On a quiet block off the main streets of Berlin's Mitte district stands a memorial to a nearly-forgotten event that was actually one of the largest wartime demonstrations against the Nazi regime.
The memorial carved in pink stone, honors the thousands of Berlin women who gathered for weeks demanding the release of their Jewish husbands. Despite threats of being shot on the spot or arrested themselves, the protest continued and ended in the release of the men.
The memorial, in a small nearby park, was created by East German sculptor Ingeborg Hunzinger in the 1980s, and was erected in 1995. Its formal title is 'Block der Frauen,' or 'Block of Women.' The main inscription on the monument translates as "The strength of civil disobedience, the vigour of love overcomes the violence of dictatorship; Give us our men back; Women were standing here, defeating death; Jewish men were free."
The dramatic events began In February, 1943, just after Hitler's armies were defeated at Stalingrad. The Gestapo began arresting and deporting the last few thousand Jews in Berlin. Among them were nearly 2,000 Jewish men who were married to non-Jewish women; they were separated from the rest and locked up in a community center on Rosenstrasse.
The Nazi security chiefs called for shooting the women on the spot, but were overruled by Goebbels who pointed out that massacring thousands of women in the center of Berlin, only blocks from the center of Nazi government, would undermine German morale. Eventually, he ordered the men released, and said the issue of the mixed marriages would be dealt with 'later.'
The building in which the men were held is long gone; it was destroyed in an air raid in 1945. For a number of years, the main memorial at the site in postwar East Berlin was a 'Litfass column' with information.