Remembering Rosenstrasse. History, Memory, Identity in Contemporary Germany

Hilary Potter (University of Leeds) speaks at this event in the Russian seminar series.

What was the Rosenstraße protest?

On 27 February 1943, in Rosenstraße, a small side street in the centre of Berlin, an act of public opposition began on the day the National Socialist regime launched one of the largest anti-Jewish razzias of the Second World War. Amongst the thousands rounded up over the ensuing days, were nearly a quarter of Berlin’s intermarried Jewish Germans and their descendants. They were detained in a makeshift detention centre, once the Jewish Community Administrative Building. In response their spouses and other relatives gathered outside to show solidarity, to gain information, to demonstrate against their arrest and their feared deportation. The protest ebbed and flowed, lasting for approximately one week; none of the protesters was arrested in spite of the fact public demonstrations were illegal in Nazi Germany. Moreover, all but twenty-five of the Rosenstraße detainees were released over a period of days and weeks. Their persecution did not cease following their release, indeed it increased. However, almost all survived the Third Reich. The question of whether the protest secured their release or the regime had a different plan for them, albeit with the intention of deporting them at a later date, remains contested to this day.

In her talk Hilary discusses her forthcoming book, which examines the multiple representations of the 1943 Rosenstraße protest in Berlin, ranging from historical debate, through to popular histories, biography, film and memorialisation. The book examines how memories of the protest are multi-layered and developed in relation to one another, but they are also tied to the wider frameworks of remembering in contemporary Germany. In addition, the book also explores the processes behind and the dynamics that shape what we remember of this event and their correlation with shifting patterns of identity and memory in post-unification Germany.

Remembering Rosenstraße illustrates how the narratives of the protest do not simply correspond to overarching trends, suggesting that remembering the past is more fractured and fluid than hitherto assumed. The unfolding story of Rosenstraße also indicates that since unification, and more specifically from the mid-1990s in particular, ambiguous, complex and nuanced narratives have emerged, which in turn enables existing assumptions about the past and about constructions of identity, both German and Jewish, to be questioned, and has served an important function in facilitating a more complex understanding of the past, reflecting desire to generate an inclusive remembering, without either blurring or distracting from historical accountability.