Film Review: Rosenstrasse
In February of 1943 the defeat of Nazi armies at Stalingrad brought trainloads of young Germans, dead or hideously maimed back to Germany. Xenophobia was reaching an all time high, with any questioning of the regime being viewed as treasonous and Communist propaganda. It was at this moment that the Nazi propaganda chief and administrator of Berlin, Joseph Goebels, decided that the time was right to exploit the hatred of foreigners and Jews in particular, by rounding up the Jewish men of Berlin (and a few women), solidifying support for the regime by presenting it as a birthday gift to Adolph Hitler. He engineered the 'disappearances' by posting Homeland Security (Geheimstats Polizei or Gestapo in German) officers to quietly take men away as they reported for work.
The regime was shocked when German women, initially those married to Jewish men, began to gather opposite the warehouse on the Rosenstrasse (street of the rosiers or florists, one of the occupations allowed Jews in previous centuries in much of 'Christian' Europe where conversions were forced by the sword) where the men were being held. As the gatherings grew to thousands of ethnic German women including even a few veteran Nazi party members, the army was sent out and ordered to train their machine guns on the women. The women stood their ground . As it became more and more of an embarrassment and as the soldiers were reluctant to fire, the soldiers were ordered away and then the victims were released one-by-one, even bringing back those who had already been sent to concentration camps and had numbers tatooed inside their wrists. The general staff is said to have told Goebels that they could fight the Red Army or the housewives of Berlin, but not both.
Military propagandists here and elsewhere, when on rare occassion faced with questions about how non-violent resistance such as this saved lives while the terror bombing of the cities, as begun by Churchill, had extended the war by convincing millions of continental Europeans that they had no choice but join fascist armies or die under the bombs, would point out that Goebels wrote in his diary that it didn't matter because he would just rearrest them quietly one-by-one so as to prevent mass protests. In fact, however, almost all those not killed by US/British terror bombing, survived. Goebels had to surrender to non-violent resistance.
This successful non-violent resistance to the Nazis has been generally hidden from public view, but is shown in an exciting and exquisitely produced German docudrama appropriately named "Rosenstrasse". Widely acclaimed in Europe both for its cinematography and its story. The film was the biggest moneywinner in Europe in the summer of 2004 when it was released.
In the US it was largely hidden despite the potential for profit. Messages that there are alternatives to terrorist military violence to defend human rights were just not welcome and it was shown as far as I could find on the web at only 12 theaters in the US -- to a full house when my wife and I saw it. Margarethe von Trotte who co-wrote and directed the film told me she thought that it had been shown in more like 30 locations, but it appears that most of those were shown for German language students. Though an English version exists, only the German version was available here.
This is both a beautifully crafted film with an excellent cast, and a window on an important historical event of which most of us are unaware. It is available on DVD; I purchased my copy at Barnes and Noble, but it is probably available elsewhere.