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The lesson of Rosenstrasse at 75

Seventy-five years ago, in February and March 1943, hundreds of women rescued 2,000 Jews, their husbands, from the jaws of death with a daring protest on Berlin’s Rosenstrasse.

They gathered there for more than a week, in spite of repeated commands by the authorities to “clear the streets or we’ll shoot.”

The Gestapo’s massive “de-Judaization of the Reich territory” that began on February 27, 1943, had imprisoned nearly 2,000 intermarried Jews to a pre-transportation facility at Rosenstrasse, as part of the final roundup of Berlin Jews.

For Jews and gentiles married to Jews, mundane customs became tests of strength through an ever-growing web of prohibitions and punishments.

The Nuremberg Laws of September 1935 criminalized sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews as “racial defilement.” Following the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938 the Gestapo began a campaign to threaten and cajole non-Jewish German women married to Jews into getting a divorce. By the fall of 1941, regulations required Jews to wear the Star of David in public and banned friendly relations with Jews. Many parents of women married to Jews abandoned them and once-friendly neighbors and co-workers froze them out.

Hitler conceded, temporarily, to the brave women on Rosenstrasse. To protect his claim of popular consensus, Hitler sanctioned a series of exceptions for intermarried German Jews, privileging some who thus did not wear the Jewish Star, and “temporarily” exempting all intermarried Jews – including those who did wear the star – from the genocide. This exemption, however, could end at any moment….

The journalist Georg Zivier, a Jew imprisoned at Rosenstrasse who was married to a gentile among the protesters, extolled the protest immediately after the war as a “flare of a small torch that might have ignited a general resistance to arbitrary tyranny” – if only the public had joined in. As new dictatorships like those in Russia, Iran and Turkey crush popular protests together with independent journalism, a Human Rights Watch report also identifies protesters as a powerful means for confronting tyranny and its forerunners. Within democracies, massive demonstrations that speak with one voice and remain nonviolent are the most effective means for countering the gatherings of extremist rabble rousers….

Read entire article at The Jerusalem Post