During one week in 1943, a little-known but amazing event occurred at a Berlin detention center, a stopping point for one of the last group of Jews targeted for the fated journey east — the Jewish spouses of Aryans. Up until this point, Jews had been protected by intermarriage to Germans, a sore spot in the efficacy of carrying out the Final Solution. Pressured to divorce, many German men left their Jewish wives, who then were deported. But now, in the final stage of roundups, Jewish husbands were collected, as well, taken from factories before their Aryan wives even knew what was happening. Women, some children and elderly people, as many as 6,000 on and off, gathered in the freezing cold outside on Rosenstrasse facing the guards’ machine guns, and demanded the release of their men with an unbelievable result: Not only were these Jews let go eventually, but the ones who had been sent off were returned to their German families.
Stories of resistance to the Nazis by ordinary German folk do not take up many pages in Holocaust history books. That they occurred at all is a point of contention both for Jews who witnessed the behavior of Germans as complicit and abhor the image of the pious German, and for Germans themselves — some of whom see it as an embarrassment, proof of what could have been prevented had more people acted with humanity and courage. The story of the successful resistance at Rosenstrasse, the only public protest by German civilians, also gives lie to the claim that Germans simply did not know where their Jews were going. They knew: Deportation did not simply mean a stint at a work camp in the countryside; deportation meant death.