English Title: Rosenstrasse
Country of Origin: Germany, Netherlands
Studio: Studio Hamburg Letterbox Filmproduktion, Tele München Fernseh Produktionsgesellschaft (TMG)
Director: Margarethe von Trotta
Cinematographer: Franz Rath
Editor: Corina Dietz
Runtime: 136 minutes
Genre: Drama, War
Language: German, English
After the death of her husband, Robert, Ruth Weinstein (Lampe) insists on performing the Jewish mourning ritual of Shiva for seven days, which includes covering mirrors, sitting on the floor and keeping a candle burning. The sudden discovery of her Jewishness comes as a complete surprise to her children, Hannah (Schrader) and Ben (Conen), as does Ruth’s rejection of Hannah’s fiancé, Luis (van Huêt), because he is a Gentile. When Hannah tries to uncover the reasons for her mother’s unusual behaviour, she learns from Rachel (Regnier), Ruth’s cousin, that Ruth had been taken in by a German woman called Lena Fischer (Riemann) when her mother was deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943. Hannah travels to Berlin and meets with 90-year-old Lena Fischer (Schade), pretending to conduct historical research but in reality researching her mother’s fate. She discovers that both Miriam Suessmann (Stolze), Ruth’s mother, and Fabian Israel Fischer (Feifel), Lena’s husband, were arrested and taken to a collection centre at Rosenstrasse during the ‘Final Roundup of Jews.’ In an unprecedented act of resistance a large number of Aryan wives stood watch in front of the building, demanding that their Jewish husbands be returned to them. After a seven-day standoff between the courageous women and German soldiers, and the intervention by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, whom Lena and her brother Arthur von Eschenbach (Vogel), a highly decorated officer, asked for help, the prisoners are released. Ruth, however, waits in vain for her mother and is accepted into the Fischer family. When Ruth’s relatives in the United States send for her after the war, the girl feels that she has lost her mother for the second time. After Hannah’s return to New York her discoveries enable her mother to make peace with the past and the film ends with the joyous Jewish wedding of Hannah and Luis.
Like many of Margarethe von Trotta’s films, Rosenstrasse features strong women whose personal stories are intricately intertwined with historical events. Even though the script is based on interviews with participants in the Rosenstrasse protest, von Trotta uses fictional characters to broaden the scope of the film’s theme. It not only depicts two examples of courageous resistance against the Nazi regime – one public, when the women stage a protest against the rounding-up of their Jewish husbands; one private, when Lena Fischer takes in the motherless Jewish girl – it also explores the theme of personal coming to terms with the past. The use of the framing device set in present-day New York signals that the film is not merely a reconstruction of a historic event, but also an investigation of how the past affects the present. Since Ruth initially refuses to confront the past, even though memory flashes indicate that she is not entirely able to suppress it, it falls to her daughter Hannah to unearth the truth. She proceeds like a detective, unravelling a mystery and takes the viewer along on her journey of discovery. To guide the viewer through the challenging, non-linear structure of the film von Trotta and her cameraman, Franz Rath, employ a ‘bleach-out procedure’, which gives those scenes set during the 1940s a bleached-out, bluish tint, differentiating them from the scenes set in pre-Nazi Berlin, which depict Lena and Fabian Fischer’s successes as classical musicians and their courtship, as well as those set in present-day New York and Berlin. It is telling that most scenes in which ninety-year-old Lena Fischer recounts the events surrounding the Rosenstrasse protest are set in her dark apartment, an indication that the old woman is still haunted by the ghosts of the past. Through Lena’s narration Hannah comes to understand her mother’s suffering, which she has never revealed to her children. Because Ruth’s father divorced his Jewish wife, caving under the pressure exerted by the Nazis on those living in mixed marriages, the protection afforded to wife and daughter no longer applies. They are forced to wear the yellow star and Miriam is taken to the collection centre in Rosenstrasse, where Ruth is able to visit her one last time before she is deported to Auschwitz facing certain death. In contrast to Ruth’s father, Lena refuses to divorce her Jewish husband even though she has to endure rejection by her father, a staunch Nazi officer, the loss of her career as a classical pianist and the confiscation of her belongings. She shows great courage when she takes in the motherless Jewish girl and when she attempts to join her husband in the collection centre, wearing the yellow star. Being able to appreciate both her mother’s childhood trauma and Lena’s courage and selflessness, Hannah can bridge the past and present when she returns to New York. Not only does she enable her mother to make peace with the past but she also accepts and appreciates her racial background when she gets married in a Jewish wedding ceremony.
Author of this review: Karl L Stenger