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2 - Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals

While male homosexuality remained illegal in Weimar Germany under Paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code, German homosexual-rights activists became worldwide leaders in efforts to reform societal attitudes that condemned homosexuality. After the First World War, a rich gay sub-culture developed in Berlin - strong enough to attract homosexuals from abroad. Until 1933 there existed simultaneously over one hundred gay and lesbian pubs, and a variety of gay, lesbian and transsexual magazines were published.

But many in Germany regarded the Weimar Republic's toleration of homosexuals as a sign of Germany's decadence. The Nazis posed as moral crusaders who wanted to stamp out the "vice" of homosexuality from Germany in order to help win the racial struggle. Once they took power in 1933, the Nazis intensified persecution of German male homosexuals. Persecution ranged from the dissolution of homosexual organizations to internment in concentration camps. From now on homosexual men were persecuted as "state enemies" and labelled as a "infection risk".

The Nazis believed that male homosexuals were weak, effeminate men who could not fight for the German nation. They saw homosexuals as unlikely to produce children and increase the German birthrate. The Nazis held that inferior races produced more children than "Aryans," so anything that diminished Germany's reproductive potential was considered a racial danger. In order to promote the heterosexual ideal, the Nazi government under Göring provided quick promotion for civil servants who married early, and "Matrimonial Credits" were issued to women as an economic incentive to procreation.

During the Nazi regime, the police had the power to jail indefinitely --without trial-- anyone they chose, including those deemed dangerous to Germany's moral fiber.

At first, in the Third Reich, homosexuals were not persecuted in a systematic way or just because of their sexual orientation. Fines of DM175 were handed out for sexual "deviancy", which included kisses, flirts and ambiguous touches among men. As long as gays were ready to give up their love lives or agree to a fictitious marriage they were relatively safe. Lesbian women - with the exception of Austria - were not prosecuted during the Nazi era. In the concentration camps they were - contrary to gays - not registered as a special group of prisoners and thus can only be identified from the records with difficulty.

protective marriage

Among the personal responses to the growing police attention to individual homosexual's lives was the "protective marriage" to give the appearance of conformity. Paul Otto (left) married the woman behind him with her full knowledge that his long-time partner was Harry (right). Berlin, 1937.
Private Collection, Berlin
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum #073

SS chief Heinrich Himmler directed the increasing persecution of homosexuals in the Third Reich. Lesbians were not regarded as a threat to Nazi racial policies and were generally not targeted for persecution. Similarly, the Nazis generally did not target non-German homosexuals unless they were active with German partners. In most cases, the Nazis were prepared to accept former homosexuals into the "racial community" provided that they became "racially conscious" and gave up their lifestyle.


From 1919 to 1933
During the Weimar Republic the civil rights for gays and lesbians movement, which had been founded during the period of the German Empire, grew in strength. In 1929 the Law Committee of the Reichstag (Parliament) recommended the abolition of the law relating to punishment for homosexual acts between adults. However, the increase in votes for the Nazis and the crisis of the Weimar Republic prevented the carrying out of the Committee's decision.

Within a month after Hitler took the power at the end of January 30, 1933, the new Nazi minister of interior issued an order to close all gay bars, and also forbade "obscene literature", condemning homosexuals as "socially aberrant." As part of the Nazis' attempt to purify German society and propagate an "Aryan master race," Brownshirted storm troopers raided the institutions and gathering places of homosexuals. The first gay and transgender men were sent in the autumn of this same year to the newly built concentration camps.

  • January 30: The National Socialist (Nazi) Party, led by Adolf Hitler, takes power.
  • February 22: Prostitution was banned.
  • February 23: The Prussian Minister of the Interior orders the closing of the restaurants and pubs "in which, by serving as meeting places, the practice of unnatural sex-acts is encouraged". Gay and lesbian pubs were closed down. Police closed bars and clubs such as the "Eldorado" and banned publications such as Die Freundschaft (Friendship). In this early stage the Nazis drove homosexuals underground, destroying their networks of support.
  • March 3: Nudism was banned.
  • March 7: Pornography was banned.
  • March 17: The West German Morality League began its Campaign against Homosexuals, Jews, Negroes and Mongols. The first male homosexuals are sent to concentration camps.
  • Magnus Hirschfeld
  • On May 6 the students of the Gymnastic Academy, led by Storm Troopers (Sturmabteilung; SA), looted Magnus Hirschfeld's "Institute for Sexual Sciences". They poured bottles of ink over the manuscripts, terrified the staff, and threw the journals out of the windows The next day SA troops arrived to cart away two lorry-loads of books, and the building was requisitioned for the use of the Nazi Association of German Jurists and Lawyers. Hirschfeld's citizenship was revoked, and mobs carried his effigy in anti-gay/anti-Semite demonstrations.

