In 1943, in
All it had taken was love.
historically grounded American movie
Nathan Stoltzfus’ Resistance of the Heart:
Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany
the acclaimed, riveting account
of the only public protest in Germany
against the deportation of the Jews
—and of the defiant love stories that led to the protest
Yes, there was a 2003 German movie, Rosenstrasse, inspired by these historical events. It need not be the last word...
Summary by Pierre Sauvage of the book by Nathan Stoltzfus
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, so one of the most persistent post-war legends went, “One couldn’t do anything anyway.” Another legend was: “We didn’t know about it.” The successful protest of the women of Rosenstrasse refutes these legends.
Joschka Fischer, Foreign Minister of Germany
Resistance of the Heart
will tell the
dramatic and moving story of the astonishing demonstrations in
2003 marked the 60th anniversary of these events, chronicled by Nathan Stoltzfus in his ground-breaking book Resistance of the Heart, which is under option to producer Pierre Sauvage.
In February 1943, Joseph
Goebbels, the powerful Nazi propagandist who also happens to oversee
But two thousand of these
Jews have non-Jewish spouses. These intermarried Jews are initially locked
into the old Jewish Community Center on a street called Rosenstrasse, in the
As news of the arrests pulses through the city, hundreds of Gentile spouses, mostly women, make their way to Rosenstrasse. A chant soon breaks out: “Let our husbands go! We want our husbands back!”
As one of the women was later to put it, this was a “resistance from the heart.”
Among the families thus
torn apart are three couples—Julius and
At Rosenstrasse, over the course of a week, the protests grow and grow. Now and again, armed S.S. guards send the women scrambling for cover with displays of machine guns and shots fired into the air. Mass arrests and deportations seem inevitable.
One night that week, the most devastating R.A.F. bombing raid to date destroys buildings all around Rosenstrasse. The Nazis board up the Jewish Community Center and abandon it to its convenient fate. As bombs light up the area as bright as midday, the building shakes and shudders—but remains untouched.
And as morning comes, the protesters, who have begun to include people not directly related to the arrested Jews, make their way back to Rosenstrasse.
Faced with this
spontaneous, unorganized, and potentially dangerous demonstration, wild-eyed
Joseph Goebbels—the very Nazi leader who had been the master organizer of the
all-important Nazi public rallies—blinks. He orders all the intermarried Jews
released; Julius and
Almost all of these released Jews will openly survive the war—virtually the only Jews in Germany who do.
It wasn't easy for an “ordinary person” to stand in the way of the Holocaust. And yet ordinary Germans—mostly women—stood up to the Third Reich—and won! This little-known street protest—the only known public German protest against the deportation of Jews—hauntingly suggests that German resistance to the deportations was not necessarily doomed.
There is no way for
Julius Israel—a Jew still alive in
Leaving home at 7 am on his
crutches to go to the police station to renew the pass that allows him to use
public transport, Julius tells his tall, blonde, athletic, non-Jewish wife
another Jew still alive in
Günter Grodka is at home alone that morning, his wife Wally Grodka having gone out to get a new food-ration card. A plumber by training, short and stocky, this working-class Jew had married an aspiring writer from a working-class Protestant family.
Julius, Rudy, and Günter
are among the 10,000 Jews who are known by the authorities to be still living in
Neither they nor their
spouses can be aware that a few days earlier, Joseph Goebbels, the Gauleiter
Before dawn, hundreds of
police, Gestapo agents and SS troops begin fanning out through the streets of
the city in a fleet of 300 trucks. Every covered truck in
Leading the charge is the Leibstandarte Hitler, an SS unit of select tall, blond soldiers whose small advances against the Red Army have briefly encouraged hopes of German victory.
In black uniforms and steel
helmets, armed with bayoneted rifles and machine guns, the SS cast a grim image
intended to put fear in the heart of anyone who might be inclined to protest or
to complain about the arrest of these last, relatively well-connected Jews of
The Nazis march into factories and seize Jews from their work-benches without giving them time to pick up their work coats or their homemade breakfasts and lunches. Driving the Jews out with horsewhips and the butts of their rifles, they bundle them into the requisitioned furniture trucks waiting outside.
A pregnant woman and some older men too frail to clamber into the trucks are thrown in like sacks of potatoes. Some factory bosses and foremen attempt uselessly to point out that they have special authorization to employ these Jewish workers.
