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Journal of Church and State (London, 40 no1 189-90)
Review by Michael Geyer (University of Chicago) of Resistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi
The centerpiece of this gripping study is the protest against the deportation of approximately two thousand Jews who were locked up in the temporary collection center on Rosenstrasse in the old center of Berlin in early 1943. This lock-up occurred in the context of the so-called "final round-up," which was to clear Berlin and Germany of all remaining Jews according to the will of Adolf Hitler. This spontaneous protest, consisting of mostly women and children, succeeded. While an overwhelming majority of victims in the final round-up were deported to Auschwitz, this small group was released. Why?
First, the Rosenstrasse protest points to the powers of non-cooperation and
protest. There were particular circumstances in 1943. The military defeat in
Stalingrad weighed heavily. Also, the role of an international press (mostly of
neutral countries such as Sweden and Switzerland) cannot be underestimated. But
Stoltzfus also shows, very convincingly,
how extraordinarily sensitive the Nazi leadership, especially Joseph
and Hitler, was when it came to popular opinion. This is new and
noteworthy. Catholic protests against the removal of crucifixes from schools and
against euthanasia are the familiar examples. The insistence on a semblance of
unity and social harmony was of utmost importance.
These utterly brutal men could be swayed
by the power of public protest--public protest, however, which was not
forthcoming as far as the deportation of Jews was concerned.
Second, in the racialist world of Nazi Germany, the Jews of the Rosenstrasse belonged to a special category. They were married to (gentile) Germans or children of a Jewish-Christian marriage. The protesters were (gentile) German--the Nazis would say Aryan--women, married to Jewish men. The history of intermarried couples, the legislation concerning their and their children's status, and the many efforts to separate them from their Jewish partners is a second strand of this story. The Nazis were caught in a bind. They debated in excruciating detail who exactly was a Jew; hesitated to challenge marriage and the family; fussed about the possibility of inciting gentile relatives if they deported husband and wife; and were caught in their own protective phantasies if they went against women. The result was a mixture of subterraneous pressures that made life hell for intermarried couples, but stopped short of deportation and killing. To be precise, it saved intermarried German Jews, because in Eastern Europe gentiles shared the fate of their Jewish marriage partners.
Nazi prevarications saved only those German Jews whose partner did not divorce. The history of the Rosenstrasse protest is thus also a story of fidelity and of the strength of marriage bonds--often against family ties, because the pervasive rejection of intermarriage on grounds of everyday antisemitism or, for that matter, Christian principle is also worth recalling. In its exceptional quality this is a most telling story about the Third Reich.
Michael Geyer is Professor of History at the University of Chicago
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