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Persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany

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Memorial in Nollendorfplatz, Berlin:
  • "Struck Dead
  • Hushed Up
  • The homosexual victims of Nazism"

Before 1933, homosexual acts were illegal in Germany according to Paragraph 175, but the law was not consistently enforced and there was a thriving gay life in German cities. After the Nazi takeover in 1933, the first homosexual movement's infrastructure of clubs, organizations, and publications were shut down. After the Röhm purge in 1934, homosexuality became a priority of the Nazi police state. A revision of Paragraph 175 in 1935 made it easier to charge homosexual men, leading to an explosion in arrests and convictions. Persecution peaked in the years prior to World War II and was extended to areas annexed by Nazi Germany, including Austria, the Czech lands, the Netherlands, and Alsace–Lorraine.

The Nazi regime considered it one of its goals to eliminate all manifestations of homosexuality in Germany. Men were often arrested after denunciation, police raids, or through information uncovered during interrogations of other homosexuals. Those arrested were presumed guilty and subjected to harsh interrogation and torture to elicit a confession. Between 1933 and 1945, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested as homosexuals, of whom some 50,000 were sentenced by civilian courts, 6,400 to 7,000 by military courts [de], and an unknown number by special courts. Most of these men served time in regular prisons, and around 6,000 to 7,000 were imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps. The death rate of these prisoners has been estimated at 60 percent, higher than other prisoner groups. A smaller number were sentenced to death or executed at Nazi euthanasia centers. Nazi Germany's persecution of homosexuals is considered to be the most severe episode in a longer history of discrimination and violence targeting sexual minorities.

After the war, homosexuals were not counted as victims of Nazism because homosexuality continued to be illegal in Nazi Germany's successor states. Few victims came forward to discuss their experiences. The persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany came to attention during the gay liberation movement of the 1970s and the pink triangle was reappropriated as an LGBT symbol.

Background[edit]

Eldorado (pictured in 1932), the most famous gay establishment in Germany[1]

Germany was the home of the first homosexual movement.[2][3] The word homosexual was coined by a German-language writer. The first periodicals intended for a gay, lesbian, and transgender readership were published in Germany, and the world's first homosexual rights organization was founded in Berlin in 1897.[4] In the 1920s, gay culture flourished in Germany's major cities, especially Berlin.[5] Political compromises allowed many homosexuals to live freely in their private life and in dedicated subcultural spaces, provided that they did not infringe too much on the public sphere.[6] Although one theory holds that the Nazis' rise to power was fueled by a backlash against interwar Germany's relative tolerance of alternative sexualities, historian Laurie Marhoefer argues that this played only a minor role.[7][8]

Paragraph 175 of the penal code that was passed after the unification of Germany in 1871 criminalized sexual acts between males. The German supreme court ruled that to be convicted it had to be proven that the men had penetrative sex, typically anal but sometimes oral sex; other sexual activities were not punishable.[9][10] The Rechtsstaat limited the enforcement of the law because men were not arrested or indicted without concrete evidence.[11] As a consequence, conviction rates were low,[12] and a significant number of those convicted were only sentenced to pay a fine rather than a jail sentence. Terms of more than 1 year were rare.[13]

In 1928, the Nazi Party responded negatively to a questionnaire about their view of Paragraph 175, declaring "Anyone who even thinks of homosexual love is our enemy."[14] Nazi politicians regularly railed against homosexuality, claiming that it was a Jewish conspiracy to undermine the German people.[15] Ernst Röhm was one of the early leaders of the Nazi Party and built up its paramilitary wing, the Sturmabteilung (SA), violently attacking communists and other perceived enemies of the German people.[16] In 1931 and 1932, the Social Democrats revealed Röhm's homosexuality in an attempt to discredit the Nazis.[17] Adolf Hitler initially defended Röhm,[18] but the scandal weakened his place in the party.[19] The Röhm scandal was the origin of the long-lasting but false idea that the Nazi Party was dominated by homosexuals, a recurring theme in 1930s left-wing propaganda.[20] The Nazis temporarily tolerated a few known homosexuals in the party as long as they were useful, but never adopted such tolerance as a general principle or changed its views on homosexuality.[21][22] There is no evidence that homosexuals were overrepresented in the Nazi Party.[19]

History[edit]

Nazi takeover and initial crackdown (1933)[edit]

German students and Nazi SA rifling through magazines at the Institute for Sex Research, 6 May 1933