The Gestapo and the regular police thunder up stairs, arresting every Jew on their lists. Jewish children wearing the mandatory yellow Star of David are picked up as they walk to school or play in the streets. Women are arrested as they turn up to renew their daily food-ration cards.
Husbands are forced apart from their wives, parents from their children. All the arrested Jews are taken to holding centers—barracks, synagogues, garages—where, dazed, bruised and terrified, sometimes crying for their loved ones, they wait for the inevitable sorting process begins.
Julius Israel is, of course, wearing the Star of David sewn onto his clothes as he arrives on his crutches at the police station to obtain his pass for public transportation.
He finds himself
immediately ordered without explanations to take a seat beside two women, both
also wearing the yellow patch. None of them have any idea what is going on. A
street policeman, one of many requisitioned throughout
Still without explanation, two police officers then order Julius and the other Jews onto the nearby streetcar. "Now they're even taking the cripples!" Julius hears someone mumble as he climbs on.
In the streetcar, the Jews stand, though there are many empty seats; Jews are forbidden to sit down in public transport. The other passengers attempt to ignore the new passengers.
Balancing himself on his crutches, Julius manages to scrawl a message on the back of a matchbox and to put it into the hands of a stranger, asking her to give it to his wife’s mother. He adds quickly that the mother-in-law is an Aryan.
Across town, at a ration-card distribution center, Wally Grodka notices that two Gestapo officers have posted themselves by each exit. Anyone with an identity card marked with a “J” is being refused a ration card, then taken into custody. Mothers sob and plead to go back to their children waiting at home, but no one is allowed out. The clerks avert their gaze.
When she nervously gets back home, a more personal trauma awaits Wally. Two officers are there to pick up her Günter.
She makes an effort to be chipper. She assembles a spoon, a blanket, and something to eat for him to take.
Then she sees her mother coming. Mrs. Press tells her that someone has called her to say that Julius has been taken away with five other Jews. Mrs. Press admits that she had at first denied knowing any Jews. But the stranger on the phone had persisted that a Jew on crutches had given her her number.
At the police station, a
friendly officer recognizes
By 3:30 pm, Elsa Holzer is promising herself that she will never eat sugar again. She reproaches herself for having let Rudi go to the black market and for not having asked him precisely where he was going. With no phone, she is afraid to go out and look for him and risk his coming back while she is out.
But at 10:00 pm, she simply can't stay at home any longer. She makes her way to the train station where Rudy works. Seeing her coming, a man comes out of the glass booth. “Frau Holzer, I've waited for you. Here, take your husband's things," he says.
It takes all her strength for her to ask: "Where is my husband?"
"The Jews were all taken," she hears the man say. "The SS rolled in here like fire trucks, and bundled them off, I don't know where to. They're gone now. Please take his things home."
She looks at Rudi's winter coat, his street shoes and his briefcase. There had obviously been no time for Rudi to take them. That meant he only had his wind-jacket.
On the street Rudi often wore the wind-jacket over his winter coat, because his winter coat had no Star of David. At work, among his Jewish colleagues, he always wore the wind-jacket with the Star. Elsa had smeared it with cinders until its bright yellow had turned grayish.
Now she half fears to take his clothes—as if that would be admitting that this was all that now remained of him.
Home at midnight, she thinks that she will go mad. Where is Rudy?
The Nazis despise intermarriage between Germans and Jews. Since the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, all further intermarriages have been prohibited, and sexual intercourse between Jews and non-Jews outside marriage has been made a punishable crime. The Nazis believe that Jewish blood infects German racial purity.
Though extraordinary pressure has been put on intermarried couples to break them up, in early 1943 there are still nearly 30,000 intermarried Jews in the German Reich. Almost one out of 10 Jews is married to a non-Jew. Most of them, like Julius and Rudi and Günter, are male Jews married to non-Jewish German women.
During this Final Roundup,
the several thousand
As the word gets out, by rumor or telephone, that their husbands have been imprisoned in Rosenstrasse, women begin to hurry to the street. People arrive at Rosenstrasse alone or in pairs, and find themselves among a small but growing crowd.
During the first day of the
Final Roundup, the Gestapo, SS and street police seize and imprison 5,000 Jews.
By the time
At first all they want is confirmation of their husband’s presence, or to bring their loved ones food to eat or razors to shave with.
As their numbers grow, the women start becoming bolder. They begin to shout out demands to know what is going on.
