Rosenstrasse

Nathan Stoltzfus. Resistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Co., 1996. Pp. xxix + 386. Cloth $30.00. ISBN 0-393-03904-8.

Reviewed Richard S. Levy University of Illinois-Chicago published by H-German 18 June 1997

This excerpt from a review by Richard Levy of Resistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany outlines the story of a group of non-Jewish women who successfully protested against the deportation of their Jewish husbands.

Review

Nathan Stoltzfus tells the little-attended-to story of the German women who rescued their husbands from deportation and death in early 1943. Swept up from their forced labor jobs in what was meant to be the Final Roundup in the national capital, 1700-2000 Jews, mostly men married to non-Jewish women, were separated from the 6000 other victims of the Gestapo and SS and herded into Rosenstraže 2-4, a welfare office for the Jewish community in central Berlin. Because these Jews had German relatives, many of them highly connected, Adolf Eichmann hoped that segregating them from the others would convince family members that their loved ones were being sent to labor camps rather than to more ominous destinations in occupied Poland. Normally, those arrested remained in custody for two days before being loaded onto trains for the East. Before that could happen in this case, however, wives and other relatives got wind of what was happening and appeared at the Rosenstraže address, first in ones and twos, and then in ever-growing numbers. Perhaps as many as six thousand participated in the protest, although not all at the same time. Women demanded back their husbands, day after day, for a week. Unarmed, unorganized, and leaderless, they faced down the most brutal forces at the disposal of the Third Reich. Goebbels, Gauleiter of Berlin and anxious to have it racially cleansed, was also in charge of the nation's public morale. On both counts he was worried about the possible repercussions of the women's actions. Rather than inviting more open dissent by shooting the women down in the streets and fearful of jeopardizing the secrecy of the Final Solution, Goebbels with Hitler's concurrence released the Rosenstraže prisoners and also ordered the return of twenty-five of them already sent to Auschwitz. To both men, the decision was a mere postponement of the inevitable. But they were mistaken. Almost all of those released survived the war. The women won an astonishing victory over the forces of destruction.

Hitler placed great emphasis on winning the support of Germans. Terror was never conceived of as the best means of achieving the perfectly united Volk or even the lesser goal of extorting its compliance. The problem of Jews in intermarriages, especially vexing for the regime, must be seen in this context. In the occupied East, those in charge of the Final Solution did not hesitate to wrest Jews from such marriages and consign them to death; sometimes non-Jewish spouses were killed as well. This was not acceptable in the old Reich. Neither the Nuremberg Laws, several subsequent draft decrees, nor various bureaucratic initiatives dared to interfere with the traditional institutions of marriage and family for fear of provoking unrest. Thus, the problems of Mischlinge (half and quarter-Jews) and Jews married to "Aryans," living mostly in Berlin by 1943, plagued the Gestapo, the RSHA, and Goebbels in his dual capacity. These Jews had not been abandoned, despite the best efforts of Nazis and civil servants. Stoltzfus contrasts them to those Jews without German relatives, the ones who had been totally isolated by German society -- more thoroughly so than any police agency could have enforced. Such isolation, he says repeatedly, was the prelude to certain death, the "critical foundation of genocide" (261). (Readers looking for the antidote to Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners will not find much solace here. The evidence of gratuitous cruelty and self-interested persecution on the part of ordinary Germans -- uncoerced by government -- is abundant in the oral testimony.)

When in February 1943 Goebbels decided to risk seizing and deporting all the Jews left in Berlin, even those married to Germans, he was met by women who had already endured years of harassment. Defined as members of "Jewish households," they became chief breadwinners as their husbands' incomes dwindled away; they took over the task of representing the family in the outside world, learned to evade the endless regulations designed to make married life unbearable, and defended themselves and their husbands against informal but intense social pressure. In the process they were toughened. Despite all the incentives to do so, very few divorced. These are the personal factors that Stoltzfus adduces to explain their victory. But there were larger causes as well. The protest came at a particularly perilous time for the Nazis. The debacle at Stalingrad, the fear that dissent might spread beyond those immediately affected, the crucial role of women in the maintenance of public support, the scrutiny of foreigners -- the demonstration was reported on the BBC -- all persuaded Goebbels to cut his losses and give in. Byzantine politics among Hitler's upper level functionaries may also have contributed to the retreat.

A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
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