though the protest had no leaders or planned organizers, a strong sense of solidarity prevailed.  When Gestapo guards set up a machine gun and declared their intention to shoot into the crowd, the protestors moved back and melted into the nearby alleys, only to return to their position near the gate within minutes.  No shots were fired at the women protestors.

Goebbels was faced with a public relations nightmare.  On March 6, in an effort to hide the reality of this massive resistance from the country, the Berlin Party Director ended the protest by simply ordering the 1,700 intermarried Jews still being detained at Rosenstraße to be released to their families.  From then on, by order of Himmler, the SS Chief, arrests of intermarried Jews could only be made for real offenses, not solely on the grounds of Jewishness.

Although a few men joined the crowds, the Rosenstraße protest, at its core, was originated and carried out by women to protect their husbands and preserve their families.  Their courage prevailed against the Gestapo and Nazi policy.  The success of their resistance contradicts the idea that Germans could do nothing to save Jews from the Holocaust.

A monument to the Rosenstraße protest stands today in a small park near the site where hundreds of wives stood in 1943 chanting “Give us back our husbands!” The rose-colored stone sculpture in three sections was created by Ingeborg Hunzinger, an East German trained women artist whose mother was Jewish.

A film worth watching: Rosenstraße, directed by Margarethe von Trotta, 2004.


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