One woman appears with her brother, who wears an army uniform, and is on leave that week. Three other soldiers join him, and together with them he approaches an SS guard. "If my brother-in-law is not released," he tells the guard, "I will not return to the front." The SS man pushes him back and threatens: "If you don't leave on your own accord, you will be carried off."
Elsa and Rudi Holzer are
not part of the “mouth radio” network among
Map by Der Spiegel
It is 6 am on Sunday morning when Elsa Holzer arrives at Rosenstrasse, and already this short little street is black with people. They appear like a wave, moving like a swaying body.
After taking stock, Elsa
begins to look around for a "human face" among the row of police guards. Some
Elsa has made Rudi a butter and pumpernickel sandwich, and between the bread slices has placed a sheet of waxed paper with a message: “Dear Rudi, I love you forever, your Elsa.”
Suddenly Elsa glimpses their doctor, Dr. Cohn, who lives in their neighborhood, coming through the door. As a medical orderly he could visit the imprisoned Jews, and then return home. Elsa runs up to grab his arm. She can barely contain her emotion when he says that he has seen and talked to Rudi. She is full of questions about how Rudi is doing. She asks whether he could take the sandwich in to Rudi, but Dr. Cohn is afraid, and says he is allowed in only as a doctor.
Finally Elsa approaches a police guard who had spoken without too much hostility to another woman. The policeman makes a long face, but takes the sandwich. She is dizzy with the thought that Rudy will learn that she is here.
Within hours of Günter
Grodka’s arrest at home, Wally discovers that her husband has been taken to the
On Sunday, all day long for
the second day, heavy trucks ply the streets throughout
At Rosenstrasse, women from both working-class homes and from distinguished old German families begin making common cause as the night wears on, promising to rendezvous there again early the following morning. The women know that arrested Jews are customarily held for two days in collecting centers before being herded onto the trains from which few, if any, returned. They know they have to take action fast.
Mass public gatherings, unless officially authorized, have been banned in Germany since 1933. The very idea of public protest is half forgotten—and to protest in favor of Jews, on the very doorstep of Gestapo Headquarters... It is hard to imagine anything more dangerous. Arrest seems a foregone conclusion.
Joseph Goebbels, the
powerful propaganda leader of the Nazi party—who is also the master of
Goebbels is particularly influential in the sensitive matter of intermarriages, sharing as he does Hitler's concern with social unrest while also enjoying the Führer's close confidence. He prefers to solicit voluntary rather than regulatory compliance with Nazi racial policy by presenting images of a citizenry so hostile to Jews that the regime is simply obligated to take extreme measures.
In his tireless struggles to align popular opinion with the will of dictatorship, Goebbels is especially adept at manipulating the images of National Socialism through mass demonstrations and rallies. Knowing that the majority has little tolerance for standing out in a crowd, Goebbels uses mass gatherings to control behavior.
In a crowd, he explains, perhaps to his assistant Leopold Gutterer, little persons feel powerful. At mammoth political rallies each person experiences "a kind of metamorphosis from a little worm into part of a big dragon." And if worms join together into a dragon, Goebbels wishes to be the dragon master, creating unity under the swastika. Goebbels thinks that “we cannot have too many demonstrations.” As a means of exhibiting and gathering mass support, demonstrations are "far and away the most emphatic way of demonstrating one's will to govern."
Given his view that demonstrations are effective weapons in the struggles of power politics, Goebbels considers the law that banned mass, public gatherings in May 1933 an important cornerstone of the Nazi takeover and consolidation of power.
Goebbels is by nature a curious man, with a very special interest in crowds. When he hears of the protests on Rosenstrasse he surely has his chauffeur drive him the half-dozen blocks from his gargantuan home across the river, to the edge of the throng swelling outward from the center of Rosenstrasse.
At Rosenstrasse, several women boldly approach the SS, and begin to complain. Their words grow more and more angry. “Who did the SS think they were? How did they come to separate them from their family members? What crimes had their husbands and children committed? After all, as racial German citizens, the wives were entitled to certain rights!”
Several women stand arm in arm in tight groups, others walk up and down in front of the house, hoping to see a husband or child show in front of a window.
A single voice initially calls out: "We want our husbands back!"
When the woman’s voice again screams out its defiance, others begin to join in.
On Monday morning,
approaching Rosenstrasse but still three blocks away,
"Let our husbands go!
