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5.5 - Forgotten Holocaust
Excerpts from a text by: The Most Reverend Dr. Philip de Rochambeau - ©1999

After 1994, gay rights seemed to be virtually unstoppable. For the first time ever, USA had a President who openly supported gay rights. Discussions about lifting the ban on gays in the military rang out from coast to coast. The March on Washington brought tens of thousands of gays and lesbians to the forefront of the media. That same year, another significant development occurred in Washington: the opening of the Holocaust museum. Unfortunately, the coincidence of these near simultaneous events still escapes most people.

For over fifty years we have been reproved that we must never forget the Holocaust, since to forget the killing of the Jews is to chance having them persecuted again. Nonetheless, one group of Holocaust victims is not only forgotten, but has rarely ever been mentioned. And, true to the warning, today, these unmentioned victims continue to be persecuted. While the number of homosexuals killed by the Nazis is but a fraction of the Jews murdered, the persecution of gays eclipsed even that of the Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Communists in its systematic approach to outlawing a major segment of the German population. Regrettably, much of this persecution still exists.

As with most of Europe, the German laws pertaining to homosexuality date back well over a century. In 1871, Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany proclaimed the Second Reich and adopted § 175 of the Prussian Penal Code for the entire Reich. Under § 175, sexual acts between males became punishable crimes. While this law-which remained on the books until 1969-laid the groundwork for Nazi persecution, it did not have a major impact on German homosexuals prior to 1933.

In practice, German courts prosecuted only homosexual behaviour that resembled coital acts. Gay bars, societies, and publications flourished in Germany during the 1920s and early 1930s. Magnus Hirschfeld, a Jewish physician who was homosexual, established the world renowned "Institute of Sexual Research" in Germany and wrote important essays on the subject of homosexuality. This age of enlightenment, however, soon came to a crashing halt.

After Hitler's failed 1923 putsch and subsequent jail term, he resolved to gain power by working within the German constitution rather than against it. By 1928, the National Socialist Democratic Party was a major political force in Germany although at that point it controlled but 12 seats out of the 491 seats in the Reichstag. Thus, the National Socialists were included when questionnaires were sent to all the major political groups in 1928. In their response to the question about homosexuality, the Nazis stated:

It is not necessary that you and I live, but it is necessary that the German People live. And it can only live if it maintains its masculinity. It can only maintain its masculinity if it exercises discipline... Free love and deviance are undisciplined. Therefore, we reject you... Any who thinks of homosexual love is our enemy.
Unfortunately, along with other prophetic warnings of future persecution and war-most notably those in Hitler's Mein Kampf-very few people paid attention to this blunt denunciation of homosexuals.

One should note though that Hitler himself generally remained distant from this issue. In Mein Kampf, Hitler never even mentioned homosexuality despite spending much of a chapter discussing the social ills of syphilis. Hitler's only significant pre-Chancellor mention of homosexuality comes in a 1930 conversation with his close confidant, Otto Wagener:

"We must therefore take the view that any sexual involvement between person of the same sex is unnatural, it runs counter to the meaning of pairing and of the divine command: Be fruitful and multiply. That is why any such activity, no matter of what sort, is to be forbidden and punishable as soon as a boy has reached puberty. Besides, pure pederasty seems to me entirely un-Germanic. I feel that it is filth of the lowest order. Pederasts [the word here used as synonym of "homosexual"] should be expelled from the community of the Volk."
Although Hitler helped perpetuate the ugly lie that homosexuals are pedophiles, this, along with his general reticence about discussing homosexuality, may have resulted from the fact that his close friend, Ernst Röhm, was himself a homosexual and a pedophile. Ironically, this conversation with Wagener took place just after Hitler made the decision to appoint Röhm to be the head of his own personal militia, the SA or Brown-Shirts.

Within a month of taking power, the Nazis banned homosexual rights organizations (along with other liberal groups). Nonetheless, the influence of Röhm probably prevented any further actions against gays until the summer of 1934. On 28 June, 1934, Hitler had Röhm and his associates murdered in a restructuring of the military and police organizations. At the time, Nazi propaganda alluded to Röhm's homosexuality as part of the evil that led him (supposedly) to try to overthrow Hitler's regime.

With Röhm out of the picture, and the virulently homophobic Heinrich Himmler in charge of both the SA and the elite SS, the status of homosexuals rapidly declined. In October, 1934, all local police departments were asked to provide the Gestapo with lists of all known and suspected homosexuals. During that same time, the first large-scale arrests of gays began to take place. By May, 1935, the SS magazine, Das Schwarze Korps, demanded the death penalty for homosexual men.

In an often-repeated attention to timing, the Nazis marked the one-year anniversary of the Röhm execution with new amendments to § 175 that widened the scope of defined homosexual activity. The SS courts used these amendments to make almost any conceivable same-sex contact a felonious act.

Court rulings in July, 1935, abolished Western judicial procedures. Judges now were free to punish actions without referring to violations of any specific law. The new standard for criminal prosecution was that any actions that went against the "inborn healthy instincts of the German people" were now punishable. Later, the courts ruled that "illicit sexual acts" did not even have to be acts; intent was enough for a conviction. Hammer's Gestapo had finally achieved the right to arrest virtually at will. In October, 1936, Himmler declared that homosexuals must be eliminated as a danger to the German race. This led to the establishment of the Federal Security Office for Combating Abortion and Homosexuality.

