UROP in History: The Rosenstrasse Protests, 1943

Thu, 04/25/24
Maddox and Leilani

The mission of the Rosenstrasse Foundation is to commemorate, encourage, and educate civil courage-- concrete actions in opposition to injustice and human rights violations.  The Foundation seeks to defend the values of a pluralistic society. The Foundation takes its name from the Rosenstrasse protest in central Berlin in early 1943, in which non-Jewish women married to Jewish men defied Hitler’s regime to protest the imprisonment of their husbands, leading to the men’s release. The Foundation is dedicated to the development of knowledge about this and other acts of women-led defiance, as well as acts of civil courage more generally.

The RF was established as a non-profit organization by Dr. Nathan Stoltzfus, professor of History at FSU, and others in 2018. Liam Wirsansky has been its director of research and development since 2021. In that capacity, he supervises the UROP students as well as regular student interns, and coordinates with the Rosenstrasse RSO. Wirsansky has a master’s degree in library science and himself participated in UROP when he was an undergrad at FSU.

Over the last few years, the RF has hosted a number of UROP students. There are several groups within the RF UROP project: maintaining the website, social media, and fundraising; writing biographies; maintaining Wikipedia pages; and doing genealogy research. Students who apply to the project can choose which group they would like to work in. This year there are two: Maddox, a freshman, who is majoring in English (Editing, Writing and Media) and wants to add a Philosophy major in the next semester. He is a presidential scholar. In his spare time, he plays sports and volunteers at the food bank. Leilani is a sophomore, double majoring in History and Political Science. She is passionate about American history and politics, but also likes doing a comparative analysis and learning about the politics and histories of other countries. Leilani is involved in the undergraduate law review and plans to go to law school.

How did you hear about UROP?

Maddox: Participating in UROP is a requirement for presidential scholars. While I had no choice, I am really glad for the opportunity to do research so early in my college career.

Leilani: One of my close friends from my freshmen year did UROP. Hers was based in a lab, and I came to see her at the research symposium. When I discovered that there were opportunities for historical research, I knew I wanted to apply.

I applied to only this project, as it was interesting to me personally as well as academically. I grew up Jewish, so I had a personal connection. My interview with the program director, Liam, only confirmed that. I instantly responded when I got his acceptance email.

What's the project about?

Maddox: It is about the Rosenstrasse protest, a public protest that took place during World War II in Berlin, Germany. Roughly 2,000 Jewish men who had interfaith marriages were taken away from their homes and forcibly detained in a Jewish Community Center in the Rosenstrasse. Under the Nuremberg race laws, these marriages were illegal but until February 1943 the Nazi government had chosen not to persecute these Jewish men.

When their spouses were rounded up, the wives protested on the street outside the center demanding the release of their husbands in the face of armed Nazi soldiers. These protests continued until the men were freed. It is this act of civil courage that the project is about.

I was drawn to this project because it is a truly unique event – there weren’t many women-led protests anywhere in the world in the 1940s, especially not in Nazi Germany. But it is also part of my history.

Leilani: I'm doing research on how the protest has been memorialized throughout the years. There is a statue in Berlin commemorating the protest. But I am looking at the movie that was released in 2003. We discovered that there were actually two scripts for the movie, the original and the one that was actually filmed. I am comparing the two versions to see for my UROP project. I am trying to answer why were there such stark differences between the two scripts.

The biggest difference is how the two scripts framed the events of 1943. In the original version, the main character is involved in archival research about the project while in the one that was actually filmed, the plot is told through the eyes of a modern woman whose mother had been a participant in the protests. The first version leans more into the genre of a documentary while the second has more elements of a Hollywood film. That makes the movie that was actually produced more entertaining and creates ties between the audience and the content.

Maddox: My project is about documenting the lives of the women who participated in the protest. I am working on expanding the database of biographies of the Rosenstrasse women. That involves genealogical research through various websites, the U.S. Holocaust Museum, government sites etc. I use documents like marriage records, birth certificates to commemorate the women and tell their stories. We had a list of ca. 200 women involved, and I chose to work on a handful. One I selected because she had my mother’s maiden name. I found significant information on four women.

What sort of training were you given to be able to do your work? 

Maddox: We have weekly meetings of just us UROP students or all the people involved in the project. Often, we had experts who came and gave presentations on topics we had read about. We all read Dr. Stoltzfus’ book on the protests.

Leilani: The first step was getting an introduction from Dr. Stoltzfus on what the protest was all about. Then we learned about the Rosenstrasse Foundation itself. After that we were taught how to do genealogical research, and in one of our meetings the Rosenstrasse movie was mentioned. While we were all working on the Rosenstrasse protests, we were given freedom to work on an aspect that interested us. I had taken some film classes before, which helped me with my project.

What was the most challenging part of the UROP project? 

Maddox: I will say time management. It was a big step, coming right out of high school, working on a project as big as this, and having to learn how much time I should spend on it per week. That was my biggest challenge, and it took me a little bit of time before I got it right. The other things that I learned were communication skills and practicing my work ethic.

Leilani: The most challenging thing for me was picking what specifically I wanted to focus on, because there were so many routes I could have gone down. I could have done genealogical research like Maddox did. I could have gone into analyzing and editing the Wikipedia page or the website. It was really hard to figure out what I wanted to do, but now I am very happy with what I chose. I am very interested in examining historical interpretations in general, so looking at movie scripts was very much my thing.

What was your favorite part about doing UROP?

Maddox: The best thing was getting to know all the people who were involved in the project, meeting them online every week, and having these great discussions. We were all always involved, we were drawn in, even if we had a speaker or saw a video, we would always discuss what we had heard and seen. We bounced ideas back and forth; I’d say this was 100% my favorite part.

Leilani: What I loved most about this was learning about the Rosenstrasse protest. I have always loved learning about history, the more I learn about history, the more I understand the world around me. I had not heard about the protest before, and I loved learning about it and understanding the politics of the time. I would love to continue working with the Rosenstrasse Foundation. I do want to explore other types of research too, and that’s what undergrad is for to figure out what appeals to me in the fields of history and politics.

How difficult was it to fit your whole research onto a poster board for the symposium? 

Maddox: Not easy. Because you have spent so much time working on the project, and then you need to tell it all in an abstract of 250 words. That’s really hard, because there is so much to tell, and you have to keep asking yourself – what can I get rid of? That’s the worst thing.

Leilani:  I would agree with Maddox that it is difficult, especially considering how much context we need to provide for people to understand the event. My project was a bit easier to adapt to a poster as I had a clear hypothesis and findings. I am a very creative person, so I liked putting together the poster, selecting pictures and laying them out.

What advice would you give to students who are thinking about UROP? 

Maddox: Pick a project that genuinely interests you. Don’t just pick something because it is related to your major. This project has nothing to do with my majors, but it caught my attention, and I genuinely wanted to know more about it. That made it a very enjoyable experience.

Leilani: I would encourage all freshmen to apply. I believe that I would have really liked to have done this in my freshman year, because it gives you a really good introduction to all of the opportunities that there are available at FSU. Especially, during the UROP colloquia, they introduce you to all the opportunities on campus. There are so many projects out there, for literally anything you can think of. UROP is a very structured experience, and I like that; I do well in a structured environment.

If anyone is interested in the Rosenstrasse project, we have an RSO with the same name that is open to all students. Come to a meeting and see!