We want our husbands back!
Let our husbands go!
We want our husbands back!
Let our husbands go…"
Normally people are afraid to show dissent, fearing denunciation, but in the square they now know they are among friends.
A Gestapo man, impressed by the display of protest, is forced to see his unquestioning loyalty to the regime in a new light. "Your relatives are out there protesting for you," he tells one Jew. "They want you to come back—how’s that for German loyalty?"
Because women matter less in the Nazi scheme of things, Jewish women married to German men are deemed to live in “Aryan” households and thus have it easier. German women married to Jewish men, however, are deemed to live in Jewish homes and share to a greater extent in their spouse’s plight.
Persecuted by neighbors and
relatives, terrified by the loss of their friends as the trains roll out from
The stories of the lives of
FLASHBACK: JULIUS AND
Jewishness means nothing to
her. Brought up by a liberal, well-traveled father,
At their first meeting,
Julius Israel’s first love
is music; as a first-rate pianist he had performed all over
Despite her youth,
The question of whether
this particular office relationship will become a romantic one is in the air
from the beginning, though Julius has difficulty believing that
When they do begin doing
things together outside of work, they prefer movies, quiet cafés, or listening
to music. For
Julius’ shoulders and arms, overgrown with muscles that compensate for his lower trunk, are those of a weight lifter. With one arm grasping a doorknob, he likes to stretch out his other arm like a bar of steel so that his six-year-old niece can twirl and swing from it like a gymnast.
For many, Julius' dark complexion and bent form might seem the living verification of the virulently antisemitic Der Stürmer's depictions of Jews. Crammed with sexual scandals and tedious pseudo-scientific explanations of Jewish racial degeneracy, the weekly Stürmer is available at newsstands throughout the Reich.
She hasn’t told her family about her relationship with Julius, but one evening she can’t resist telling strangers.
Julius is playing the piano
at a fine restaurant. They can’t afford to have
Greatly exacerbating the
“Have you forgotten how to speak?" he demands when she ignores his greeting.
"No, it's only that you don't understand my language," she replies.
After Hitler takes power in
"What difference does
Hitler make to us?"
That night, after Julius
tells her of a possible ban on intermarriage,
They will have to marry,
now, she says. But
By now, the Nazis have begun agitating against intermarriage, and Goebbels is organizing mobs to disrupt the weddings of mixed couples.
From 1933 to 1935 new pressures on intermarried couples cause some to divorce. Rumors about the banning of intermarriage hastens some mixed couples into getting married at once.
Religion isn't an issue for
After marrying a Jew,
At the time of their marriage, the SA begin picketing Julius Israel's tailor shop and harassing his customers, until it becomes impossible for him to stay in business.
Although it is unusual at
the time for German women to open a business,
Now registered in
This effort to present
The Israels' new house is already shared by two other families. Everyone shares the kitchen and the bathroom. That might have been fine if only the fellow tenants had not been Nazis.
The Propaganda Ministry
brings antisemitism into homes throughout the Reich through radio broadcasts.
Speeches of leading Nazis are beamed into German homes, where families assemble
piously around the radio to receive the word of their Leader.
There they are happy in
their new privacy, and they start up their tailoring business again. Without a
ground-floor shop and a sign to announce their business,
In time the business is flourishing! Even the local government bureaucrats are dropping by to have their sleeves lengthened, or their hems let out.
The couple's proudest
possession is a gorgeous Bechstein piano Julius' parents had given him as a
wedding present. It dominates their small living room, and it is also the
center of the Israels' social life. Julius plays piano at home virtually every
day, and sometimes
Once or twice a week, there
is a music evening in the apartment. One friend plays flute, another cello, or
On the streets
More and more the words "Forbidden for Jews!" are seen in front of public bars, restaurants, parks, and entertainment centers throughout Germany. Public exhibits of propaganda from the Nazi paper Der Stürmer are scattered throughout German cities, deriding Jews, portraying them as rapists and defilers of the "Aryan" master race.
Perhaps acting on a tip
from a neighbor or a customer, the Business Licensing Office informs
When she goes to the Licensing Office to say that she wants to register her business again, they tell her to get a divorce first, then register again.
“You're no doubt also married,” she tells them. “I don't know if you would divorce so easily. In any case I'm not going to divorce."
They Israels are now are
out of work, and depressed. But
She hates it. No single
seamstress ever sews an entire piece, the sound rises from all those machines in
the huge hall like the noise of hell, and the pay is poor.
