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German wives win the release of their Jewish husbands (Rosenstrasse Protest), 1943
On Saturday, February 27, 1943, the Gestapo in Nazi Germany began the “Final Roundup of Berlin Jews,” arresting all Jews in the city of Berlin. Many of these Jews were in intermarriages with non-Jewish spouses or were the children of such intermarriages. When these intermarried Jews (mostly men) did not return home after the arrest action, the non-Jewish spouses later found out that their husbands had been imprisoned in the Rosenstrasse, a Jewish community center.
When wives arrived at Rosenstrasse to search for their husbands they were blocked by armed SS guards. Some women began to question and complain to the guards and others joined together, agreeing to return the Rosenstrasse the next day.
On the morning of February 28 the wives congregated again at Rosenstrasse to demand the return of their Jewish husbands. The group continuously shouted out “We want our husbands back!” and “Let our husbands go!” More people joined in the demonstration as people continued to come and go from the site. On this first day of protest the crowds reached to between 600 and 1000 people. Throughout the protest and in the following days the women continued to chant, sing songs, and hold hands in solidarity, demanding the return of their husbands.
Because a law prohibited non-Nazi demonstrations such as this protest, the Gestapo reported to the scene and attempted to track down the organizers, but they were unsuccessful. The campaigners continued their demonstration in spite of the law forbidding it, warning shots from the SS troops, and the threats of arrest and death by the Gestapo. The women were protected from most repression because of their German heritage and their role as women in German society.
Despite attempts by the Gestapo to stop the demonstrations by blocking roads and transportation to the area, the protesters returned to Rosenstrasse again the next day, March 1. Nonetheless, that afternoon SS troops successfully deported over 1700 Jews from holding centers all over Berlin, including Rosenstrasse, to the extermination camp, Auschwitz.
That evening the British Airforce began their first bombing of Berlin and the next day more non-intermarried Jews were deported to Auschwitz, while the demonstrators at Rosenstrasse continued their protest. On March 4, the Gestapo successfully deported 13 of the intermarried Jews to the work camp at Auschwitz.
As the women continued to protest at Rosenstrasse into March 6, the German leadership finally gave in, even as 25 of the intermarried Jews were being deported to Auschwitz. The Nazi Propaganda Minister, Goebbels released the remaining intermarried Jews in an attempt to maintain the visage of conformity in Berlin. The protests of Aryan women against the internment of their Jewish husbands had shown open dissent to the Nazi program and for Goebbels (with Hitler’s approval), it was more important to eliminate this dissent by releasing those Jews than to allow such dissent to be visible to other Germans or international bodies. Thirty-five intermarried Jews that had already been sent to Auschwitz were also returned. While twenty-five of the detainees were not released, thirty-five intermarried Jews that had already been sent to Auschwitz were also returned to Berlin.