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March 7, 2023

Honoring Women’s History Month at the Commemoration of the 80th Anniversary of the Rosenstrasse Protests

Berlin, March 6, 2023
Ambassador Amy Gutmann

Eighty years ago, a large group of women gathered in front of a building in the Rosenstrasse. Their demand was as short as it was powerful: release our husbands and sons.

The demonstration was mounted by the wives and relatives of Jewish men who had been arrested and targeted for deportation. Their non-violence was immediately met by the force of the Nazi regime.

These women – wives and mothers all – had no fear in the face of this tyranny. First by the dozens, then the hundreds, then the thousands, they made a simple and forceful demand – “Give us back our men!” They refused to leave or back down.

For seven days, their simple demand echoed throughout Berlin and the treacherous halls of power of the Third Reich. In the end, the Gestapo could no longer ignore them. We gather here today to celebrate the women of the Rosenstrasse who, through their example of collective nonviolent action, won the release of 1,800 Jewish Berliners in 1943.

Eighty years later, the actions of the women of the Rosenstrasse still light the way for those seeking justice and peace throughout the world. During Women’s History Month and in advance of International Women’s Day, how fitting it is that we remember their courage, solidarity, and power. Not just in March but always.

Their story is a powerful reminder of what a difference it makes to stand up – even in the face of the most immoral, inhumane regimes – and defend basic human rights and human dignity. The legacy of the incredibly brave women of the Rosenstrasse echoes around the world and inspires us to action. THEY. LIVE. ON.
Today we see the echoes of Rosenstrasse in Iran. Incredibly brave young Iranians – mostly women – are standing up and speaking out for their most basic rights. Women-led protests across Iran have been met with extreme violence.

And yet, Iranian women and girls, and their allies, bravely persist. We support their struggle for fundamental freedoms and we join them in calling for an immediate end to state violence and the safe release of thousands of detained citizens. Their message is also simple and powerful, like the message of Rosenstrasse: Women. Life. Freedom.

These young Iranian heroines– just like the Rosenstrasse women—refuse to give up or to bow down when faced with violence and oppression. We honor them all today.

We also honor Ukrainians. There are not enough words to fully describe my admiration for the Ukrainian people’s courage in the face of Putin’s unprovoked and brutal war.

As in all conflicts, the women of Ukraine are asked to play many roles and carry unique burdens in their defense of democracy. Ukrainian women are on the front lines, leading the way on advanced weapons systems and intelligence gathering. Ukrainian women stand watch on the home front, caring for the young or elderly – sometimes in the shadow of Russian occupation – while other family members fight at the battle fronts. An estimated two to three million Ukrainian women have taken up temporary homes to protect themselves and their families. Here in Germany alone, over a million Ukrainians – a vast majority of them women – have found shelter and refuge.

These Ukrainian women also demonstrate the courage that Rosenstrasse stands for. We will stand with them for AS LONG AS IT TAKES. This means providing aid and material support to Ukraine, and also standing with them in pursuit of justice against Russian war crimes.

From the first days of Russia’s illegal re-invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces and mercenaries have engaged in atrocities without shame and war crimes without compunction.  They have committed execution-style killings of Ukrainian men, women, and children. They torture civilians in detention through beatings, electrocution, and mock executions. They use rape as a weapon of war.  Russian officials have deported hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians to Russia, including children who have been forcibly separated from their families.

These acts are not random or spontaneous. They are part of the Kremlin’s systematic attack against Ukraine’s civilian population, and the majority of the victims are women. The physical scale of Russian brutality is exceeded only by the moral costs of Russian aggression.

Our shared values and our shared interests demand that we hold those responsible for these crimes accountable. “No nation is safe in a world…, as Vice President Harris has said, “where crimes against humanity are committed with impunity.”

When we say, “Never Again,” we also commit ourselves to acting accordingly. The whole world is facing, once again, as President Biden said in Warsaw, a test for the ages. The questions we must answer today were raised in high relief by the women of Rosenstrasse. Will we respond or will we look the other way?  Will we be strong or will we be weak?

The women of the Rosenstrasse clearly did not look the other way. They responded. They certainly were not weak; they were strong. Their actions represent one of the most successful acts of nonviolent resistance in the Third Reich – a successful act of civil resistance against a dictatorship bent on human destruction, a dictatorship against which it took incredible courage to resist as these brave women did.

Upholding human rights globally is one of President Biden’s highest priorities. As Ambassador, I could not be prouder of the emphasis that this administration has placed on human rights and on addressing hatred in all its forms – at home and abroad. Germany is a partner in all of our efforts.

In June 2021, U.S. and Germany launched a Dialogue on Holocaust Issues. That dialogue provides an essential framework for learning from the past and holding others accountable. Ongoing support for Germany’s remembrance culture is also key to ensuring “Never Again”—and to our joint defense of democracy.

There is no responsibility I feel more deeply than keeping alive the memory of Holocaust victims. We honor them by taking action to combat antisemitism and other forms of hatred and oppression. We honor them by supporting all those who in the face of unspeakable oppression stand up with impressive courage for their freedoms.

When it comes to the defense of democracy, we must remember that we are not passive witnesses to history; we are the authors of our history.

To put it simply yet truly: with democracy, everything humane is possible. Without it, nothing truly humane is.

The future will be won by those countries that unleash the full potential of their populations, where women and girls can exercise equal rights, where religious and ethnic minorities can live their lives without harassment, and where citizens can criticize their leaders without fear of reprisal. We all need to stand up and fight together for that future – for a future of peace and justice in our own countries and in all countries around the world.

That is the lesson and the inspiration I draw from the women of the Rosenstrasse. It is a privilege to join you today in remembering them and keeping their legacy alive. THEY. LIVE. ON. WOMEN. LIFE. FREEDOM.