A crackdown on homosexual subcultures in Prussia began in mid-1932 after Franz von Papen deposed the Prussian government. Many homosexual bars and clubs in Berlin had to shut down after police raids.[23] In January 1933 the Nazi Party took power.[20] Immediately, their real and perceived enemies were the subject of a violent crackdown. On 23 February 1933, the Prussian Ministry of the Interior ordered the Berlin police to shut down any remaining establishments catering to "persons who indulge in unnatural sexual practices".[24] This order was extended to other parts of Germany. In Cologne, almost all gay bars were forced to shut down. In Hanover, all had closed by the end of the year. In Hamburg, police both targeted prostitutes as well as homosexual spaces, including the main train station, public toilets, and gay bars, leading to a more than sixfold increase in indictments under Paragraph 175 by 1934.[24] The anti-homosexual crackdown was intended to please the Nazis' conservative backers, who had put them into power, as well as socially conservative voters.[25][26] The Vatican and Protestant churches both praised the crackdown.[27][28] For example, in October 1933 Clemens August Graf von Galen, the bishop of Münster, wrote approvingly of the Nazis' efforts to "eradicate" the "open propaganda for godlessness and immorality".[29]

In March, the Nazi authorities began to confiscate printed material on homosexual topics. Any LGBT-related magazines that had survived earlier censorship were closed down and copies were burned. Their publishers were targeted; Adolf Brand's house was raided five times and police stole all his photographs, six thousand magazine issues, and many books. Friedrich Radszuweit's company was subjected to similar raids. The German–Jewish homosexual rights campaigner Magnus Hirschfeld was abroad during the Nazi takeover on a lecture tour for the World League for Sexual Reform. His Institute for Sex Research was raided on 6 May by the SA in coordination with German students. The institute's library of more than 12,000 books was publicly burned on 10 May in Opernplatz. The World League for Sexual Reform and the Institute for Sex Research's offices were both destroyed.[30][31]

The law reform organization Scientific-Humanitarian Committee voted to dissolve itself on 8 June. In 1933, many homosexual organizations attempted to destroy membership lists and other information that the Nazis could use to target dissidents. Former activists made agreements to keep quiet in order to protect others.[32] Some homosexuals went into exile, including Thomas and Klaus Mann.[33] The Swiss city Basel in particular was a destination for homosexuals fleeing Nazi Germany.[34] Other homosexuals of a more right-wing inclination remained in Germany, including Hans Blüher, who initially welcomed the Nazi takeover.[33] Some joined the SA, mistakenly believing that Röhm would protect them.[27]

The most visible members of the LGBT community, including prostitutes, transvestites, and activist leaders were targeted, and high-profile locations were shut down. However, the average homosexual's daily life did not change and some gay bars remained open in Hamburg and smaller cities. Some were able to adapt to the closures by meeting with gay friends in primarily heterosexual establishments. Most homosexuals were not yet afraid of the Gestapo.[35] They believed that they should keep a low profile until the end of the Nazi regime, which was believed to come soon.[10] During the first years of Nazi rule, the number of men sentenced to prison under Paragraph 175 increased, from 464 in 1932 to 575 in 1933 and 635 in 1934.[36] However, there was no systematic persecution of individual homosexual behavior, and convictions remained below the Weimar record (set in 1925) until 1935.[37]

Röhm purge and expanding persecution (1934–1935)[edit]

After the 1933 revolution, Hitler began to see Röhm as a threat to his power and the SA as a liability due to their random acts of violence which detracted from the Nazis' desired image as the party of law and order.[38] Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich supported the purge in order to assert their control over the Nazi police state.[39] Eventually Himmler, described by historian Nikolaus Wachsmann as "one of the most obsessive homophobes" in the Nazi government,[12] became the second most powerful man in Nazi Germany, commander of the SS, Gestapo, and concentration camp system.[40] On 30 June 1934, Röhm and several other SA leaders were suddenly arrested and executed. This event was later justified in Nazi propaganda mainly by the alleged corruption and scheming with foreign powers, but also citing Röhm's homosexuality and the fact that one of the victims of the purge, Edmund Heines, had allegedly been arrested while in bed with another man.[41] The purge ended the sense of safety that many German homosexuals still felt. Initially, the party focused on eliminating homosexuals within its own ranks, although there were some high-profile police raids in July in Bavaria. Homophobia became a regular theme in state propaganda.[39] Some homosexual Nazis ceased participating in the party[39] and others, former perpetrators of violence against Nazi opponents, became victims.[42]

Gestapo Radio Telegram for a list of suspected homosexuals for the Chief of Police in Dortmund, 24 October 1934

