The Fruits of their Labour


I’ve talked about this before (ages ago) but it strikes me as worth talking about again as it is such a good example of how it is always worth doing what you believe to be right, even when everyone is telling you it won’t change anything.

In July, 1984, a 21 year old cashier in an Irish supermarket – Dunnes Stores- refused to handle two Outspan grapefruit at her checkout. She did this because her union had decided to protest against apartheid in South Africa by not handling South African produce.  The cashier’s name was Mary Manning and she was suspended for her actions.  Ten of her colleagues went on strike to protest  against her treatment and so began a strike that lasted almost three years.

Eventually though, the Dunnes Stores workers prevailed and the Irish government agreed to ban the importing of South African fruit and vegetables until the apartheid regime was dismantled.

Today in Johannesburg, a street is named after Mary Manning and she and her colleagues have been personally commended by Nelson Mandela and his successor, Thabo Mbeki.

As Margaret Mead, the well-known anthropologist said –

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Every single thing that every single one of us does all of the time matters in the overall scheme of things.  There is no such thing as a deed – good or bad –that doesn’t have some effect somewhere.

Scary?  Maybe.

But heartening too when you think about it.


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.