And turns to making a living illegally—a terrifying prospect.
A law of April 1938
mandates the imprisonment for not less than one year of any German who knowingly
contributes to the false representation—either to the public or the
authorities—of a Jewish industry or business as a German business.
People are growing thinner
and thinner, and everything has to be made smaller and smaller.
They have two sewing machines, and they give instructions from Monday through Thursday, from 2:00 to 4:00 in the afternoon. Two Marks per hour—they can live on that. Since almost everything is forbidden anyway, they have little opportunity to spend money anyway.
All this takes place in their apartment, always in secret. They live on the first floor, and you can hear the activity from outside. Above them too, others can hear it, they think. They are nervous whenever the doorbell rings.
While some bend under
pressure of persecution, Nazi racism actually strengthens
One day she takes a bike trip with a brother to the beach. It is a wonderful trip through the woods, in beautiful weather. As they reach the beach her brother says, “Isn't that wonderful, the sea?” But she doesn’t see the sea. All she sees is a huge sign, placed directly over the beach. In huge letters, about a yard tall, very high, and broad, so that everyone can read it, the sign says: “FORBIDDEN FOR JEWS.”
She stares at the sign, and doesn’t go farther. Her joy is gone. She has only one thought, one wish: to get back to Julius! She decides never again to travel without him.
Public displays of propaganda are supposed to pull all Germans together, casting the Jews as hideous intruders. They are especially common around bus or trolley stops and anywhere else Germans gather in clusters.
Separating Jews from non-Jews is urgent for Goebbels, since in person Jews might disprove his propaganda image of them. Most intermarried Germans are not influenced by state antisemitic propaganda; family ties cause them to stand in the way of state purposes.
As the regime realizes its political goals, the private lives of intermarried German women grow politically important. The regime thinks their new status will push these women into divorce. Instead, these women find themselves assuming new, powerful roles within their marriages.
To supplement their tiny
As it turns out, Frau
Statler is more interested in turning a profit than in causing problems for
Frau Statler readily agrees
Like Elsa and Wally,
To be continued…
RUDI AND ELSA HOLZER
Else Holzer is also a free
spirit. When she marries Rudi in 1929 it doesn’t seem to matter that he is
Jewish. The son of a Catholic-Jewish publisher in rural Austria, he becomes a
successful and hard-working printer in
Rudi is made to carry a special ID card and take Israel as his middle name. He looses his job and is pressed into forced labor on the railways. Elsa is forced to lie about her marriage at work and to take a second job to make ends meet.
To be continued…
Günter and Wally GRODKA
Germans married to Jews are coming under intense pressure as the war drags on. They are outsiders in a nation of conformists.
The Gestapo pressures them to divorce; women are advised to abandon their husbands to save their children from a Jewish fate. They suffer police harassment. Their shopping hours are restricted, and their ration cards are marked with a large J for Juden. In March 1942, the Star of David has to be painted on the doorposts of mixed households. When the air raids begin the intermarried Germans are barred from German air raid shelters.
Worst of all are the neighbors. Mr. and Mrs. Blut, the building superintendent and his wife, make the Grodkas’ lives a misery. From her courtyard window, Mrs. Blut badgers Wally: “Dirty old, flea ridden Jewish sow!”
Mrs. Blut threatens to denounce any of the other Germans in the house who so much as speak to the Grodkas.
When Wally's newborn twins die in 1940—after being refused admission to German-run hospitals—Mrs. Blut and some of her neighbors noisily celebrate “because the Jew bums had finally died.” A year later, when a son, Ranier, is born to them, the neighbors' children are taught that he is a “Jew idiot” and encouraged to jeer at him and spit on him as he sits in his push-chair.
To be continued…
BACK AT ROSENSTRASSE…
At Rosenstrasse, day and night, for a week, the protest continues. “Let our husbands go! We want our husbands back!”
Wives and family members come and go, with as many as 600 on the street at one time and perhaps 5,000 in total taking part in the protest.
It is now six days since
The Gestapo take new
measures to disperse the protest. Officers forcibly remove about 10 women
protesters. (The ten women are escorted single file by the Gestapo to the Labor
Bureau, where they peel potatoes all day and then are released.) Those who see
them leave, fear for them.
An open jeep-like vehicle drives up to the edge of the crowd, with two SS men sitting in front, and two in back, in black uniforms and steel helmets.
