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March 7th
2004

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5.3 - Homosexuals in the German Army in War time

Hitler's intention to acquire "living space" in lands adjacent to Germany set the nation on the path to war. Before World War II began with the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, more than two million men - including thousands of homosexuals - were called to military service. During the war years, when an estimated 20,000 civilians were convicted under § 175, more than 7,000 servicemen were also convicted, sentenced to prison, then forced to return to the front.

With the reintroduction in 1935 of conscription for all men ages 18 to 45, Germany's homosexual men became liable for service in the armed forces, the Wehrmacht. The German military code did not bar homosexuals, even convicted homosexuals, from serving in the armed forces. As a result, thousands of homosexual men were drafted to serve a regime that persecuted them as civilians.

Homosexual activity in the military was regulated by §175 and §175a. As huge numbers of men were called up, convictions rose, but the long-held fear that homosexuality would spread as an epidemic through the often-isolated all-male military proved to be unfounded. Still, arrested soldiers faced brutal punishments. Individuals convicted as "incorrigibly homosexual" or for abuse of authority under §175a were discharged, imprisoned, then dispatched to a concentration camp. Those sentenced for having "erred by seduction" served terms in prison and returned to service.

As an option to enduring the notoriously wretched military prisons, men convicted for any but the worst crimes under §175 could petition to join the "cannon-fodder" battalions. Commanders mercilessly used such troops in battles that in most cases were suicide missions.

The war helped to conceal the Nazis' radicalized persecution at home. Eliminating "undesirables" began with selectively murdering the disabled, among whom were individuals institutionalized for their homosexuality. In summer 1940, SS chief Himmler ordered convicted homosexual men "who have seduced more than one partner" sent to concentration camps after completing their prison sentence.

Buchwald roll call

Buchwald - Behind these Nazi officers stand hundreds of men awaiting permission to retire to their blocks after their enforced labour. The men rarely had the energy to do anything but sleep, but food was always upermost in their minds.

Such "preventive detention" could be shortened if the individual underwent castration, either voluntarily or, after 1942, at the order of a camp commandant. A September 1942 agreement between Himmler and the German Minister of Justice led to the transfer of "habitual criminals," including repeat offenders under § 175, from ministry prisons and penitentiaries to the SS camps.

Himmler's wartime directives sent thousands of homosexuals to forced labor camps. There, in an explicit campaign of "extermination through work," homosexuals and other so-called security suspects were assigned to grueling work in ceaselessly dangerous conditions, often with fatal consequences.

As German forces moved across Europe, § 175 or equivalent laws were selectively enforced to further Nazi political goals. In territories annexed to the Reich - chiefly Austria, western Czechoslovakia, western Poland, Alsace-Lorraine, and Luxembourg - the German law was imposed, extending the criminalization of homosexuality across the Greater Reich.

In lands under Nazi occupation, the situation varied. In general, the Nazi regime was only concerned with homosexuality among German males. It mattered little to the Nazis whether the native population carried the "homosexual degeneracy," unless it could corrupt "Germandom" as represented by the troops and officials stationed in the foreign territories. In any event, German authorities outside the Reich took no actions against homosexual males comparable to those taken within its borders.

Austria had been prosecuting sexual relations "between persons of the same sex" - including women - under its criminal code § 129 Ib since 1852. Following the Anschluss, the Nazi annexation of Austria, convictions for homosexuality rose by approximately 50 percent.

Vichy France remained unoccupied, but its collaborationist government under Marshal Philippe Pétain introduced in 1942 the first French law in nearly 150 years to outlaw male homosexuality. The new § 334 of the Code Pénal imposed prison terms ranging from six months to three years.

The Netherlands' sole law on homosexuality outlawed relations between an adult and a minor (under age 21). After occupying Holland in spring 1940, Nazi authorities instituted the terms of § 175 but left enforcement to Dutch police. The police, whom the Nazis criticized for their lack of "professional zeal" in such cases, sent to trial 138 male homosexuals between 1940 and 1943, producing 90 convictions.

For the General Government of occupied Poland, Berlin's Ministry of Justice authorities in September 1942 instructed: "Sex offenses between men . . . should not be prosecuted where offenders and other parties are all Poles. (The offenders should, however, be deported to areas outside the Reich where they will not be a danger to the German racial community.)"

The war years witnessed a rise in concentration camp populations as the Gestapo seized increasing numbers of "enemies of the state." In July 1940, SS and police chief Himmler directed officers of the Criminal Police that "in future, after their release from prison, all homosexuals who have seduced more than one partner are to be placed in preventive detention (Vorbeugungshaft)" at a concentration camp. This radical step, intended to stop the homosexual "contagion," meant that thousands of homosexual men convicted under § 175 whose police histories recorded multiple partners faced indefinite incarceration in the camps.

Once in the camps, the fragmentary record suggests, homosexual men had short life expectancies and high death rates from overwork, starvation, physical brutality, or outright murder.

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