    Four days later, as part of large public burnings of books viewed as "un-German," most of this collection of over 12,000 books and 35,000 irreplaceable pictures was thrown into a huge bonfire along with thousands of other "degenerate" works of literature, such as the works of writers like Berthold Brecht, Thomas and Heinrich Mann and Franz Kafka in the book burning in Berlin's city center, on the square between the former Royal Library and Berlin's Opera House (now known as Bebelplatz.)

    Magnus Hirschfeld, the founder of the Institute and a pioneer in the scientific study of human sexuality, was lecturing in France at the time and chose not to return to Germany.

  • In July the gay rights activist Kurt Hiller was arrested and sent to Orienburg concentration camp, where for nine months he was on the verge of death due to brutal mistreatment, until he was released and sent into exile. In a speech in 1921 he had addressed gay men: "In the final analysis, justice for you will only be the fruit of your own efforts. The liberation of homosexuals can only be the work of homosexuals themselves."
  • November 13: the Hamburg City Administration asked the Head of Police to "pay special attention to transvestites and to deliver them to the concentration camps if necessary."

Ernst RohmThe legal provisions to arrest "sex criminals" were broadened. Without any attempt to produce legal proof, many SA leaders were murdered in the summer of 1934 (June 30, "The Night of the Long Knives"), among them their chief of staff, Hitler's buddy Ernst Röhm. As official reason was given that the regime wanted to clean society of such dens of sexual debauchery. The same year, a special Gestapo (Secret State Police) section for "homosexual crimes" was set up.

Rudolf Diels, the founder of the Gestapo (secret state police), in 1934 lectured his colleagues on how homosexuals had caused the downfall of ancient Greece. He, recorded some of Hitler's personal thoughts on the subject:

"He lectured me on the role of homosexuality in history and politics. It had destroyed ancient Greece, he said. Once rife, it extended its contagious effects like an ineluctable law of nature to the best and most manly of characters, eliminating from the reproductive process precisely those men on whose offspring a nation depended. The immediate result of the vice was, however, that unnatural passion swiftly became dominant in public affairs if it were allowed to spread unchecked."

According to Nazi propaganda, both homosexuals and Jews destroyed the so-called masculinity and purity of the German nation; both homosexuals and Jews are characterized by perverse and degenerate sexualities. In 1934, the Reich Ministry of Justice emphasized that "it is precisely Jewish and Marxist circles which have always worked with special vehemence for the abolition of §175." In effect, Jews and homosexuals were portrayed as collaborators in the corruption of the German nation.

24th October - Heinrich Himmler orders all police stations and police authorities, to draw up a list of all persons who have, in any way, been homosexually active. The lists are to be sent to the Secret Police Headquarters in Berlin. A special department for homosexuality is set up there at the end of October. Police in many parts of Germany had been compiling these lists of suspected homosexual men since 1900. The Nazis used these "pink lists" to hunt down individual homosexuals during police actions.
In 1934, 766 gay men were convicted and imprisoned.

26th June - Changes in the "Law for the prevention of Children with inherited Diseases", also makes possible the castration of "political-criminal homosexual males". In order to avoid prison or concentration camp many homosexuals who had been sentenced to a jail term are forced to agree to "voluntary" castration. (From 1942 onwards, in concentration camps castration without the consent of the victim is legalised.)

Inmate hatThe tone had been set by the Röhm putsch, and on its first anniversary - June 28, 1935, the Ministry of Justice decidet that § 175 had to be revised. The revisions provided a legal basis for extending Nazi persecution of homosexuals. Ministry officials expanded the category of "criminally indecent activities between men" to include any act that could be construed as homosexual. The courts later decided that even intent or thought sufficed.

