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Heinz Heger

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Name Heinz Heger - (pseudonym - see also Josef Kohut)
Date of Birth 1917 Place of Birth Vienna, Austria
1939 - 1945: Heinz Heger, whose rela name is Josef Kohout, was the son of a senior civil servant, and came from a well-to do Catholic family, with a caring mother. When Josef came out to her, she responded to her son with love and warmth:
"My dear child... If you think you can find happiness with another man, that doesn't make you in any way inferior...You have no need at all to despair... remember, whatever happens, you are my son and can always come to me with your problems."
He did not tell his father. He did not tell his father. However, when Josef was a 22-year-old university student, not interested in politics, in March 1939, he was ordered to report to the Gestapo, which had obtained a note he had scribbled to his lover Fred, the son of a Nazi functionary: "To my friend Fred in eternal love and deepest affection!" He was thus arrested and sentenced to prison for being a "degenerate." His father at once lost his government position and the resulting rejection from his friends due to his son's conviction under § 175 and subsequently committed suicide. In the note he left his family, he wrote,
"It's just too much for me! Please forgive me again. God protect our son!"
After his conviction in 1939, Heger was taken to jail and not allowed to telephone his mother. He was simply told, "She'll soon know you're not coming home again." Josef relates:
"I was examined bodily, which was very distressing, as I had to undress completely so that the policeman could make sure that I was not hiding any forbidden object...then I could get dressed again...I was locked in a cell designed for one person, though it already had two occupants".
His trial was held two weeks later
"...justice showing an unusual haste in [my] case...Under § 175 of the German penal code, I was condemned by an Austrian court for homosexual behaviour, and sentenced to six months' penal servitude with the added provision of one day's fast once a month."
The charges filed against Heger's partner Fred were "dropped on the grounds of 'mental confusion'." It is possible that Fred's father had used his influence to achieve the dismissal. After serving his six months in jail, Heger was still kept in custody.
"On the day that my six months were up, and I should have been released, I was informed that the Central Security Department had demanded that I remain in custody. I was ... transferred .. .for transit to a concentration camp ... I had loved a friend of mine, a grown man of twenty-four, not a child. I could find nothing dreadful or wrong in that."
Heger had heard rumors that gay men were treated as the Jews were "tortured to death...and only rarely came out alive." Within weeks he was transported to Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp in East Germany, and forced to wear a pink triangle to show that his crime was homosexuality. He was transported via cattle car train for thirteen days without water or toilet facilities. Those in the transport were fed once a day and received a large slice of bread to take on the train at the prisons where the train stopped for the night. He experienced rejection from other prisoners during transport with two murderers. They called him "175er" and "filthy queer."
"They, too, spoke of homosexuals with utter contempt; it didn't bother them that as murderers, they were certainly even more rejected by society. They emphasized, however, that they were at least normal men"
Upon arriving at Sachsenhausen, the prisoners went through roll call in which they were to "step forward, repeat name and offense" separated into blocks. After Heger's name was called, he was beaten by the SS sergeant as an "entrance fee." They were then forced to undress and stand at attention in the January cold while receiving occasional beatings. Finally they were herded into a cold shower, were shaved, and received a prison uniform.

At Sachsenhausen, gay men could have no responsibility. They could not speak to prisoners from other blocks or with other badges, because it was thought they would try to seduce the other prisoners.

"We were to remain isolated as the damnedest of the damned, the camp's 'shitty queers', condemned to liquidation and helpless prey to all the torments inflicted by the SS and the Kapos"
One hundred eighty other gay men were imprisoned with Heger. They ranged in background from unskilled workers to clergy and aristocratic landowners;
"...many indeed highly respected citizens, who had never come up against the law, but were set apart only by their homosexual feelings".
The gay prisoners were assigned "senseless yet very heavy labor." For Heger's block this was to shovel snow without shovel or buckets from one side of the road to the other and then back using only their hands for six weeks when the next shipment of new prisoners arrived. In the summer similar work was done with dirt.

