One woman's quest to uncover her hometown's involvement in the Nazi regime
As a teenager in Passau, Germany, Anna Elisabeth Rosmus promised herself: "Never again will you be silent if something has to be said. You will open your mouth and protest whenever and wherever you find injustice." She kept this vow in mind as she embarked on a life-changing journey to discover the truth about her hometown's buried past—and she has kept it to this day. Born in 1960 to a middle-class Catholic family in the small city of Passau, Rosmus came to see that her formal education provided little information about the history of Nazi activity in Passau, or in Germany as a whole.
As she slowly uncovered the "forgotten" history of Passau—for a national essay competition titled "The Prewar Years in My Hometown"—Rosmus came face to face with startling evidence that common "middle-class" Catholic Passauers had committed many violent anti-Semitic crimes. After overcoming a stubborn bureaucracy that blocked her every attempt to access archives, files, and photographs to document prewar Passau, Rosmus's essay turned into her first book. At the age of twenty-four, she won Germany's prestigious Geschwister-Scholl Award for Resistance and Persecution in Passau from 1933 to 1939, which outlines the town's history during the Nazi era. Though celebrated on many fronts for her civil courage, Rosmus faced a storm of opposition in Passau and was subsequently shunned.
Against the Stream tells the story of a committed young woman who overcame fierce resistance to discover and make public the suppressed deeds of her fellow citizens. First published as part of Germany's acclaimed "What I Think" series, this memoir chronicles the intense backlash Rosmus faced in the form of censorship, lawsuits, and death threats. Rosmus's story, which inspired the 1990 Academy Award-nominated film The Nasty Girl, also follows her attempts to bring home Passau's expelled Jews and few Holocaust survivors, and to commemorate the forgotten Jews of Passau. Her story recounts her dedication to uncovering anti-Semitism and to fighting neo-Nazis and Germany's extreme right.
Anna Elisabeth Rosmus is the recipient of numerous awards for her struggle against bigotry and anti-Semitism, including the Conscience in Media Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Sarnat Prize from the Anti-Defamation League, and the Holocaust Survivors and Friends' Holocaust Memorial Award. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area.
Imogen Von Tannenberg is director of translations at the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation established by Steven Spielberg. She lives in Venice, California.
"It is a paradox of the Holocaust that the innocent feel guilty and the guilty innocent. Nowhere is this more true than in the actions of the young Germans. Anna Rosmus's Against the Stream is a riveting account of one young woman's uncompromising attempt to discover the hidden past of her community and the hidden history of her town. The guilty feel so innocent that they created myths of resistance and heroism to shade their history of complicity and submissiveness. They did not allow unfettered access to archives even for an innocent girl writing a term paper; and beginning as a girl and growing into a bold and brave woman, Rosmus confronted the truth and refused to go along with the comfortable fables that disguised what really happened. Against the Stream is written with passion and honesty and without any self-aggrandizement or attempt to portray oneself as a hero. Rosmus's work is formidable; so too her person. Her work is essential for the future of Germany, for the only way to overcome the past is to do as Rosmus has done—face it honestly, openly, and bravely and let the truth set you free."—Michael Berenbaum
"The real Nasty Girl is an intellectual firebrand, a rigorous researcher burning with a passion to tell the story that must be told. Anna Rosmus stands up to the secrets of the past and the fears of the present with a true-life tale that makes us all question how we would act and what we believe"—Marc Fisher, The Washington Post