On September 1, 1935, a harsher, amended, and broadened version of § 175 of the Criminal Code, originally framed in 1871, to close what were seen as loopholes in the current law, went into effect, punishing a broad range of "lewd and lascivious" behavior between men.

A law was passed requiring the sterilization of all homosexuals, schizophrenics, epileptics, drug addicts, hysterics, and those born blind or malformed. By 1935, 56,000 people were thus "treated." In actual practice, the homosexuals were literally castrated rather than sterilized. In 1935 all local police departments were required to submit to the Gestapo lists of suspected homosexuals; shortly there were 20,000 names on the index.

The campaign against homosexuality was escalated by the introduction of the "Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour." Until 1935, the only punishable offence had been anal intercourse; under the new § 175a, ten possible "acts" were punishable, including a kiss, an embrace, even homosexual fantasies! One man, for instance, was successfully prosecuted on the grounds that he had observed a couple making love in a park and watched only the man.

After the expansion of penalties under §175 in 1935, Himmler spoke triumphantly about the purity of the German nation:

"Just as we today have gone back to the ancient Germanic view on the question of marriage mixing different races, so too in our judgment of homosexuality - a symptom of degeneracy which could destroy our race - we must return to the guiding Nordic principle: extermination of degenerates. Germany stands and falls with the purity of the race."
A 1935 propaganda campaign and two show trials in 1936 and 1937 alleging rampant homosexuality in the priest-hood, attempted to undercut the power of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, an institution which many Nazi officials considered their most powerful potential enemy.

Heinrich HimmlerOn October 26, 1936, Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler formed within the Security Police a "Reich Central Office to Combat Homosexuality and Abortion": Special Office (II S), a subdepartment of Executive Department II of the Gestapo. Its task is to gather information and lead an effective fight against both forms of the "population-plague". The linking of homosexuality and abortion reflected the Nazi regime's population policies to promote a higher birthrate of its "Aryan" population.

Josef Meisinger, executed in 1947 for his brutality in occupied Poland, led the new office. The police had powers to hold in protective custody or preventive arrest those deemed dangerous to Germany's moral fiber, jailing indefinitely --without trial-- anyone they chose. In addition, homosexual prisoners just released from jail were immediately re-arrested and sent to concentration camps if the police thought it likely that they would continue to engage in homosexual acts.

Also in 1936, as part of the clean-up campaign preparatory for the Olympics, homosexual meeting places were raided in Hamburg and on one night alone 80 homosexuals were brought to Concentration Camp Fuhlsbuuml;ttel.

But when the Olympics were held in Berlin, Hitler 1936, he temporarily rescinded the order and allowed several bars to reopen: foreign guests were not to receive the impression that Berlin was a "sad city."
In 1936, 4,000 gay men were convicted and imprisoned.

Criminal policeOn February 18, 1937, SS leader Heinrich Himmler gave his infamous lecture in Bad Tölz, before a group of highranking SS officers. He spoke on the homosexual danger implying that it could menace through infection the homosocial institutions of the Nazi regime.

Himmler's Division II was responsible for the control of "illegal parties and organizations, leagues and economic groups, reactionaries and the Church, freemasonry, and homosexuality." Even after serving their prison sentences, such "enemies of the state" were taken into "protective custody" (Schutzhaft) - a euphemism for internment in concentration camps.

Under the revised Paragraph 175 and the creation of Special Office II S, a subdepartment of Executive Department II of the Gestapo, the number of prosecutions increased sharply. From 1937 to 1939, the peak years of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals, the police increasingly raided homosexual meeting places, seized address books, and created networks of informers and undercover agents to identify and arrest suspected homosexuals. Half of all convictions for homosexual activity under the Nazi regime occurred during 1937 - 1939.

The official SS newspaper, Das Schwarze Korps, announced in 1937 that there were two million German homosexuals and called for their death. The extent to which Himmler succeeded in this undertaking is unknown, but the number of homosexuals sent to camps was far in excess of the fifty thousand who served jail sentences. The Gestapo dispatched thousands to camps without a trial. Moreover, "protective custody" was enforced retroactively, so that any gay who had ever come to the attention of the police prior to the Third Reich was subject to immediate arrest. (The Berlin police alone had an index of more than twenty thousand homosexuals prior to the Nazi takeover.)

