By Thabiso Ratalane
The weather was overcast today, and the clouds looked menacing. It was, however and thankfully, not a walking tour day. After a hearty lunch at Golden Rice, the FemGeniuses took to the Ubahn—destination Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand (the German Resistance Memorial Center). There, we learned more about the heroic efforts of those Germans that chose to sacrifice their lives in order to see an end to the horrible Nazi regime. The priority and the urgency of the importance of commemorative narratives in the city focus primarily on museums and remembering the Jewish lives lost. Along these lines, Sabine Offe claims that they “tell the story of those murdered, and tell it in the country of the perpetrators.” The German Resistance Memorial, on the other hand, serves to celebrate German figures that worked fervently to oppose the Nazi regime, because the horrors of that époque seem to sometimes outweigh the heroic efforts of those that resisted. Tucked away at the historical, seemingly less touristy area of Berlin on Stauffenbergstraße, the center gave me a sense of the collective shame that the Germans typically feel regarding matters of the Holocaust.
We walked into the center from the courtyard, which we later learned was the site of the assassination of the two important figures that made an attempt on Adolf Hitler’s life: Claus von Stauffenberg and Georg Elser. Sylvia, our guide, told us that the resistance was multi-faceted. There were multiple groups of people and organizations that resisted the Nazi regime. These groups might not have necessarily shared the same philosophies, but they all had a common goal. For example, the curation of the center was organized around these groups, which included students, labor unions, artists, scholars, and people of the various religious faiths.
Sylvia made a point to let us know that the place was not a museum, but rather a historical site. I found this distinction important because of the other many museums around the city that are curated for the remembrance of Holocaust victims. I am of the opinion that this was a deliberate move so as not to take away from museums that acknowledge the many atrocities committed against Jews, perhaps motivated, as Offe points out, “a notion of guilt handed down to the second and third generations of a nation, the large majority of which was involved in and supported a system responsible for the mass murder of European Jews.”
Regarding the role of women in the resistance, the first question asked before the tour began, Sylvia responded and confirmed that the roles that women played were limited, but pivotal. Women hid Jews from Nazis, gave food to the hungry, prepared stamps and couriered letters for distribution, risking their lives in the meantime. One important woman she pointed out was Liselotte Herrmann, who distributed leaflets against Nazism before Hitler came into power. She fled Humboldt University to the south of Germany to escape persecution and continue her work after Hitler came into power. She was caught, tried, and sentenced to death for investigating Germany’s militarism in an exposé article.
As Sylvia pointed out, in trying to garner as much support as conceivably possible, the National Socialist Party attempted to fool everyone into thinking they were socialist. However, many people didn’t realize that Hitler’s socialism relied heavily on discrimination and segregation. The party did get the support it needed, but soon received strong opposition as their motives became clearer. Along these lines, Sylvia explained the important role of churches during the Third Reich. She mentioned that the resistance remembrance was named “resistance of the Christian faith,” because of the churches’ involvement in Hitler’s government. The church had multiple roles to play; they both supported and opposed Nazism. Regarding support, the church was more willing to accept the Nazi regime, because it was anti-communist. This ensured the longevity of the church within the state. What they opposed, however, was the integration of the church into the state. The euthanasia program, a program to kill disabled people, homosexuals, and the so-called weak, also motivated some priests into protesting the government. Some priests did this openly, writing letters. Bernard Lichtenberg, for example, helped stop the program because of the power he had.
Students also played a paramount role in the resistance. As Michael Schmidtke points out, “Many students were also concerned about another reform plan of the Great coalition, that of the ‘emergency laws’” (79). Further, he writes, “President Paul von Hinderburg used them in 1930 and 1933 to create a government independent from parliament, after the democratic parties had lost the majority, and this had made it easier for Hitler to assume dictatorial power in 1933” (79). This led to the movement of the White Rose: students writing letters and pamphlets to people in how they can passively resist the regime. While we could not examine the entire 18-section exhibition of more than 6,000 photos and documents showing the diversity of German resistance, we got a holistic picture of the resistance from the groups that we toured.
Thabiso Ratalane is a rising senior from the city of Maseru in the Southern African enclave of Lesotho. She dabbles in French and International Political Economy major divisions at Colorado College. Thabiso is passionate about fashion, linguistics, politics, writing, and social justice for minority groups around the world. Thabiso idolizes Anna Wintour; she finds her strong will, tenacity, efficiency, and passion for what she does admirable, and regards Wintour as a champion for female empowerment. Thabiso’s passion for minority groups and how they navigate social spaces that alienate them made this course and Berlin a perfect fit to spend her first month of the Summer.