This film is based upon the true story of the German women who, during Word War II, protested the internment of their Jewish husbands in a building located on Rosenstrasse, a street in Berlin. These were women who defied the Nazi status quo by remaining married to the husbands whom they loved so dearly, although it came with a price.
The film tells the story through the juxtaposition of the present and the past. The story is told in flashback. In the present, the viewer is introduced to Ruth Weinstein (Jutta Lampe), a secular Jewish woman, living in present day New York, She has just lost her husband, and appears to have lost her senses, as well. She insists that her family sit Shiva, speaking only German while observing Orthodox traditions. She refuses to acknowledge her first cousin, who has come to pay her respects. Ruth also refuses to acknowledge Luis Marquez (Fedja van Huet), her only daughter's Nicaraguan, non-Jewish fiance. Luis had been a protoge of the deceased, who had had no issue with the idea of Luis marrying his daughter. Ruth now forbids her daughter to marry Luis or she will disown her. Hannah (Maria Schrader), the daughter, is at a loss to account for her mother's seemingly irrational behavior and is totally appalled by it.
When Hannah speaks to her mother's first cousin, whom she had never before met, she discovers that her mother had lived with her first cousin and her family when she first came to the United States from Germany. Hannah comes away thinking that the answer to her mother's apparent derangement lies in Berlin, with an Aryan woman Hannah does not even know is still alive. This woman had, apparently, saved Ruth's life during the Nazi's reign of terror. This was news to Hannah, as she knew virtually nothing of her mother's past, as Ruth had never spoken to her about it. When her mother insists on remaining uncommunicative on the issue, Hannah decides that for all their sakes, she needs to get some answers. So, she goes off to Germany to seek in the past the answers that she cannot get in the present.
Fortunately for her, she discovers that the woman for which she is looking is, indeed, alive, although quite elderly. She contacts the woman, ninety year old Lena Fischer (Doris Schade), telling her that she is doing research on the issue of Aryans and their Jewish spouses during World War II. Ms. Fischer agrees to see her, and during their session the story of her mother unfolds in flashback, In Berlin of 1943, many Jews married to Aryans were swept up by the Nazis and taken to a building on Rosenstrasse to await a determination of their fate. Virtual prisoners, their spouses and children were unable to communicate with them. Ruth's mother, Miriam Sussman (Lena Stolze), was one of these Jews. Her daughter, eight year old Ruth Sussman (Svea Lohde), had escaped her mother's fate, as she had obeyed her mother's instructions when the Nazis paid the Sussman home a visit. Unfortunately for Ruth's mother, the Nazis discovered that her Aryan husband had divorced her two years prior, thereby sealing her fate, and she, unknown to Ruth, is transported East. One can well imagine what happened to her.
At the same time, Fabian Israel Fischer (Martin Feifel) is also swept up from the factory where he works and taken to the building on Rosenstrasse. Fortunately for him, his wife, thirty-three year old Lena Fischer (Katja Riemann), is an Aryan devoted to her husband. Both are musicians. She is a concert pianist, and he is a violinist. They met before the war, bonding through their music. Although he is Jewish, and she is a member of a noble Aryan family, the von Eschenbachs, they married. Her father, however, disowned her for marrying Fischer. Her mother was sympathetic but under her father's thumb. Her brother, Arthur (Jurgen Vogel), however, remained loyal to his sister and friendly with his brother-in-law. With the rise of the Nazis, life for the Fischers changed. They were forced to live in reduced circumstances, giving up the music that they loved. Instead, Fabian was made to work in a factory from which he was taken peremptorily to the building on Rosenstrasse.
Lena sought the help of her brother, Arthur, now a soldier in the German army. He is sympathetic and tries to get Fabian released to no avail. Lena herself tried, but was looked down upon as little more than a whore for having married a Jew whom she now refuses to divorce. Instead, she stood vigil for her husband, Fabian, with the other Aryan women on Rosenstrasse, and it was there that she met Ruth Sussman. Ruth attached herself to Lena, and Lena assumed responsibility for the child. Without Lena, Ruth would never have survived. Lena takes care of Ruth for three years, forming a mother-daughter bond. After the war, Ruth's aunt, her mother's sister, claimed Ruth, and Lena was forced to send Ruth to join her aunt in America. Ruth never knew what happened to her mother, Miriam, and never understood why Lena, her surrogate mother, gave her up to go and live with total strangers. It is Ruth's ignorance of the situation that lies at the heart of her dysfunction.
What happens to them all during the war and the impact that the Nazis were to have on all their lives makes for a well told tale. The film offers a very balanced view of ordinary Germans in war time, telling a story not generally known. Under the deft direction of Margarethe von Trotta, the performances in this film are phenomenal, and the film has won many awards. Katja Riemann won the Best Actress Award at the 2003 Venice Film Festival. It won the David Di Donatello Award in 2004 for Best European Film. At the Bavarian Film Awards in 2004, it won for Best Cinematography. This is a powerful and compelling film that is totally riveting. Bravo!