Lecture: Nonviolent Resistance to Nazis


On Tuesday, Oct. 29, St. Mary’s hosted Nathan Stoltzfus, Associate Professor of History at Florida State University, and author of the book Resistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany, who gave a presentation on nonviolent protest against the Nazi regime as a part of the annual Holocaust and Genocide Lecture Series. In his lecture, Professor Stoltzfus focused largely on the topic of the event that he is most famous for documenting: the seven-day protest of several German women whose Jewish husbands had been arrested as part of a final cleanse in Berlin in 1943.

One interesting focus of Stoltzfus’ lecture was how influential popular opinion could be with the Nazi regime. Despite all of  the terror and heavy-handed organization of the time, protest could sometimes be a major force for change. This is illustrated by a previously unexplored event called the Rosenstrasse protest. As a step in the Gestapo’s “Factory Action,” Nazi forces attempted to arrest the last of the Jews still living openly in Berlin. Nearly every one of the 1,800 men arrested were married or related to non-Jews. These prisoners were separated from the others and housed at a facility on Rosenstrasse, a major street in Berlin. The wives and relatives gathered outside the facilities for seven days, taking no violent action, but standing their ground until their husbands were returned.

Stoltzfus illustrated the events at Rosenstrasse as being the climax of a 10-year period of friction between the Third Reich and intermarried couples. He made it very clear that although Jewish people married to so-called “Aryan” Germans enjoyed a status that protected them, it was always a race against time for these couples as the danger grew greater and greater. The reason these German women were able to create such a successful resistance was because their protest came at a critical time. Stalingrad had been disastrously lost just nine days previously, and officials in charge of disseminating propaganda were determined to ensure morale stayed high. The Rosenstrasse protest was seen as a threat to this, but not one that could be responded to with violence. In spite of the friendlessness of the women of Rosenstrasse, it would be an enormous amount of trouble to get rid of Germans who were willing to forfeit their own lives to protect their loved ones.

Stoltzfus’ lecture illustrated the power of protest even in desperate situations, and how popular opinion can sway even a powerful enemy.

Stoltzfus’ book is available online or at the Campus Store.