Margarethe von Trotta's moving film focuses on a little known act of resistance in Germany during World War II. In 1943 Berlin, a group of several hundred Aryan women staged a rebellion in front of the detention center on Rosenstrasse where their Jewish husbands were being held before deportation to concentration camps.
The story takes place in both the present and the past. Hannah Weinstein (Maria Schrader), a young woman living in New York with her grieving mother Ruth, decides that she needs to learn more about her mother's experience during the Holocaust. She travels to Berlin in search of Lena Fisher, the German woman who took in her mother after the disappearance of Ruth's parents.
The elderly Lena Fisher (Doris Schade), unaware of her relationship to the young American, is very much alive, lucid, and eager to tell her story. In a series of flashbacks, the film takes us back to a younger Lena (Katja Riemann), an aristocrat's daughter, blond and regally beautiful, the picture of Aryan perfection, except that she is fiercely in love with her husband, a German Jew.
The narrative framework can at times feel manipulative and clunky, but Katja Rieman gives a superb performance, fiercely controlled and terrifically affecting. Lena's struggle to find her husband and her relationship with her new charge, the young, watchful Ruth (Svea Lohde) is so engrossing that the awkward mechanics are easily forgiven.
Lena and Ruth go to the detention center every day, taking their place amidst a group that continually grows bigger and louder. The Rosenstrasse rebellion, begun out of sheer desperation, grew into an amazing act of courage and strength. There was nothing else for these women, no one to turn to, nowhere to go. They did not leave, not even when the Gestapo stormed the street, threatening to shoot with machine guns. The confusion of the guards is stunning, Nazis rendered almost helpless in the face of women--afraid and exhausted-who remain steadfast in loyalty to their Jewish husbands.