Suddenly, the two in back stand up, and Elsa sees that they are holding machine guns. “Clear the streets now or we'll shoot,” they shout.
At the same time, the truck starts toward them, rather fast. There is the sound of machine-gun fire, and many in the crowd start running, trying to take shelter inside the courtyards of the nearby houses. But the Gestapo has had the buildings locked, and the people at the doorways are nearly smashed flat by those pushing from behind.
After scattering briefly into surrounding alleys and courtyards, the crowd regroups, and there is a palpable change in attitude, a new threshold in solidarity and confidence.
“Then for the first time we
Elsa tells her supervisor that she will be late for work the next day. She is a dependable employee whom no one suspects of intermarriage. Elsa's supervisor readily agrees to her request.
By mid-week Elsa has been late at work so many consecutive days that her supervisor turns angry and threatening. Elsa has been a model employee for Siemens, and when someone else is missing, she is always there to help. Now she has to put her job in jeopardy. To explain why she has been late so often, she finally breaks down and tells her boss, "I'm looking for my husband, and as a Jew he was arrested."
The boss is stunned. No one at Siemens knew about her husband. All intermarried Germans had been expelled. “Frau Holzer,” he says to Elsa, looking pale, “you haven't told me anything, please, you haven't told me anything. Otherwise I am obligated to inform the director's office. Go as often as you like, but you have to say that you didn't tell me about it.”
Elsa had originally come to Rosenstrasse merely for information. She had returned every day, before work. She realizes that now, she actually hopes to have an effect on the fate of her husband.
"We acted from the heart, and look what happened," Elsa Holzer would later recall for her part. "If you had to calculate whether you would do any good by protesting, you wouldn't have gone. But we acted from the heart. We wanted to show that we weren't willing to let them go. What one is capable of doing when there is danger, can never be repeated. I'm not a fighter by nature. Only when I have to be. I did what was given me to do. It wasn't organized, or instigated. Everyone was simply there. Exactly like me. That's what is so wonderful about it."
In an attempt to keep people away from Rosenstrasse, where they would see a forbidden crowd protesting, the city closes the closest elevated train station. This is of little use. People willing to defy Gestapo orders and death-threats are willing to walk the extra mile.
Another crowd has begun
gathering outside the second collection center for intermarried Jews on Grosse
Evenings in wartime
March 1 is a loudly proclaimed “Day of the Luftwaffe,” a celebration of Hermann Goering’s Air Force.
The British RAF knows this,
and at about 8:30 on the evening of the Day of the Air Force, the air raid
sirens begin to sound. Nerve-wracked
Hundreds of people are caught, and hundreds burned, suffocated, or buried under ruins. Cathedrals, monuments of culture, museums with ancient treasures—what had taken centuries to establish—disintegrate in minutes.
Rosenstrasse lies in the middle of the city, where most of the RAF’s bombs are falling. At the first hint of attack, the SS, Gestapo and police guards flee the building, having nailed the windows shut. The Jews stay put, awaiting the mercy of gravity and chance.
Bombs pepper the vicinity; one explosion following another. The Opera House is hit. St. Hedwig's cathedral, where a singular Catholic priest had prayed for the Jews in open services, takes a direct hit and more or less disappears. The horse stables of the royal palace are destroyed. A wing of Goering's nearby Luftwaffe headquarters are struck and burned.
The building at Rosenstrasse 2-4 shakes and wobbles. The walls shudder. The rooms, between short pauses, light up as bright as midday.
Jews and intermarried Germans experience conflicting emotions about the plunging bombs that night. There is fear—but there is also hope that the British bombs will overwhelm the German state and its supporters.
For Jews, bombings sometimes come as moments of grace, leveling the extreme social hierarchy. As long as the bombs fall, the Gestapo are in the bomb shelters. The persecutors too are afraid, and wait out the bombings helplessly. Cocky Gestapo men eye the sky nervously, and dash to the shelters the moment the air raid sirens blow. Some Jews manage escape during these moments.
Like the Jews,
But then she thinks of Julius, locked up at Rosenstrasse.
After a long hour the bombing is over, for that day.
But Rosenstrasse 2-4 is still standing.
And soon, the protesters are back.
By the fourth or fifth day of the protest a widening rift has developed within the RSHA, the agency responsible for the administration of the Final Solution, on how to handle the unruly crowd.
