I know this is effectively recycling a couple of old blog posts (one of my very first posts on the Poor Mouth was about this) but I'm tired and it is a fascinating but largely forgotten incident. It may only be a footnote in a war which saw the death of over 50 million people, but it demonstrates the effectiveness of non-violent action in the face of tyranny.
In early 1943 about 1700 Berlin Jews, mainly men married to non-Jewish women, were rounded up and taken to Rosenstrasse 2-4, a welfare office for the Jewish community in central Berlin pending deportation to extermination camps. The wives and relatives, learning of their spouses eventual destination, appeared at Rosenstrasse, first in small numbers but then in ever larger groups.
Despite being unarmed and unorganized the women remained steadfast in their determination to see the release of the men and they faced down the forces of the Third Reich. While Joseph Goebbels (who was also Gauleiter of Berlin) was anxious that Berlin be judenfrei, he was fully aware that shooting the women down in the streets would simply create antipathy to the regime and would almost certainly result in bigger protests. Moreover he was fearful that it would jeopardise the secrecy of the Final Solution, He therefore authorised the release of the Rosenstrasse prisoners and also ordered the return of those already sent to Auschwitz. The great majority of these men lived to see the end of the war. By any standards the Rosenstrasse women had won an astonishing victory.
In 2003 German director Margarethe Von Trotta made a fictional account of the protest. I finally got to see Rosenstrasse late last year. I had been hoping for something of the calibre of Downfall or Sophie Scholl – the Final Days - it wasn't sadly. It wasn't a bad film and did not deserve the panning it got from some critics including the New York Times.
This link from the German website The Topography of Terror provides further information including personal accounts of those taking part and extracts from Goebbels own diary. The photograph above is a detail from "Block der Frauen" the memorial to the Rosenstrasse women. Click here
for more pictures