Although it was released some twenty years ago, I was not familiar with the book, RESISTANCE OF THE HEART: INTERMARRIAGE AND THE ROSENSTRASSE PROTEST IN NAZI GEMANY by Nathan Stoltzfus, until a friend–a fellow “hidden child” of the Holocaust–loaned it to me. Moreover, I had not heard the amazing story of the only successful protest of the Holocaust in Germany and German-occupied countries.
During the 1920s and 1930s in Central Europe, intermarriage between Jews and Christian was quite common. When the Germans decided on their Final Solution–the extermination of all Jews in Europe–they found it difficult to decide what to do with Jews married to Aryans. They encouraged–in fact, put almost unbearable pressure on–the Aryans to divorce their spouses. Many did, and the Jews were shipped off to death camps immediately after the separations. But hundreds refused to abandon their loved ones.
In 1943, after nearly all Jews of Germany had been deported, the Nazis began the final roundup. Some 10,000 Jews were still living in Berlin. 8,000 of them were arrested and almost immediately murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. The remaining 2,000 were spouses of non-Jewish Germans; they were imprisoned in a collection center on a street called Rosenstrasse, in Berlin.
As soon as the spouses–primarily wives–of the prisoners found out about their loved ones’ whereabouts, they rushed to Rosenstrasse, surrounded the building, and began shouting: “Give us back our husbands!” Despite harassment by Gestapo and SS thugs, they stayed and protested for a week. The dilemma of dealing with the women went to the highest levels of government. Amazingly, Hitler and Goebbels caved and released the Jews back to their families. Thus they survived the war.
The author delves into the reasons. The Germans had just lost the battle which would turn out to be the war’s turning point–the massacre of the Wehrmacht at Stalingrad. Public opinion in Germany was no longer unanimously pro-war. Now the Nazi hierarchy was concerned about additional public outcry, mainly from German women, if pure-blooded Aryan wives would have their husbands taken away from them. Moreover, these wives had hundreds of Aryan German relatives. The Nazis could not afford to have German women turn against them. Thus, the Jews were saved.
Stoltzfus interviewed many of the players in this dangerous game and examines the motivation of women who risked their lives to fight the Nazi machine. The reader, as well as the author, walks away wondering: if more Germans had protested, might the Holocaust have been precluded? We’ll never know.
I recommend this excellent book to anyone with an interest in modern history. It’s an interesting, and provocative, read.