Friday, August 14, 2009


Intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews during the Third Reich represented a powerful protest. Those who chose to remain married, despite the overwhelming pressure to divorce, showed strength and courage. Nathan Stoltzfus's book, Resistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany reveals the stories of those who lived in such relationships during the Third Reich and survived the war due to their tenacity.

Scholarship
on these "in between" German Jews is relatively scarce and thus, this book fills an important void. Stoltzfus devotes much of his text to the years preceding the Rosenstrasse protest, introducing three main couples. Through their interviews, Stoltzfus weaves a tale of courage and individual non-compliance toward the restrictive racial laws of the Third Reich. By focusing largely on the women's perspective, Stoltzfus enlightens us to the world in which they lived and to the sacrifices they made in order to stay married to their Jewish husbands. Indeed, Stolzfus's argument views the protest as a "climactic event in the lives of those who protested and also as part of the complex of events and circumstances that surrounded the climax of World War II" (p. xxv). Stoltzfus remains focused throughout the book, rarely deviating from his thesis.

Beginning with Hitler's
rise to power, Resistance of the Heart chronologically traces the steps taken against the intermarried Jews of Germany. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's minister of propaganda, played a leading role in the campaign toward the Final Solution. Goebbels frequently wrestled over the problem of intermarried Jews. Ultimately, however, the solution depended largely upon the popularity of the Regime and the public's cooperation.

As Stoltzfus argues, "The fundamental Nazi ideology and in turn the prized Nazi policies cut against
the grain of social traditions the Germans could not part with" (p. 15). Marriage remained one of the binding ties of German society. Intermarried couples directly conflicted with Nazi ideology since racial purity was a main component of Nazism. However, Hitler's popularity curbed the majority of people's dissent until 1944-45. But intermarried couples protested by staying married.

The
lives of the couples - Charlotte and Julius Israel, Elsa and Rudi Holzer, and Wally and Gunter Grodka, comprise much of the story. All three men were Jewish, except for Rudi Holzer, who was a Mischling. Stoltzfus tells the couples' courtship stories and immediately draws you into the everyday lives of ordinary Germans. From the Israel's living room where music and song kept Nazi terrors at bay for a short while to the intense pressure of the Grodka's denouncement-hungry neighbors, to Elsa Holzer's smuggling of a love note to her husband during the Rosenstrasse protest, Stoltzfus brilliantly reveals the daily problems they faced.

The
"waffling" of the party leadership on the racial laws is explained through the turbulent life of Werner Goldberg, a Mischling who went thorugh several transitions during his life in the Reich. As the Nazis tried to "work out the conflicts between its racial ideology and practical policies", (p. 85), people lived in a constant state of transition. Rudi Holzer, for example, lived the life of an "Aryan" and remained relatively untouched as a Mischling until new laws came into effect.

Stoltzfus
also delves into Goebbel's diary to reveal key points in the administration of actions against the Jews. As the war drug on, Goebbels continued to search for ways to expel the intermarried Jews from Germany. Yet popular opinion always held a significant role in the decision-making process. Women's opinions were especially crucial since their dissent during World War I helped cause the breakdown of morale.

Indeed
, women held great importance in a variety of ways. They constituted an important labor force and their letters to husbands and sons at the front could affect morale. Goebbels even recorded in his diary that "women were 'largely responsible' for 'our [public] sentiments'" (p. 197). In early 1943, the labor conscription of women for the Total War decree failed completely as large numbers of women refused to work. As Stoltzfus points out, "...it was not only because of their gender that a mass of women might succeed in a limited public protest but because they were civilians who threatened home front morale" (p. 201). Thus, the stage was set for the Rosenstrasse Protest.

When
the Final Roundup of Berlin Jews, including those in intermarriages, began in late February of 1943, Goebbels thought to rid himself of these "privileged" Jews. But as the tale of Rosenstrasse unfolds, he was wrong. The Jews were taken to a facility located in Rosenstrasse, a street at the center of Berlin. Non-Jewish spouses of the prisoners started to gather outside and demand the release of their loved ones. The individual stories of the women, including Charlotte Israel, Elsa Holzer, and Wally Grodka, reveal the resilience of these wives to rescue their Jewish husbands and children. Even though the Gestapo threatened to shoot time and time again, the women remained. As Elsa Holzer remarked, "We acted from the heart, and look what happened...What one is capable of doing when there is danger can never be repeated" (p. 239).

Goebbels and Hitler eventually ordered the release of the intermarried prisoners in order to dissolve
the protest. Remarkably, all the Jews released from Rosenstrasse survived the war. But Stoltzfus questions whether or not the proest can be termed resistance or dissent.

With
smooth prose and contemporary photos, Stoltzfus delivers a heartening, yet chilling tale. However, the historical accuracy of his sources may come into question since the interviews were held so many years after the war and time has a way of dimming one's memory. But perhaps Stoltzfus's most compelling question throughout the text is a tantalizing "what if?" Would more protests in Nazi Germany have halted the completion of the Final Solution? It is sobering to contemplate.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in understanding the historical context in which my family abandoned Judaism - this sounds like a great read.

Anonymous said...

I am not going to be original this time, so all I am going to say that your blog rocks, sad that I don't have suck a writing skills

文章 said...
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