Of course, there is an investigation to find out whether some individual or group is instigating the protests, allowing arrests to be made. But this is an unorganized demonstration, and the investigation leads nowhere.
The top leadership—especially Goebbels, Hitler, and to a lesser extent Himmler—are afraid of domestic unrest, especially during war.
Lower-level officials generally lack this perspective. At the RSHA, in fact, Eichmann has actually responded to Germany's plummeting military fortunes in early 1943 by expanding the categories of persons to be deported from Jewish-German families.
But now women have reacted to the arrests of their Jewish relatives with an around-the-clock street protest, and Goebbels is under pressure.
The crowd of women calling out for their Jewish family members is a "disagreeable scene," Goebbels writes in his diary one evening that week. "The people gathered together in large throngs and even sided with the Jews to some extent."
Goebbels knows that the machinery of the Final Solution is now operating at full capacity. Last year, the year of massive death, 2,700,000 Jews had been killed, up from 1,100,000 in 1941 (the number would be 500,000 in 1943).
Though only 25 Jews had been deported as yet from Rosenstrasse, 7,978 Jews arrested in the Final Roundup had been or would be deported. More than fifty percent of these are immediately gassed and burned. The hard labor alternative for those who lived is intended only as short step preceding death.
The regime worries that Germans closely related to Jews will spread rumors about the disappearance of their own Jewish relations. Thus the secrecy which the regime strives to maintain around the Final Solution would be threatened.
Nazi leaders tend to see women's actions as apolitical and thus women more easily escape suspicion as political opponents. To start punishing women for political actions would be to acknowledge a political role for women that National Socialism denies.
The war appears to be on
the turn: the Germans are in retreat in North Africa; and the Sixth Army had
just collapsed at Stalingrad. A joke has begun circulating in
As Minister of Propaganda, Goebbels has to think about avoiding German unrest—and he knows that German women are the key to morale on the home front.
Already there are signs of a widespread refusal by women to do war work as demanded under Hitler's Total War decree. Goebbels knows instinctively, as Hitler was to say in 1944, that “women's political hatred is extremely dangerous.”
As historians have increasingly pointed out, the role of simple terror to explain both the consensus the Nazis achieved and the lack of resistance they encountered has been over-emphasized in the past. The regime needed the everyday cooperation of the people in order to enforce its racial policies.
The arbitrary use of police force, the Gestapo, and the concentration camps are always the backdrop of the Third Reich, but the regime seeks (and receives) non-coerced mass support as the best means for achieving its ambitious goals.
Seldom if ever do National Socialists challenge the idea that all power derives from the conscious consent of the (racial) people. In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that popular support is the primary foundation of political power: "The first foundation for the creation of authority is always provided by popularity."
With this support in hand, political leadership must then employ force, "the second foundation of all authority," to stabilize its power. Political power established through popularity and stabilized with force, however, would never be enduring until it was supported by social traditions, that final cornerstone of power.
A popular authority, stabilized by police force and aligned with popular traditions "may be regarded as unshakable," Hitler wrote.
Terror was not at all the main tool in the Nazi arsenal—it was, in fact, consensus. Hitler cared about public opinion.
In Nazi theory, terror was a means for controlling the fringe after the majority was amenable. In practice, Nazism benefited much more from Germans who cooperated voluntarily than from those who cooperated rather than face torture or the concentration camp.
There was no general law requiring Germans to denounce Jews, and yet even the dreaded secret police relied extensively on unpaid collaborators, ordinary Germans, who chose to side with the police, although not coerced into doing so. The enforcement of racial policies "required the cooperation or collaboration of ‘ordinary citizens.’"
Certainly the regime was far more antisemitic and murderous than the Germans in general. Yet, in part for good reasons, the regime claimed the legitimacy of truly representing the racial people.
Once becoming the dominant movement and symbol of power, the Nazi Party would even compromise principles to prevent social unrest. Goebbels as well as Hitler thought of mass disobedience as a force so powerful it could topple a government.
Were the very few cases of public opposition to the Nazis successful merely because they were rare exceptions, because they represented challenges to the regime that it could not meet with force, and because they did not oppose the regime itself, in its entirety?
If, in fact, Hitler drew back whenever he met public resistance, we will never know where the regime would have drawn the line had there been much more such behavior.
At Rosenstrasse, Goebbels does not order his men to mow the women down.
