THE WOMEN WHO SAVED THEIR HUSBANDS FROM HITLER; in 1943 the Last Jewish Men Left in Berlin Were Brutally Rounded Up to Sent to Their Deaths in the Gas Chambers. but the Nazi Establishment Was Unprepared for the Fury of the Men's German Wives, Who Organised a Public Protest That Took on the Might of the Gestapo. A New Book Tells Their Remarkable Story for the First Time

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There was no way of knowing that this Saturday, February 27, 1943, was going to be any different. Julius Israel left home on his crutches at 7am to report to the police so that he could renew the pass that allowed him to use public transport.

He told his wife Charlotte that he would be back home mid-morning. Rudi Holzer was due back from his labouring job at the Friedrichstrasse railway station at 2pm, but Elsa wasn't expecting him home till three, because he had promised to stop off and buy some sugar on the black market.

None of them was aware that, before dawn on that Saturday, hundreds of police, Gestapo agents and SS troops had begun fanning out through the streets of Berlin for what would become known as the Final Round-up of the Jews. Their mission, authorised by Joseph Goebbels, the Gauleiter of Berlin, was to make Hitler's capital city `free of Jews'. Before the end of the day, they would arrest all but a handful of the Jews left in Berlin - the privileged 10,000 whose jobs in war-supplies factories, or whose marriage to a German wife or husband, had so far saved them from the Nazi extermination camps.

Every covered truck in Berlin had been requisitioned for the raid. The armed SS, in their black uniforms and steel helmets, marched into factories and seized Jews physically from their work-benches without giving them time to pick up their coats. The SS drove the Jews out with horsewhips or the butts of their rifles, and bundled them into furniture lorries waiting outside. Pregnant women, and older men too frail to clamber into the lorries, were thrown in like sacks of potatoes. Factory bosses and foremen protested that they had authorisation to employ individual Jewish workers.

Their protests were ignored.

Meanwhile, the Gestapo and the regular police raided houses, thundering up the stairs and arresting every Jew on their lists. Children were picked up as they walked to school or played in the street. Women were arrested as they turned up to renew their daily food ration cards. Along with the factory workers, they were taken to holding centres - barracks, synagogues, garages - where, dazed, bruised and terrified, crying for their loved ones, they waited for the sorting process to begin. Husbands were forced apart from wives, parents from children. The several thousand Jews who were married to non-Jews were separated out, together with their Mischling (mixed race) children and removed to the Jewish Community administration building on Rosenstrasse in the heart of old Berlin.

When Julius Israel arrived at the police station for his pass, he and other Jews identifiable by the yellow Star of David sewn on their clothes were escorted onto a local bus bound for Rosenstrasse. Balancing himself on his crutches (Jews were forbidden to sit down on public transport) Julius managed to scrawl a message on the back of a matchbox. This he put into the hands of a stranger, asking him to give it to his wife's mother, adding quickly: `She is Aryan.'

The nazis despised intermarriage between Germans and Jews. In 1935 Hitler promulgated the Nuremberg Laws which prohibited all further intermarriages.

Sexual intercourse between Jews and non-Jews outside marriage was a punishable crime, since the Nazis believed that Jewish blood infected German racial purity. Yet in early 1943 there were still some 27,000 intermarried Jews in the German Reich, most of them, like Julius Israel and Rudi Holzer, male Jews married to German women.

Charlotte Press, tall, blonde and athletic, was the embodiment of the Nazi racial ideal, except in one respect - she had a mind of her own. Jewishness meant nothing to her. Brought up by a liberal, well-travelled father, Charlotte had been taught never to speak evil of a nation, religion or race.

`Judge only the person,' her father told her before he died. So when she met Julius she didn't think of him particularly as a Jew, despite the name Israel above his tailor's shop. …