Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Opposition in Nazi Germany - Rosenstrasse Protest

27th of February, 1943. Berlin. It's early in the morning and hundreds of German elite soldiers of the 1st Division Leibstandarte SS Hitler (LSSHA, Adolf Hitler's personal bodyguard) are getting ready for a new mission: to arrest the last Jews that still remain in the German capital.

About 2000 Jewish men had been living under a privileged status called Mischling that exempt them from the deportation measures imposed by anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws of 1935 by reason of being married to German spouses (Aryan, of course!). However, Hitler was determined to make Berlin "Judenfrei" (free of Jews) before his birthday.

Give Us Our Men Back!

Helena is married with Sebastian Weissler, a German Jew. He usually goes back home from work at midday but it's nearly 3 in the afternoon and he has not returned. Rumours of a mass arrest operation over Jews are spreading all over the city and she is more worried than ever. Then a hidden determination arise inside her:  Helena has decided to look for her husband at all cost. Surrender is not an option anymore.

Helena found out that the arrested German Jews were locked up in a improvised prison at Rosenstrasse 2 and 4, a former assistance centre of the Jewish community in Berlin, now owned by the Gestapo (Nazi Germany secret police). By the time she got there, there were already 200 other women asking for their kidnapped husbands in front of the gates of the building.

The women began to call out together in a chorus: "Give us our husbands back!"

                    Rosenstrasse 2-4 building before it was destroyed in 1945

It was cold outside but they could not care less. Not the presence of the Gestapo officers or the British bombing over the city discouraged them. The crowd grew and grew along the evening with no one wanting to disperse, and not only at Rosenstrasse 2-4 but also in front of the Office of Jewish Affairs of the Gestapo, on Burgstrasse, not far away from the improvised prison on Rosenstrasse. Most of them spent the night outside. Meanwhile, inside the building, the men stayed awake all night; they had been hearing the outcry of their wives and feared the worst over them as they were perfectly aware that confront the Nazi regime was suicidal.

On the 2nd of March Goebbels wrote in his diary: "We are expelling the Jews from Berlin forever. We catch every one of them in a raid and we are going to take them to the east immediately". He didn't take into account the crowd that was growing larger day by day, holding the protest day and night.

Goebbels Defeated

5th of March. That day the situation came to a head. The SS guards prepared machine guns and threatened to kill them all: "If you don't disperse now, we'll shoot". But none of those defiance women stepped back. The answer was clear. " You should go to the east and die fighting Russians!", screamed one of the women. "You murderers!", followed the others.

                                Photogram from the film 'Rosenstrasse' (2003)

No one wanted to believe their eyes when the SS guards began to clear out. They had won.

The day later Joseph Goebbels ordered the liberation of all the German Jews locked in Rosenstrasse 2-4 claiming that the detention was due to a "bureaucracy mistake". Even the prisoners that were already deported to Auschwitz (25 of them) were released and brought back to Berlin.

                       Rosenstrasse Memorial "Block der Frauen", Berlin  

Rosenstrasse events proved that citizen resistance worried the Nazi leaders and question those who chose to remain passive.

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