From 1937 onwards many of the gay men previously arrested, were sent to concentration camps after they had served their "regular" prison sentence.

Hans FrankReich Legal Director Hans Frank in 1938 issued orders for more rigorous surveillance:

"Particular attention should be addressed to homosexuality, which is clearly expressive of a disposition opposed to the normal national community. Homosexual activity means the negation of the community as it must be constituted if the race is not to perish. That is why homosexual behaviour, in particular, merits no mercy."
The police stepped up raids on homosexual meeting places, seized address books of arrested men to find additional suspects, and created networks of informers to compile lists of names and make arrests

On April 4, the Gestapo issued a directive indicating that men convicted of homosexuality could be incarcerated in concentration camps.

Major gay scandals involving the army (false accusations against the highest officer in charge, general von Fritsch, in 1938).

It should be noted that Nazi authorities sometimes used the charge of homosexuality to discredit and undermine their political opponents. Nazi leader Hermann Göring used trumped-up accusations of homosexual improprieties to unseat army supreme commander Von Fritsch, an opponent of Hitler's military policy, in early 1938.

In 1938, 8,000 gay men were convicted and imprisoned.

Also in 1938, because of his alliance with Hitler, Mussolini began to persecute homosexuals. Several thousand were exiled to prisons, some in the Lipari islands; others were deprived of their posts and remanded to small provincial towns. There is no evidence, however, that the Fascist regime ever killed any homosexuals. Ironically, in 1930 Mussolini had intervened in a parliamentary debate to prevent the inclusion of an article in the penal code criminalizing homosexual conduct on the grounds that it was "rare among Italians and practiced only by decadent foreigners" who should not be driven out of the country because they contributed to Italy's supply of foreign exchange.

After the beginning of the war in 1939, it was decided that no prisoner would be released from concentration camps. Persons who were considered to endanger the social body could be exterminated.

Gay men in most occupied countries suffered little from the Nazis because they did not endanger the German race (except when they seduced German soldiers). In this case they were interned in German Level Three camps. The chances for survival in a Level Three camp were low indeed.

Homosexuals were distinguished from other prisoners by a pink triangle, worn on the left side of the jacket and on the right pant leg. There was no possibility of "passing" for straight, and the presence of "marked men" in the all-male camp population evoked the same reaction as in contemporary prisons: gays were brutally assaulted and sexually abused.

12th July - Himmler orders that all homosexuals sentenced under § 175, "who have seduced more than one partner", should be taken into "preventive detention" after they are released from prison". In reality that means they are sent to a concentration camp. Those incarcerated there for § 175 offences are forced to wear a pink triangle in order to make them identifiable.

SS badge15th November - In a Decree of the Führer for the Cleansing of the SS (Secret State Police) and the police force, Hitler orders the death penalty for homosexual activity by members of the SS and Police.


19th May - The head of the General Staff of the German Army (Wehrmacht), General Keitel, issues a decree laying down "regulations for the punishment of unnatural sexual acts." In "special difficult cases" the death penalty should be ordered.

The Danish SS-Doctor Carl Vaernet carried out medical experiments on homosexuals in Buchenwald concentration camp. He wanted to "cure" homosexuals by implanting artificial hormone glands in the region of the upper leg.

8th May - The war comes to an end. The concentration camps are liberated. In distinction to other Nazi laws, the Allies do not withdraw the Nazi version of § 175. Some homosexuals who had been liberated are required to serve the remainder of their sentence in a "normal" prison. § 175 remains in force in the Federal Republic of Germany (West!) until 1969. The German Democratic Republic (East!) adopts the "milder" pre-Nazi version.

Text credits:

Part of this article is derived from and is used by Permission of Archbishop Philip de Rochambeau and The Apostolic Church, owner of the Copyright, that we here thank wholeheartedly.

Poto credits:

1 - The closing of the Eldorado, a club where homosexuals socialized. Berlin, Germany, March 5, 1933. - Photo: Landesbildstelle Berlin.

2 - Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld - Photo: Suddeutscher Verlag Bilderdienst, Munich, Germany.

3 - The Institute for Sexual Sciences during a Nazi raid - Photo: Akademie der Kunste, Berlin.

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