The Women of Rosenstrasse


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russian writer and Nob...

We have become so result oriented that we have moved away from doing what we believe is right towards doing only what we believe will succeed.

This move has defined us by our successes and failures rather than our actions. Hence a moral action that doesn’t result in a ‘successful’ outcome is seen as a waste of time. Meanwhile, an amoral – or even immoral – action that brings about a desired result is seen as not only more practical but also better in every way.

This approach has very serious consequences, because the choice between good and evil is ours.  Individually.

As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it:

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts. (1)

Butterfly Effect Actions for Change – Part 7:
The Women of Rosenstrasse 
On February 27, 1943, the ‘Final Roundup’, took place in Berlin. This operation involved arresting the Jewish husbands of Aryan German women and their Mischling (mixed ancestry) children.  Within hours of the arrests, 150 women had gathered on Rosenstrasse where the Jewish prisoners were being held.
By the second day, 600 women were gathered outside, holding hands, singing and chanting, ‘Let our husbands go.’
On day three, the SS were ordered to fire warning shots into the crowd – which they did several times.  Every time the soldiers fired the women scattered and hid in the surrounding alleyways and then regrouped.

“The SS trained machine guns on us: ‘If you don’t go now, we’ll shoot.’ But by now we couldn’t care less. We screamed ‘you murderers!’ and everything else. We bellowed. We thought that now, at last, we would be shot. Behind the machine guns a man shouted something – maybe he gave a command. I didn’t hear it, it was drowned out. But then they cleared out and the only sound was silence. That was the day it was so cold that the tears froze on my face.” (2)
The soldiers couldn’t be seen to mow down the flower of Aryan womanhood so the firing stopped.
Now the women were joined by others – men and women unrelated to the prisoners – and the crowd swelled to over a thousand.
On March 7th, Goebbels let the prisoners go – even 35 men who had been sent to Auschwitz were brought back to Berlin.

The women of Rosenstrasse got their husbands and children back but their courage actually achieved more than that –

…the Rosenstrasse women had forced the Nazis to make a choice: They could accede to a limited demand and pay a finite cost – 1,700 prisoners set free, if all the intermarried Jewish men were released. Or they could open a Pandora’s box of heightened protest… For the Nazis, maintaining social control was more important than making sure every last Jew made it to the gas chambers…

The protest confronted Nazis officials with an unresolved question: what to do with other intermarried Jews….On May 21 Himmler’s deputy released them all, everywhere, from the camps. (3) 

I’m sure the women of Rosenstrasse didn’t think they’d succeed when they took to the streets demanding that their husbands be released.  I’m even more sure they didn’t think other women’s husbands would be released.

But they still acted – with great courage – and did what they believed was the right thing to do, with no regard to the outcome.

Even if they had failed in their objective, their actions would still be brave and praiseworthy.

If they had stopped to consider their chances of success – they probably wouldn’t have even tried.

Makes you think… 


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Photograph – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – on a train in Vladivostock as he returned to Russia in 1994 for the first time in twenty years.

(1) —  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956

(2) – Nathan StoltzfusResistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany. Rutgers University Press, 2001

(3) http://www.aforcemorepowerful.org/book/excerpts/denmark.php

(4) In 1995, a memorial created by Ingeborg Hunzinger, an East German sculptor, was erected in the nearby park (which was ironically the site of a former synagogue). The memorial, named “Block der Frauen (Block of Women)” reads The strength of civil disobedience, the vigor of love overcomes the violence of dictatorship; Give us our men back; Women were standing here, defeating death; Jewish men were free.

Save the Children


Butterfly Effects for Change – Part 3 – Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon

From December 1940 to September 1944, the French village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and its surrounding area became a safe haven for almost 5,000 Jews. The day after the Vichy Government in France, made an agreement with the Nazis to hand over all Jewish refugeesAndre Trocme, Pastor of the Protestant church set the tone for this constructive resistance in his sermon by telling his parishioners that they should use the ‘weapons of the spirit’ to resist.

“Loving, forgiving, and doing good to our adversaries is our duty. Yet we must do this without giving up, and without being cowardly. We shall resist whenever our adversaries demand of us obedience contrary to the orders of the gospel. We shall do so without fear, but also without pride and without hate.”

Throughout the entire Nazi occupation, not one Chambonnais ever handed over a Jewish refugee to the authorities. Elizabeth Koenig-Kaufman, who was a child refugee in Le Chambon, described it thus –

Nobody asked who was Jewish and who was not. Nobody asked where you were from. Nobody asked who your father was or if you could pay. They just accepted each of us, taking us in with warmth, sheltering children, often without their parents — children who cried in the night from nightmares. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The people of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon couldn’t stop World War II or the Nazi occupation of France. They couldn’t stop the atrocities or persecutions – they had no control over any of those things. They did, however, have control over themselves and their own actions.

Their individual actions contributed to a cohesive, unified whole which had a massive effect, but even so, each individual in Le Chambon had to choose and act according to his or her own view of what constituted ‘doing the right thing’ independent of chances of success or outcomes.

These Butterfly Effect actions saved 5,000 innocent people – most of them children.

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(1) Photograph by Robert Capa,  A refugee boy waits for resettlement in a refugee camp in Germany. (UNHCR Photo)

(2) Jewish children sheltered in the children’s home Maison des Roches, directed by Daniel Trocme (back, center, with glasses). Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, France, between 1941 and 1943 — Daniel Trocme and 18 of his students were killed by the Nazis. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)