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March 7th

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7 - Continuing Problems for Gay Victims

As the Allies swept through Europe to victory over the Nazi regime in early 1945, hundreds of thousands of concentration camp prisoners were liberated. The Allied Military Government of Germany repealed countless laws and decrees. Left unchanged, however, was the 1935 Nazi revision of Paragraph 175. Under the Allied occupation, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment regardless of time served in the concentration camps. By all accounts, a very little number of the homosexual inmates of the concentration camps survived.

These are slave laborers in the Buchenwald concentration camp near Jena; many had died from malnutrition when U.S. troops of the 80th Division entered the camp.

Elie Wiesel, who later would become a Nobel Peace Prize-winning author and lecturer, can be seen in the middle row of bunks, fifth from left, at Buchenwald, April 16, 1945.

This photo is on display at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.


Most of the Nazi victims were utterly unprepared for their fate, and those who survived the war, had to confront afterwards the refusal to offer gay men " Wiedergutmachung " . Some men even remained imprisoned, or were sentenced again to severe penalties by judges and public prosecutors who made their careers in the Nazi period. For gay men, the " liberation" of 1945 meant no end to discrimination and prosecution.

The capitalist West of Germany was even worse than the communist East. It kept the Nazi extension of paragraph 175 of 1935 as it was not deemed to be a result of Nazi ideology. The extension of 1935 broadened the crime from a limited number of homosexual acts that resembled coitus to all forms of desire, including mutual masturbation or intimacies. But the East had also its flaws: some gay men who dared to request after the war a special status as Nazi victims, were prosecuted because of fraud.

Dr. Klaus Muller, a German historian and European project director for the U.S. Holocaust Museum, tells he grew up in Germany unaware of the Nazi treatment of gays. What's more, the 20th century ended without any effort on the part of the German government to offer reparations to gay survivors, whose fate went unnoticed at the Nuremberg Trials.

The Nuremberg Trials in 1945 did not address the persecution of homosexuals by the Nazis because homosexuality was still considered a crime under German law even after the Holocaust. The persecution of homosexual men was kept silent for a long time in both post-war German states. Homophobic social discrimination and legal persecution continued in west and east Germany after liberation from national socialism, and hindered acknowledgement that homosexuals were victims of Nazi persecution. They could be re-imprisoned for "repeat offences," and were kept on the modern lists of "sex offenders."

The "humane institutions" of every country have condemned the treatment of all of the victims - except for homosexuals. On annual days of mourning for the victims, few countries officially mourn for homosexuals. To the survivor's comment that "one day they were simply gone" we might add "and today they are simply forgotten." Homosexuality continued to be a crime in postwar West Germany. This is also the reason why homosexuals have been denied any compensation by the otherwise munificent West German government.

Cartoon response to a series of §175 trials in Frankfurt in 1950 and 1951.

The judge, a former Nazi public prosecutor who had participated in the arrest of more than 400 homosexual men in 1938 and 1939, found the first of 100 defendants guilty of "degeneration" capable of "destroying the foundation of the state", the language of the Nazis. At least five defendants committed suicide before going to trial. Press coverage led to the judge's removal.

From the gay periodical Die Freundschaft (Friendship), 1951
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum #170

In June 1956, West Germany's Federal Reparation Law for Victims of National Socialism declared that internment in a concentration camp for homosexuality did not qualify an individual to receive compensation. The German Supreme Court ruled in 1957 that homosexuals were not considered wrongful victims of Nazi persecution because they had been legimately imprisoned for their crimes and as such were not eligible for compensation nor pension as Holocaust survivors, for the amount of time spent in the concentration camps.

Neither in East Germany nor in the West were homosexuals recognised as official victims of national socialism. The dominating opinion in both countries would rather have been that the persecution of gays had been justified in a certain way. For this reason they did not receive compensation as other victim groups did.

Research on Nazi persecution of homosexuals was impeded by the criminalization and social stigmatization of homosexuals in Europe and the United States in the decades following the Holocaust. Most survivors were afraid or ashamed to tell their stories. The Nazi version of Paragraph 175 remained on the books of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) until the law was revised in 1969 to decriminalize homosexual relations between men over the age of 21 and homosexual survivor accounts began to emerge.

The decade-long suppression of the topic has made it considerably difficult for the exhibition's historians to find out about the persecution of homosexuals in the Third Reich. The survivors left relatively little and with their death many memories disappeared without ever having been listened to. "The persecuted gays" says Karl-Heinz Steinle, scientific collaborator of the Gay Museum in Berlin, "were - unlike other victim groups - not encouraged to write down their experiences in the concentration camps. Therefore we have very few publications by survivors today. Interestingly, we found quite a lot of material with those homosexuals who married after the war. The wives and children kept their things more often than the family members of gays who got married."

It has only been since the mid-1970s that any attention has been paid to the persecution and interment of gay men by the Nazis during the Third Reich. Since that time, books such as Richard Plant's The Pink Triangle (and Martin Sherman's play Bent) have illuminated this nearly lost history. Heinz Heger's first-person account, The Men with the Pink Triangle, was one of the first books on the topic and remains one of the most important.

Lobotomies of gay people stopped in Western Germany only in 1979. In the 17 years since 1962 30 homosexuals were operated on the hypothalamus. In Norway lobotomy victims got 100.000 nkr. in compensation (18 of the 35 first operations in Norway were fatal for the patients). In Sweden more than 3.300 were lobotomized, the Danish number was a recordhigh 3.500, the Norwegian number was 2.500. Denmark was world leader numerically in proportion to the population with lobotomies and the last operation took place as late as 1981. According to a TV-documentary from SVT, Sweden in 1998, in which was revealed an example of lobotomy to "cure" a lesbian woman . Lobotomy-operations were pioneered by the Portuguise Dr. Egas Moniz(1874 - 1955) in 1935 , for which he became the Nobel-price in 1949.

This spurred doctors like American Walter Freeman to brutally operate no less than 4000 patients in the 40's in USA using a golden ice pick. When he visited Denmark the Danish doctors at first were shocked. The most well-known example of muting the sexuality of a retarded woman was the sister of J.F.Kennedy, Rosemary Kennedy in 1941, when such operation was a cure-all. The Nobel-prize could very likely also have influenzed Kjeld Vaernet to chose lobotomies as a promising career move, while endocrinology had lost some of its luster since the insulin-Nobel Price for Insulin was given to Banting in 1923.

Recently, especially in Germany, new research findings on these "forgotten victims" have been published, and some survivors have broken their silence to give testimony. The Holocaust is now becoming a political cause of both Gay Rights Movements in the United States and Germany as more and more people press for recognition of their own unique status as victims of extreme Nazi policies and homophobic views which resulted in their persecution and murder. Gay activists are still demanding compensation for their suffering from the German government.

Homosexuals murdered by the Nazis received their first public commemoration only in a May 8, 1985, speech by West German President Richard von Weizsäcker - the fortieth anniversary of the war's end. Four years after re-unification in 1990, Germany abolished Paragraph 175. In May 2002, the German parliament completed legislation to pardon all homosexuals convicted under Paragraph 175 during the Nazi era.

That gays were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, required to wear pink triangles, just as Jews had to wear yellow Star of David patches, is not all that well-known. A 1993 survey commissioned by the American Jewish Committee revealed that only half of the adults in Britain and only one-fourth of American adults knew that gays were victims of the Nazis.

The legacy of the Holocaust to homosexuals is one of how their own history of persecution by homophobics reached its peak of expression.

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