Josef was able to avoid dangerous work assignments in the camp by agreeing to become the kept boy of a Kapo who was imprisoned as a criminal, and not for being gay. Josef describes the relationship as "a relationship of convenience on both sides". He had seen too much death in the quarry pits to allow himself to go back. On May 1940, Heger, prisoner No. 1896, was transferred to his second camp - Flossenbürg concentration camp in Bavaria, near the Czech border, in Block 6.

"The block seniors and Capos, or at least the majority of them, all had a young Pole as batman [orderly] or "cleaner," though the main purpose of these lads was as bed-partner for their boss.... These dolly-boys, as they were called in certain other camps, were generally from 16 to 20 years old."
Considering the treatment of gay men in the camps in comparison to that of other prisoners it is clear that the Nazis were bent on the complete extermination of gay men. The prescribed hard labor, the forced heterosexuality (they were obliged to couple with prostitutes under the supervision of a guard), and the encouraged shootings of gay prisoners was an outlined plan for destruction of homosexual human beings.

Amazingly, Kohout survived six years of incarceration, helped by his background and connections. He became the kept boy of a number of kapos and imagined that one guard, whom he took to be homosexual, favored him. One kapo, who was a professional criminal with a green triangle - a safecracker from Hamburg - saved his life at least 10 times.

He remained there, under horrific conditions, until the end of the war in 1945. on April 24, 1945, Josef was ordered on a death march to Dachau. The march ended in Cham, where Josef Kohout was liberated by American troops. Kohout registered as a victim of the camps on June 19, 1945.

Adding insult to the already incredible suffering of the men imprisoned for being gay, the American and British troops who liberated the camps did not consider the camps to be a jail and thus forced the pink triangle prisoners to finish their jail terms. Therefore, a man sentenced to eight years who had spent five in jail and three in the camp had to serve three more years in jail.

Josef Kohout was informed that immediately after the war there was an official office of the city of Vienna to deal with survivors issues. There, he was advised to turn into a red triangle prisoner in order to get any reparations. He refused, got a voucher for a gas stove and that was all. He was told that he was lucky that he wasn't put back in jail because homosexuality had been completely forbidden in Austria before the war and continued to be until 1971.

Mr. Kohout returned to Vienna, where he died in March 1994. Among his personal effects was a fragile strip of cloth, two inches long and less than an inch wide, with the numbers 1 8 9 6 on the right and a pink triangle on the left. It is the only one known to have been worn by a prisoner who can be identified; said Dr. Klaus Muller of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

When compensation legislation was introduced, political, religious and racial persecution were the only valid reasons for getting official reparations. After the war, there were three main survivor organizations: communist, Christian-Democratic, Social Democrat. Didn't want the "perverted criminals" to be included. Austria is a very Catholic country, with homophobia still very strong.

Even after the war, there were no efforts made to decriminalize homosexuality, which continued to be considered an abominable crime which illustrates the following anecdote: Then Christian-Democratic Federal Chancellor Gorbach who had survived Dachau, thanks to a pink triangle co-prisoner who saved his life once was approached in the 1950's by this gay men who had been prosecuted again because of homosexual acts. Gorbach helped him by having the charges thrown out, but remarked, "I help you only this time, if you will be in trouble again, I cannot do anything for you a second time." No thought at all that the total ban was a severe injustice.

"As we all know, Auschwitz and Dachau were not seminars on human rights and tolerance."

Excerpts from: The Men With the Pink Triangle

The power of The Men with the Pink Triangle comes from Heger's sparse prose and his ability to recall - and communicate - the smallest resonant details. The pain and squalor of everyday camp life - the constant filth, the continuous presence of death, and the unimaginable cruelty of those in command - are all here. But Heger's story would be unbearable were it not for the simple courage he and others used to survive and, having survived, that he bore witness. This book is harrowing but necessary reading for everyone concerned about gay history, human rights, or social justice.

"When my name was called I stepped forward, gave my name, and mentioned Paragraph 175. With the words, "You filthy queer, get over here,' I received several kicks from behind and was kicked over to an SS sergeant who had charge of my block. The first thing I got from him was a violent blow on my face that threw me to the ground... he brought his knee up hard into my groin so I doubled up with pain... he grinned at me and said: "That was your entrance fee, you filthy Viennese swine'."

