When These Wives Stood Up, the Nazis Backed Down | Opinion

This is a story of intrepid bravery, of decency triumphing over evil and perhaps most importantly, a story that shows standing up and doing what's right makes real a difference. As the ancient Jewish proverb goes: "He (or in this case she) who saves but one life, saves the world."

The year was 1943, and it was a cold and difficult January when Germany's minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, went to meet with the German dictator Adolf Hitler. Together they made the decision to rid Germany of its last remaining Jews. Less than a month later, Germany suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad and the Gestapo pushed to round up Berlin's last Jews, including those in mixed marriages with German women.

Some 2,000 of these married Jews (mostly men) and their "mixed race" children were held in a central Berlin location, formally the welfare office for the Jewish community on Rosenstrasse 2-4, awaiting their deportation to concentration camps.

The Treblinka Death Camp
Landscapes from the former Nazi extermination camp Treblinka, where during the Holocaust approximately 800,000 European Jews were systematically murdered, seen on Jan. 7, 2023 in Treblinka, Poland. Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Then something remarkable happened, the German wives refused to accept their husbands incarceration and came out in protest. Hundreds of women gathered together outside Rosenstrasse 2-4 and refused to leave until their husbands were released.

Goebbels placed a complete media blackout on the protest and initially thought to have them arrested or shot, however, he was aware that arresting or harming such a large group of German women would be noticed.

The pressure on the regime grew so intense and worrying for Goebbels, he too was afraid of further bringing down the German morale after these recent serious losses. So, he simply decided to let the Jews go. His rationale was that it would have been better to quell the protest ensure that it didn't spread to other places around the Reich.

Most of these Jews survived the war, and the last is still alive in an old-age home in Berlin, though they were all arrested again within a few days of their release, and sent to concentration camps near Berlin and elsewhere in the Reich.

There is an obscure and remarkable part to this story that is seldom told: the possible role of Goebbels' wife in the release of this group of Jews.

Johanna Maria Magdalena "Magda" Goebbels, the wife of Joseph, is referred to by some historians as "the First Lady of Nazi Germany." Frau Goebbels would often accompany Hitler to official events. She bore 6 children and was seen as the model German woman. However, behind her Aryan exterior lies a surprising history.

According to a variety of sources, as a young lady Magda is said to have had an intimate relationship with a young Jewish man by the name of Haim Arlosoroff. Haim was an ardent Zionist, who would later become the "foreign minister" of the Jewish Agency. During their intense relationship, Magda is said to have worn a necklace with a Star of David, learnt Hebrew and attended with him many Jewish youth clubs and Zionist meetings. They eventually broke off their relationship when he moved to Palestine.

Some historians claim that a few of the German wives of the imprisoned Jewish men, remembered Magda from her time as a Zionist and pleaded with her to help apply pressure on her husband.

Whether Magda helped, we will never know, but what we can be certain of is that these brave women stood in defiance of the regime and this brave stance led to the release of their husbands.

The remarkable act of bravery of these fearless women will be commemorated in a small ceremony in Berlin today, a month before world leaders plan to gather in Warsaw, Poland, to remember the brave men, women and children who fought so valiantly in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The Uprising took place after a series of Nazi transportations of thousands of Jews to death camps such as Treblinka and Majdanek, when it became clear the rest of the ghetto was to be liquidated. The remaining Jews took up arms and managed to keep the German occupiers at bay for a month.

These incidents stand as a important lesson for us all today. Refusing to act as evil occurs makes one complicit with those committing the acts of evil. The moral is clear to all who would hear it—it's everyone's duty to stand and fight against evil and wrongdoing.

Jonathan (Jonny) Daniels is the founder and chairman of From the Depths, a nonprofit run entirely by millennials dedicated to Holocaust memory and memorial, with a focus on supporting the last living Righteous Among The Nations.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.