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Remembering Rosenstrasse

History, Memory and Identity in Contemporary Germany


Hilary Potter

In February 1943 intermarried Germans gathered in Berlin’s Rosenstrasse to protest the feared deportation of their Jewish spouses. This book examines the competing representations of the Rosenstrasse protest in contemporary Germany, demonstrating how cultural memories of this event are intertwined with each other and with concepts of identity. It analyses these shifting patterns of memory and what they reveal about the dynamics of the past–present relationship from the earliest post-unification period up to the present day. Interdisciplinary in its approach, the book provides insights into the historical debate surrounding the protest, accounts in popular history and biography, an analysis of von Trotta’s 2003 film Rosenstraße, and an exploration of the multiple memorials to this historical event.

The study reveals that the protest’s remembrance is fraught with competing desires: to have a less encumbered engagement with this past and to retain a critical memory of the events that allows for a recognition of both heroism and accountability. It concludes that we are on the cusp of witnessing a new shift in remembering that reflects contemporary socio-political tensions with the resurgence of the far right, noting how this is already becoming visible in existing representations of the Rosenstrasse protest.

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Chapter 6: Memorialisation in Rosenstraße: A Microcosm of Patterns of Remembering


Chapter 6

Memorialisation in Rosenstraße: A Microcosm of Patterns of Remembering

Throughout this book so far, we have explored multiple representations of the protest, yet, we have not explored Rosenstraße itself. This we rectify here, turning our attention to the street as a lieu de mémoire [site of memory], to use Pierre Nora’s term.307 The street’s past is recalled through a variety of memorials; the term is defined very broadly here to include sculptures, memorial plaques, and open-air exhibitions. By examining the street, we discover that these memorials are markers of the complex but also changing nature of remembering the Rosenstraße protest. Over the course of the last three decades Rosenstraße has been transformed from a little used side street in East Berlin, a stone’s throw from Alexanderplatz, to an increasingly significant authentic site of memory in the capital of unified Germany. Even though the original Jewish Community Building, which served as the detention centre during the Factory Action, no longer exists Rosenstraße has become a symbolic location.

In fact, the street has a long history, dating back to the Middle Ages; the city wall ran right through it. Until the seventeenth century, it was known by a different name, as Hurengasse, which could be translated variously as whore’s alley or harlot lane; indeed, the name Rosenstraße was used both to disguise the street’s reputation, whilst simultaneously obliquely referring to it; the rose symbolising purity so as...

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