"... Our block was only occupied by homosexuals, with about 250 men in each wing. We could only sleep in our night-shirts, and had to keep our hands outside the blankets, for: 'You queer arse-holes aren't going to start wanking here!'

camp"The windows of had a centimetre of ice on them. Anyone found with his underclothes on in bed, or his hand under his blanket -- there were checks almost every night -- was taken outside and had serveral bowls of water poured over him before being left standing outside for a good hour. Only a few people survived this treatment. The least result was bronchitis, and it was rare for any gay person taken into the sick-bay to come out alive. We who wore the pink triangle were prioritised for medical experiments, and these generally ended in death. For my part, therefore, I took every care I could not to offend against the regulations.

"We were also forbidden to approach nearer than five metres of the other blocks. Anyone caught doing so was whipped on the 'horse', and was sure of at least 15 to 20 strokes. Other categories of prisoner were similarly forbidden to enter our block. We were to remain isolated as the damnedest of the damned, the camp's 'shitty queers', condemned to liquidation and helpless prey to all torments inflicted by the SS and Capos.

"The day regularly began at 6a.m., or 5 a.m. in the summer, and in just half an hour we had to be washed, dressed and have our beds made up in military style. If you still had time, you could have breakfast, which meant a hurried slurping down the thin flour soup, hot or luke-warm, and eating your piece of bread. Then we had to form up in eights on the parade-ground for morning roll-call. Work followed, in winter from 7.30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and in summer from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a half hour break at the workplace. After work, straight back to camp and immediate parade for evening roll-call.

book2"Each block marched in formation to the parade-ground and had its permanent position there. The morning parade was not so drawn-out as the much feared evening roll-call, for only the block numbers were counted, which took about an hour, and then the command was given for work detachments to form up.

"At every parade, those that had just died had to be present, i.e. they were laid out at the end of each block and counted as well. Only after the parade, and having been tallied by the report officer, were they taken to the mortuary and subsequently burned.

"Disabled prisoners also had to be present for parade. Time and again we helped or carried comrades to the parade-ground who had been beaten by the SS only hours before. Or we had to bring along fellow-prisoners who were half-frozen or feverish, so as to have our numbers complete. Any man missing from our block meant many blows and thus many deaths.

"We new arrivals were now assigned to our work, which was to keep the area around the block clean. That, at least, was what we were told by the NCO in charge. In reality, the purpose was to break the very last spark of independent spirit that might possibly remain in the new prisoners, by senseless yet heavy labour, and to destroy the little human dignity that we still retained. This work continued til a new batch of pink-triangle prisoners were delivered to our block and we were replaced.

book1"Our work, then, was as follows. In the morning we had to cart the snow outside our block from the left side of the road to the right side. In the afternoon we had to cart the same snow back from the right side to the left. We didn't have barrows and shovels to perform this work either, that would have been far too simple for us 'queers'. No, our SS masters had thought up something much better.

"We had to put our coats with the buttoned side backward, and take the snow away in the container this provided We had to shovel up the snow with our hands -- our bare hands, as we didn't have any gloves. We worked in teams of two. Twenty turns at shovelling up the snow with our hands, then twenty turns at carrying it away. And so, right throught the evening, and all at the double!

"This mental and bodily torment lasted six days, until at last new pink-triangle prisoners were delivered to our block and took over for us. Our hands were cracked all over and half frozen off, and we had become dumb and indifferent slaves of the SS.

"I learned from prisoners who had already been in our block a good while that in summer similar work was done with earth and sand.

"Above the gate of the prison camp, however, the 'meaningful' Nazi slogan was written in big capitals: 'Freedom through work!'"

Notes Excerpts from: Heinz Heger, et al., The Men With the Pink Triangle : The True, Life-And-Death Story of Homosexuals in the Nazi Death Camps - Paperback - published by Alyson Publications 1980
PHOTO: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum On-line photo archives -- photo 76278
Sachsenhausen prisoners, wearing uniforms with triangular badges, stand in columns under the supervision of a camp guard.

Credit: National Archives, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives
Date: 1938
Place: Sachsenhausen, Germany
Source: National Archives , College Park , MD Popperfoto , Northampton, England

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