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From: email@example.com (nathan stoltzfus)
With regard to the discussions recently on collaboration and the Wehrmacht, the following op-ed piece published two days ago in the Philadelphia Inquirer might be of interest to H-SOZ-U-KULT readers.
By Nathan Stoltzfus
I always teach my students German history as if it were part of human history. But lately this view is under siege again. At stake is the question of responsibility: Were most Germans Nazis long before Hitler? If so, Germans in general can be judged by the 12 Nazi years, and the greatest crime in history.
The view that an ordinary German could do nothing against the Holocaust has been the official accepted wisdom in West Germany since the war. This takes ordinary Germans off the hook for not trying to stop Hitler. But it has also served to stifle contradictory stories -- stories of ordinary Germans who actually did rescue Jews from the Holocaust. These unsung heroes include, prominently, Germans married to Jews.
The overwhelming majority of German Jews who survived the war without ever being sent to the death camps -- even though the Gestapo knew of their whereabouts -- were married to non-Jews. Tens of thousands of Germans married to Jews stuck with their partners through the entire Nazi inferno, risking their own lives and showing that Jews whom Germans refused to abandon could be rescued.
Germans married to Jews faced persecution and severe disadvantages almost as soon as the Nazi Party took power. By 1938, when the Gestapo began a campaign of threats against intermarried Germans to get them to divorce, there were some 200 state laws regulating Jews and ``Jewish households.''
Because certain types of persecution (such as random Gestapo house searches) were directed primarily against households, rather than individual Jews, German women married to Jews, as members of so-called Jewish households, suffered in some ways more than most Jewish women married to German men living in ``Aryan'' households.
Yet despite enormous social, economic and political pressures, the vast majority -- more than 90 percent -- of these intermarried Germans did not divorce. In late 1942 there were still nearly 30,000 of these German-Jewish ``mixed marriages.''
The test of wills between intermarried Germans and the regime over the fate of Jews married to Germans came to a dramatic climax on Feb. 27, 1943, as Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Party director for Berlin, unleashed the so-called Final Roundup of Berlin Jews. The Nazi leadership, apprehensive of social unrest that could result from the forcible separation of Jewish-German couples, had ``temporarily deferred'' Jews married to Germans from the Holocaust. During the Final Roundup, Jews married to Germans were finally arrested in a massive surprise action that was supposed to make Berlin ``free of Jews.'' Up to 2,000 intermarried Jews -- mostly men -- were taken to the headquarters of the Jewish Community in the heart of Berlin on a street called Rosenstrasse, preparatory to deportation to Auschwitz. As the German wives discovered where their Jewish partners had been incarcerated, they gathered together outside that building. Within hours they began to mount a public protest that grew in size and volume.
It is hard to imagine an act more dangerous for German civilians than an open confrontation with the Gestapo, on the Gestapo's very front doorstep. Despite threats to their lives from SS and Gestapo men who ringed the building, the women chanted in solidarity, ``We want our husbands back!'' Repeatedly the Gestapo's threats of gunfire drove the protesters from the street. But again and again they reappeared and continued their chant.
Following a week of the public protest, Goebbels and Hitler relented and ordered the release of all intermarried Jews and their children. It was the best way to dispel the open protest, visible to Germans and foreign representatives in the German capital, the leadership reasoned.
The protest on this tiny street was the single collective protest inside Germany against the Nazi effort to murder all European Jews -- and it was successful. The released Jews survived the war, although the Gestapo knew exactly where they were.
If a protest of hundreds of unarmed Germans could interrupt the steady stream of cattle cars headed for Auschwitz, wouldn't larger protests have slowed or even stopped the genocide?
Georg Zivier, a Jew married to a German and an eyewitness of the protest on Rosenstrasse, wrote in December 1945 that it was ``a small torch that might have flared into a fire of general resistance,'' if the public had taken note. But the general public was not looking for a chance to resist, and so was in no position to take note.
This small protest shows that Nazi tyranny could not enthuse or stifle all the Germans. But why have the Germans not accepted it within the official canon of efforts commemorated as Resistance? The main figures in German Resistance mythology all died in their struggle. This upholds the notion that no one could successfully resist Nazism. Yet it also presents resistance as a choice between martyrdom and passivity, a false dichotomy and a counterproductive one for today's youth. Black-and-white portraits of resistance like those in the official German canon don't challenge anyone to take actions in defense of democracy.
For Germans, this single successful protest remains a double-edged sword. Yes, there were exemplary Germans. But does this not mean that many, many more ordinary Germans could have done something to stem the Holocaust, but did not?
Nathan Stoltzfus teaches history at Florida State University. He is the author of Resistance of the Heart: The Rosenstrasse Protest and Intermarriage in Nazi Germany, published last fall by W.W. Norton.
Philadelphia Online-The Philadelphia Inquirer, Opinion-Copyright March 18, 1997
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Copyright ©1996-2002, H-Soz-u-Kult · Humanities · Sozial- und Kulturgeschichte
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