Note: This film is showing in limited theaters. For a list, go to the official site and click "Dates."

When in February of 1943 a group of Aryan women in Berlin decided to take on the Nazis, their courage manifested itself in a spontaneous and unorganized instinct rather than a deliberate protest. Theirs was a bravery born out of marital fidelity, anguish of separation, and a consequent fury.

Staring down SS soldiers was for these women—a group historians say was anywhere between 150 and 1,000—the most natural thing to do. Those who gathered on Rosenstrasse, in front of the building where their husbands were awaiting deportation to concentration camps, were not feminists or any other kind of activists. They stood there because they demanded to be seen as human, and because they demanded that their husbands be treated as human, too. The greatest acts of courage are sometimes as simple as that.

Fabian and Lena in happier times, before the Final Roundup

Fabian and Lena in happier times, before the Final Roundup

Rosenstrasse, a feature film based on this true story and by the German director Margarethe von Trotta, opens in the New York apartment of recently widowed Ruth Weinstein (Jutta Lampe). She is mourning her husband the orthodox Jewish way: she drapes fabrics over mirrors and the television set, forbids her daughter to answer the phone when it rings, and turns framed photographs face down. She indicates to her twentysomething daughter Hannah (Maria Schrader) that her Gentile boyfriend isn't welcome in her home. The gathering family and friends are surprised by Ruth's sudden rediscovery of Jewishness, and Hannah wonders if her mother's gone off the deep end.

The widow begins to think back to the childhood memories she's been repressing. We see her as an 8-year-old girl (played endearingly by Svea Lohde), when she stood with the women gathered in front of the former Jewish welfare office, waiting for her Jewish mother to come out of the building. This begins a series of flashbacks that transport us to Rosenstrasse—a street in central Berlin—in February of 1943.

Maria Schrader as Hannah, in search of the true story behind her mother's past

Maria Schrader as Hannah, in search of the true story behind her mother's past

In the meantime, we discover that Hannah has never heard much about her mother's childhood. She has had enough of her mother's silence and her weird behavior. All this makes her curious, and—somewhat implausibly—she decides to go to Berlin in order to unearth the mystery of Ruth's childhood.

She finds there 90-year-old Lena (Doris Schade), once a stunning blue-eyed blonde baroness (played by Katja Riemann) whose husband was imprisoned at Rosenstrasse, and who took care of Ruth during the weeklong protest. Lena's flashbacks blend with Ruth's to compose an exploration of the two of them growing close, only to later grow apart. Riemann shines in the role in which her character goes from scrawny to dazzling, from desperate to determined, from straightforward to subversive. She has already received a European Film Award nomination in the Best Actress category and the Best Actress Award at the 2003 Venice Film Festival.

Article continues below
Lena Fischer (Katja Riemann) confronts the Gestapo

Lena Fischer (Katja Riemann) confronts the Gestapo

Through Lena's and Ruth's intertwined memories, we also learn about the Nazi-era laws concerning mixed couples, of whom there were hundreds if not thousands. In short, Jews married to Aryans were safe from deportation to concentration camps. The abrupt capture and subsequent imprisonment of 1,500 to 2,000 Jews at Rosenstrasse marked the first attempt to change this policy.

Von Trotta, who's done movies about strong women before (Rosa Luxemburg), has in some interviews shown signs of espousing an inward-looking feminism that's preoccupied with licking its wounds. Of Rosenstrasse, she said: "Given the history of national socialism, and the fact that the protestors were women comes back to a personal aspect: my films are usually about women. That's my prison!" Her tendency then is to talk about Rosenstrasse as a feminist picture.

Martin Feifel and Katja Riemann play Lena and Fabian Fischer

Martin Feifel and Katja Riemann play Lena and Fabian Fischer

I see it as a celebration of innate, inalienable human rights of every person, male or female. These rights are self-evident to those who—like one soft-hearted SS soldier guarding the prison on Rosenstrasse—look into the faces of people demanding what belongs to them. Why was it only women who demanded their spouses back from a detention center that housed both Jewish men and women? Were the Aryan men cowards, unwilling to stand up for their Jewish wives? Historians can answer this question best. The movie doesn't address this question directly but, perhaps reflecting the director's bias, Lena talks about some men divorcing their Jewish wives.

I don't buy the implication that Aryan men married to Jews were somehow less courageous than Aryan women married to Jews. What we do know is that German men were fighting the war; at the time of the protest many of them had just tasted defeat on Russian territory.

Feel-good movies about the Holocaust have received mixed reviews. Life is Beautiful, Roberto Benigni's 1998 dramedy, was too grotesque for my liking. But—in spite of some manipulation and improbability—Rosenstrasse made me feel good for a good, historical reason, and it didn't minimize anyone's suffering in the process.

Article continues below

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. What does Rosenstrasse reveal about the Germans involved in the war?

  2. What do you think led some Nazis to cruelty toward the Jews? What led some of them to show mercy?

  3. How are the killers of the innocent today different from the SS soldiers in the movie?

  4. What's motivating the women to protest? Do you think this is a "feminist movie"? Why or why not?

  5. Did you feel manipulated at any time when watching the movie? Why or why not?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

The film includes some scary scenes in which the SS soldiers point their guns at people, and some in which the guards hit the prisoners. Apart from that, given the parental supervision, it can be a family-friendly movie.

Our Rating
3 Stars - Good
Average Rating
(1 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (for mature thematic material, some violence and brief drug content)
Directed By
Margarethe von Trotta
Run Time
2 hours 16 minutes
Katja Riemann, Maria Schrader, Svea Lohde
Theatre Release
September 18, 2003 by Samuel Goldwyn Films
Browse All Movie Reviews By: