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Foreword by Joschka
Foreign Minister of Germany
Resistance of the Heart:
Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany
by Nathan Stoltzfus, Rutgers University Press (paperback edition)
There were demonstrations, public protests against random arrests—first dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of women, who demanded in unison "Give us back our husbands!" This lasted a whole week, in icy weather, in the middle of Berlin in 1943. Finally the protest by the women of the Rosenstrasse, furiously desperate and undeterred by any threats, made the Nazi regime retreat. 1700 Berlin Jews, whom the Gestapo it its so-called "final action" had herded together into the Jewish community house on Rosenstrasse near Alexanderplatz, were freed. Even the thirty-five men who had already been deported to Auschwitz, that "hell without return," were sent back after twelve days there. Nathan Stoltzfus tells an incredible but true story. It is a real epic of heroines, a piece of successful civil resistance of humanity against a total dictatorship bent on human destruction, a dictatorship against which, according to one of the most persistent post-war legends went, "one supposedly couldn’t do anything anyway." The other legend was: "We didn’t known anything about it." The successful protest of the women of the Rosenstrasse refutes these legends. How was such an act of civil resistance possible in the Germany of those March days of 1943, in the middle of war, less than four weeks after Goebbels’ infamous speech at the Sports Palace in Berlin, in which he called for "total war" in front of the jubilant assembled crowd?
To give the events of the Rosenstrasse a historical perspective, the author above all traces the history of those Third Reich Jews who were married to non-Jewish Germans, and documents how they were insidiously deprived of their rights. But even in describing the machinery of terror in its whole, bureaucratic coldness, he never, thanks to his many conversations with survivors, loses sight of the suffering of the individual, of personal helplessness and human desperation. He describes vividly how much the deliberate social isolation of the Jews paved the road to the Holocaust. Germany’s descent into crime began with the denial of human dignity of a whole German population by the German state under Adolf Hitler. Victor Klemperer’s diaries, depressing as well as impressive, recall the many steps of this descent, from the "Law for the Restoration of the Civil Service" to the Nuremberg Race Laws of 1935 and the so-called "Aryanization" of Jewish property – practically a state-enforced expropriation—and on to those innumerable demeaning decrees and regulations, which made life impossible for Jewish citizens. Let’s not forget: all this was happening to Germans, Germans of Jewish faith or descent. All this took place in the midst of German society—and the majority of Germans acted as if all this did not concern them. Thus the Nazi rhetoric soon turned into actual deprivation of rights and property for those affected and eventually into million-fold passivity and indifference in the face of the cruel fate of the Jewish compatriots, who slowly "disappeared," deported to the ghettos in the East and to the extermination camps.
This book makes it very clear that it was not a coincidence that the great majority of Jewish Holocaust survivors were married to non-Jewish Germans, such as Victor Klemperer, or were descended from so-called "mixed marriages" – a terrible concept from the anti-Semitic vocabulary of the Nuremberg Race Laws. In their case, separation and social isolation were not successful. Marriages and families of Jewish and non-Jewish Germans (this distinction alone is already painful, since it is after all based on that abstruse distinction of the Nazi race laws) were by their very existence a permanent expression of disagreement with National Socialist racial ideology. They were actual acts of disobedience against the dominant anti-Semitism. Therefore, they were a special thorn in the flesh of those in power. Despite this, the Nazis, as the author proves, proceeded rather hesitantly in this case for fear of protests.
Already at the time when the deportation from the Reich region began in October 1941, the Jewish marriage partners of non-Jews were "temporarily deferred" –quite in contrast to the occupied regions in the East. The political and social pressure to separate from the Jewish partner constantly increased from all sides. But very few couples reacted with divorce, which would have meant a certain death sentence for the Jewish partner. They would rather accept a break in their relationship with close relatives. The spontaneous protest by the women of the Rosenstrasse had its roots in this longstanding common resistance against the brutal intrusion of the state into the innermost realm of their private life. It was, as the author writes, not a politically motivated resistance, but rather the expression of a determined humanity, which causes deep shame even today over the indifference, indeed the hostility, of so many Germans of that time.
There is a second message in this book, which lifts it above the vast literature about National Socialist times. Stoltzfus wrote this remarkable chapter from the darkest years of German history in such a way, that the dimension of freedom of decision and therefore individual responsibility does not disappear. Even eye-to-eye with the machine guns trained on them, the women of the Rosenstrasse did not retreat. Yet that, which from our knowledge of that time seemed inevitable, did not occur, but that which was improbable and unheard of did: the women were successful, their men were freed. The regime worked with terror and oppression, and yet precisely because of its call to "total war," not in spite of it, was it sensitive to public protest. It was Goebbels himself, as the direct administrator of Berlin, who in the end ordered the release of the Jews who were being held at Rosenstrasse, in order to prevent a politicization and expansion of the protests.
Nathan Stoltzfus has written a book which one cannot be put down without inner conflict. The courage and the unexpected success of the women of the Rosenstrasse are like a light in the abysmal darkness of those years. But what about all the others? How could so many participate in Hitler’s destruction of the European Jews and their wonderful, unique culture? How could the majority of the Germans allow the crime against humanity of the Holocaust? Could not rebellion, or even just public mass rejection have been able to prevent the bad, the worst, in many other cases? After reading this book, one has to answer this question with an unambiguous "yes."
From the remembrance of what happened, to which this book makes remarkable contributions, grows a responsibility for our present and future action. "Human dignity is inviolable. It is the obligation of all government authority to respect and protect it." This is a transformation into German democracy from the barbarism of the Nazis. Part of this responsibility for the German Federal Republic’s domestic as well as foreign policy is the determined opposition to any aggressive nationalism, racism, and anti-Semitism. Sebastian Haffner, in his recently published Story of a German (Geschichte eines Deutschen) described with rare clarity and vividness why nationalism, based on the specific history of the formation of nation states, had such devastating effects in Germany "with its national self-admiration and self-adoration." However, this historical and political responsibility for the "Never Again" and the obligation for the protection of human dignity do not rest exclusively with the state. Today, too, we recognize the mechanism of isolation, described by Stoltzfus, in those who preach anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia and who use violence. Not only individual human beings are threatened here, but also the foundations of our democracy, as our own history has taught us. Each citizen is challenged to protect and defend the human minimum, "the respect for human dignity," this most elementary basis of all civilized human coexistence.
Nathan Stoltzfus has written an impressive and at the same time shocking book, a piece of German and Berlin history. The women of the Rosenstrasse will, thanks to Nathan Stoltzfus, take their well-deserved place in the so contradictory history of the German resistance against the brown barbarism. And for us, the later-born, today’s message from these courageous women is never to give up and not to bow to the supposedly inevitable when faced with violence and oppression, no matter how hopeless a situation may seem.
--translation into English by Christine Schurtman
Rosenstrasse--movie and documentary background information
Rosenstrasse--the future movie!
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