And on March 6, Goebbels gives orders for the release of all intermarried Jews and their children. Nearly 2,000 Jews are freed.
Following the release, the
official explanation is that the
Given that there was an
abuse, there had to be an offender. The blame is shifted all the way down to
Of course, if there had
been no protest, Schiffer or his superiors would have been roundly rewarded for
Goebbels justifies releasing the Jews with an excuse about timing. But in reality he releases the Jews married to non-Jews because it is the best way to dissolve the protest, as Leopold Gutterer observes first-hand. Gutterer is Goebbels' chief deputy at the time, and representative at the Propaganda Ministry, virtually living at the Ministry.
“Goebbels released the Jews in order to eliminate the protest from the world,” Gutterer was later to tell historian Stoltzfus. “That was the simplest solution--to completely eradicate the reason for the protest. So that others didn't begin to do the same, the reason [for protest] had to be eliminated. There was unrest, and it could have spread from neighborhood to neighborhood. Why should Goebbels have had [the protesters] all arrested?” Then he would have only had even more unrest—from the relatives of these newly arrested persons."
Mass protest erupted, without organization, because the regime attacked an important tradition. Germans could sympathize with persons trying to preserve their families. Spouses were expected to look out for each other, and women, traditionally, had special jurisdiction in this area.
When Goebbels visits the
Führer on March 9, the Führer agrees that Goebbels had responded correctly to
the "psychological" pressures of the protest. Hitler tells Goebbels he has done
the right thing, but that he would still have to make sure the Jews of
Goebbels rationalizes in his diary that he will carry out the deportations within several weeks—more thoroughly. But he never does.
Although Himmler urgently wants to complete the Final Solution, the one-time Nazi Party propagandist bends ideals for position, and he is somewhat sympathetic to Hitler's careful attention to social unrest (although he intensely dislikes Goebbels). On December 18, 1943 he will order the deportation of a group of intermarried Jews whose German partners had died or divorced, with the notable exception of formerly intermarried Jews with a child or children who might, as a result, stir up unrest again.
Rudi returns home looking to Else like a robber, filthy and with a beard so dark it is blue. He tells her he had seen that note in the sandwich, and kept it. He puts the note, tinted by cheese and butter, into his wallet, obviously never to leave there.
“Jewish pig, we'll have you in here again soon,” says a Gestapo man to Julius Israel as he is released.
“No,” her brother says. “I was always there on Rosenstrasse and I want to greet him too.”
And they wait, and they wait, and they wait.
Günther asks: “Can I play
“Okay,” the brother says. “Then I will play something sad.” And he puts on a recording of Zarah Leander: “I know that one day a miracle will happen, and then a thousand fairy tales will come true.”
Julius finally appears, looking sick, smelling horrible, with remnants of shaving cream on his face. At the train station he had tarried long enough to shave. He had wanted to shave in order not to look too dark.
Upon arriving in Auschwitz, 25 Jews deported from Rosenstrasse are immediately sorted out from the others. They are not subjected to the “selection” process determining which Jews are put to work and which to death. They are officially referred to as "protective custody cases.”
On the morning of their 12th day, just as they are about to leave for work, an SS officer orders them to shower and then to report to "medical supervision."
There they learn that they
are to be sent back to
One of the 25 from
Rosenstrasse had to remain behind because he was too sick to make the trip. The
others are joined by 11 Jewish men in intermarriages who had survived a
deportation from the Grosse
The 35 intermarried men
released from Auschwitz arrive back in
The Jews released from Rosenstrasse survived the war, as did most intermarried Jews elsewhere. Of the 13,000 registered Jews in Germany who outlived Nazism, 98 per cent did so in intermarriages.
Meanwhile, the deportations of ordinary Jews continued.
Even as Julius and Rudi and
Günter are being released, elsewhere in
Nobody is on hand to protest on their behalf.
They leave in the night, under a consensus of silence.
Not one of them is known to have survived.
Rosenstrasse--movie and documentary background information
Introduction to Resistance of the Heart by Joschka Fischer, Foreign Minister of Germany
Comments on Nathan Stotzfus' Resistance of the Heart
[Varian Fry Institute] [Chambon Foundation Home] [Chambon Institute]
[email us] [contact information] [table of contents] [make a contribution?] [search] [feedback] [guest book] [link to us?]
© Copyright 2004, Chambon Foundation. All rights reserved. Revised: May 20, 2010