In typical Nazi fashion, an SS lawyer, Rudolf Klare, wrote a book, Homosexualitæt und Strafrecht, to provide the ideological basis for persecuting homosexuals. Sharing Himmler's obsession with classification, Klare separated same-sex felonies according to the following criteria:

  1. Simple contemplation of desired object (abstract coitus)
  2. Plain touching (which might lead to hyperesthesia, erection, ejaculation, orgasm)
  3. Petting, embracing, kissing of the partner with results similar to the above
  4. Pressing of (naked) penis to any part of the partner's body such as thigh, arm, hand, etc.
  5. Pressing of two bodies against one another with or without friction
  6. Rhythmic thrusts between knees or thighs, or in armpits
  7. Touching of penis by partner's tongue
  8. Placement of penis into partner's mouth
  9. Pederasty or Sodomy
Even this cataloguing was insufficient for Nazi ideologues. Within a few years, Nazi courts determined that one man giving a lewd glance to another was sufficient grounds for criminal prosecution. In at least one instance, a man was arrested not for watching a couple copulate in the park, but rather, for paying more attention to the actions of the man than to the actions of the woman.

Grune Dormitory in the Concentration Camp

by Richard Grune

Schwules Museum, Berlin

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum #137

Himmler - whose appearance was anything but Aryan - had become the self-appointed guardian of the Aryan race. Long forgotten was the admiration of Röhm that had led Himmler to join the Nazi Party in 1922.

By 1937, Himmler, the protector of the German Volk, stepped up his efforts to cleanse the population of these "homosexual weaklings." In a secret speech to SS leaders, Himmler again declared that homosexuals must be eliminated. In addition, he ordered that SS men caught in homosexual acts were to be put in concentration camps and then "shot while trying to escape."

A 1938 directive permitted police to transfer men convicted of homosexual crimes directly from prison to concentration camps. Two years later, this directive was changed to mandate that all men who had seduced more than one partner must be transferred to a concentration camp after they finished serving their prison sentences.

In 1941, new decrees stated that "deviant criminals" must be put to death if "they threaten the health of the German people." A few months later, Himmler issued another decree relating to "purity" in the SS and the police: any SS officer or policeman caught "engaging in indecent behaviour with another man or allowing himself to be abused by him for indecent purposes will be condemned to death and executed." Later, in 1942, this law was amended to extend the death penalty to any German male engaging in homosexual activity. All obstacles were now gone; gays could be legally confined, tortured, and murdered within concentration camps.

New inmates at concentration camps routinely were stripped of all their possessions and had their hair shorn so as to break them of any self-esteem they may still have had at that point. Homosexual prisoners, identified by the pink triangles that they were forced to wear, often had more severe procedures inflicted upon them. Gays, along with some Jews, had their pubic hair shaved in addition to the hair of their heads. Additionally, § 175 offenders were kicked, battered, and slapped. While these types of torture often were inflicted upon other categories of inmates, the homosexuals suffered a different form of persecution that was unique to their position. Both the Nazis and the prisoners assumed that the men with pink triangles had no desires other than seeking sexual satisfaction. In Eugen Kogon's The Theory and Practice of Hell, he tells us that:

Homosexual practices were actually very widespread in the camps. The prisoners, however, ostracized only those whom the SS marked with the pink triangle. The fate of the homosexuals in the concentration camps can only be describe as ghastly.
With the rampant homophobia that pervaded the prison populations, gays were prevented from joining any of the efforts by prisoners to improve upon their living conditions. As a class, homosexuals were suspect; any assistance that they offered was thought to mask their quest for sexual satisfaction. Unlike Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Communists, the homosexuals had no ethnic, religious or political bonds with each other. In fact, the gay prison population ranged from doctors and lawyers to prostitutes and blackmailers. Consequently when Kapos (prisoner, usually from the political ranks, who acted as deputies to the SS guards) picked prisoners for life-threatening work details, they invariably chose the homosexuals first.

Another problem arose from the fact that some SS guards and Kapos were themselves gay. These guards often made young Polish and Russian inmates their "dolly boys" and gave them extra food and other considerations. The other inmates were enraged that these youngsters should receive such favoritism in return for sexual favours. Other more sadistic guards would take perverse pleasure in masturbating while torturing inmates. Since prisoners considered homosexual guards and homosexuals prisoners to be from the same class, gay inmates were often blamed for the abuses of the gay guards.

Although many types of prisoners were used for pseudo-medical experiments, those done to gays often were particularly gruesome. Danish endocrinologist Carl Vaernet and German surgeon Gerhard Schiedlausky, in particular, tended to experiment primarily with homosexual inmates. Vaernet had a pet theory for which he required gay guinea pigs. He would have them castrated and then injected with large amounts of male hormones in efforts to see whether this procedure would produce "normal" sexual orientation. The notes on the results of these tests have never been found, but one can presume that they failed.

Exact figures of how many homosexuals died in the concentration camps are not known. Most estimates place the death toll somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000. That more homosexuals did not die is not due to lack of effort on Himmler's part. Unfortunately for the SS, homosexuals could not be identified as easily as Jews or Communists. When the war started, many gay men entered the military where they were no longer within Himmler's reach. Despite Himmler's attempts to prosecute military homosexuals, military leaders often ignored the homosexual laws.

Consequently, in evaluating the persecution of the homosexuals, one must confine their studies to those gays who were actually caught. These homosexuals suffered from a mortality rate drastically higher than any of the other incarcerated groups. While not all homosexuals in Germany suffered, those who were caught received the most brutal treatment of anyone in Germany.

In the years since the Holocaust, Jews have achieved total constitutional equality in virtually every nation in the world-although isolated instance of persecution still exist. Homosexuals, however, can still be thrown out of their homes, fired from their jobs, and even be prosecuted for making love to each other. Right wing religious leaders and politicians preach messages of intolerance and homophobia.

In addition, police often do not arrest gay bashers, and some police even have participated in the bashing. Judges have handed out especially lenient sentences to those that brutalize, and sometimes kill, gays. Does our society really differ that much from the Nazis in their hatred of gays? Or is it only the degree of the persecution that separates our society from that of the Nazi butchers?

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