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The name of this film comes from a Berlin street on which stood a prison where Jews were held in 1943. Many of these prisoners were married to Gentiles or were the children of such “mixed marriages”. The film’s central characters are Lena, an aristocratic German married to a Jewish musician, and Ruth, the young Jewish girl whom she adopted. The film shifts between the days following the imprisonment of Jews in Rosenstrasse, and the present day when Ruth’s daughter searches for the history that her mother has kept from her family.

While the individual characters are presumably fictional, we are told at the start of the film that the prison and the nature of the prisoners are historical facts. The film focuses on just one of the many horrible policies of the Nazi regime: a policy which condemned mixed marriages, encouraged the Gentile partners to seek divorce, and sought to punish those who stayed loyal to their spouses. The film concentrates on Lena’s and Ruth’s stories while also highlighting some of the other families affected. One of the film’s powerful dramatic devices is the gradual accumulation, over a few days, of women who crowd outside the prison to demand their husbands’ release.

Rosenstrasse makes emotional appeals to family loyalty, contrasting the behaviour of the women gathered outside the prison with those men and women who abandoned their Jewish families. The story of Ruth’s later life is also, ultimately, an argument in favour of a generous acceptance of family ties. I sometimes feel uncomfortable when apparently historical or political stories (whether fictional or documentary) turn out to be more focused on personal relationships. My mistake here is to think that grand historical narratives are more important than individuals and their relationships. Many of the films I have seen about the Holocaust are about families and relationships, precisely because these are examples of how a political ideology had such a devastating impact on people’s personal lives.

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About Claudine Chionh

  • Sounds like an interesting movie, I hope its availabe on Netflix.

  • Nice job Claudine. It’s hard to believe that the Nazis hadn’t cleared all of the Jews out of Berlin by 1943. It’s almost more sinister to look back and seen the “solution” steamroll to its hideous conclusion.

  • Thanks, Eric. That was a point someone in the film made — nowadays we think that all the Jews would have been “evacuated” from Berlin by then. Apparently Jews married to non-Jews were forced to work in armaments factories and had their valuables confiscated, but weren’t imprisoned or deported until later in the war.

  • freida meissner

    we were there….