LETTER: Nonviolent Resistance v. Violent Resistance
I was happy to learn from Wim Laven’s response to my letter that there was a successful nonviolent protest that saved some Jews from extermination by the Nazis. According to Wikipedia, which has an extensive article on the Rosenstrasse Protest, historians disagree as to whether it was the protest by gentile wives of 1800 German Jews that saved them or it was a change of policy already decided upon by the Nazis. I’m content to give the credit to the women. There may even have been a knock-on benefit: a few months later some French Jews married to gentiles were freed.
The circumstances were rather special, not that there’s anything wrong with protestors taking advantage of circumstances. The Germans had just suffered their worst defeat of the war, losing their Sixth Army at Stalingrad. For the first time it appeared the moral of the German people might be collapsing. The Nazis didn’t want a massacre of German women in the streets of Berlin adding to the problem. The evening of the protest the British staged a large bombing raid on Berlin, causing the Gestapo and SS to run for cover and the protestors to disperse. To the surprise of the Nazis, the protestors were back the next morning. Most of the Jewish men worked in factories supporting the German war effort. Some of them worked as administrators, helping keep track of Jews headed for extermination.
There was probably another successful nonviolent protest of perhaps more significant. After the war, we learned that the German nuclear program never had a chance of developing the bomb. They were going about it wrong. Werner Heisenberg, the leading physicist in Germany after the Jews were run out or exterminated, headed the program. Heisenberg had won the Nobel Prize for being the independent developer of quantum mechanics in 1927. It is improbable that he didn’t know his people were on the wrong track. He and likely other German physicists were content to leave it at that. Heisenberg never claimed credit for sabotaging the German bomb development. He would have made himself a target for die-hard Nazis.
The Allied leaders have a lot to answer for concerning the European Jews. They turned away shiploads of refugees, refused to believe the Holocaust was happening, and refused to bomb Auschwitz even though our bombers were flying over it on other missions. Roosevelt and Churchill’s settled policy was that the way to rescue the Jews was to defeat Hitler. Stalin didn’t care; he was busy exterminating his own “undesirables” such as 4,000 Polish officers in the Katyn Forest.
The Israelis concluded that the Jews could not depend on anyone else to look out for them. In 1948, surrounded by what appeared to be unsurmountable odds, they prevailed and saved themselves. Who can say the Jews of Europe wouldn’t have done better to fight? They could hardly have done worse.