After 1934, the policing agencies were gradually consolidated under the control of Himmler and homosexuality became one of their priorities.[39] Initially the Gestapo targeted Berlin and Munich for raids on gay bars and mass arrest of homosexual men.[43] In October 1934, Heydrich ordered the police of all large cities to make a list of homosexuals.[44] A separate Gestapo department was set up to combat homosexuality, the Special Commission for Homosexuality in Berlin.[44] Although the focus was on alleged "homosexual cliques" in the party and state bureaucracy, most of the thousands of homosexuals who were arrested were not involved in politics. Many were mistreated after their arrest and incarcerated in Columbia-Haus, Lichtenburg, or Dachau concentration camp. By early 1935, 80 percent of the prisoners held in protective custody in the concentration camps were there for alleged homosexuality.[43] It was common knowledge not just among the homosexual community but German youth in general that non-penetrative sex was not a crime, so many accused would admit to such expecting to be released.[10] The homosexual prisoners in the concentration camps were largely made up of those who had admitted to homosexual acts but not those that were punishable. To convict these men, it was decided to change the criminal code.[43]

Almost exactly a year after Röhm was killed,[36] Paragraph 175 was amended. The changes were demanded especially by prosecutors and other legal professionals.[10] The new version of the law punished all sexual acts, defined broadly: "objectively when a general sense of shame is harmed and subjectively when there exists the lustful intention to excite either of the two men or a third party".[44] In theory, it was a crime to look at another man with desire.[43][45] Men were convicted for mutual masturbation or simply embracing each other,[44] and in a few cases when no physical contact had occurred.[46] Another change was that, unlike before where the "active" and "passive" participants were differentiated, typically both were viewed as equally guilty.[46] The effect of the new law made it much easier to arrest and convict homosexual men,[36][44] leading to a drastic increase in convictions.[47] Under a new section 175a, the law also introduced harsher penalties for male prostitution, sex with a man younger than 21, or with a student or employee.[44] The change in the law was not publicized for fear of spreading knowledge of homosexuality. Most Germans were unaware that the law had changed and many of those arrested under the new law had no knowledge that they were committing a crime.[46][48] The law was applied retroactively.[48]

Peak of persecution (1936–1939)[edit]

Number of convictions under Paragraph 175 over time.

From 1936 to 1939, the German police focused on homosexuality as one of its top priorities.[49] In 1936 the Special Commission for Homosexuality in Berlin became the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion, working with Gestapo Special Bureau II S.[44][50] The new office organized conferences and issued directives to increase the effectiveness of anti-homosexual persecution.[50] During the first years of Nazi rule, regional differences in the prosecution of homosexuals reflected pre-Nazi trends in policing, but in 1936, the police launched a nationwide campaign against homosexual meeting places. This campaign was less effective in rural than urban areas, which subsequently saw a greater number of prosecutions.[42][51][52] If the Gestapo believed there were not enough charges for homosexuality being brought in a certain area, they would send in a special unit in order to train and encourage local criminal police.[53]

Serious operational difficulties resulted from assigning the responsibility for carrying out the anti-homosexuality campaign to police and courts that were not given any increase in personnel or resources. Besides the significant increase in the number of criminal cases to be prosecuted, cases of homosexuality demanded more time and attention because of the difficulty of proving private conduct.[54] Because of the difficulty in identifying homosexuals, some police departments resorted to calling in entire classes of teenage boys and asking them about their sexual experiences. In this manner, it was possible to increase the charges of homosexuality brought; such youthful relationships were the basis of 23.9 percent of charges by 1939. Himmler approved of such methods, arguing that otherwise homosexuality would spread unchecked in all-male Nazi institutions.[53]

Between 1937 and 1939, nearly 95,000 men were arrested for homosexuality, or more than 600 every week—representing a major investment from the Nazi police state.[55] From 1936 to 1939, nearly 30,000 men were convicted under Paragraph 175. Unlike in the past, these men were virtually guaranteed to receive a jail sentence.[13] The length of sentences increased with many sentenced to years in jail.[50][51] Prosecutors, judges, and others involved in the cases increasingly cited Nazi ideology to justify harsh punishment, adopting the regime campaign of "stamping out the plague of homosexuality".[13][51] The use of concentration camp imprisonment increased; after 1937 those considered to have seduced others into homosexuality were confined to concentration camps.[56] Persecuting homosexuals was a springboard for career advancement for lawyers and policemen.[47]

World War II[edit]

Kurt Wilcke (1908–1944) was imprisoned for his homosexuality in Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp [de]. Later transferred to a punishment battalion, he died during the Battle of Narva.

From 1939 to 1940, the number of men sentenced in civil courts under Paragraph 175 dropped by half (from 7,614 to 3,773). More men were subject to military jurisdiction,[13] and—with the onset of war—homosexuality was no longer the top priority of the security police.[57] In anticipation of the outbreak of war, at the end of August 1939, Heydrich had ordered the Gestapo to transfer most homosexual cases to the Kripo in order to free up resources for the persecution of opposition groups.[58] It is unknown how many Paragraph 175 cases were handled by the special courts.[59]

An estimated 6,400 to 7,000 men were convicted by the military courts in Nazi Germany [de] under Paragraph 175.[60][59] The military considered homosexuals to be predators who disrupted morale and unit cohesion.[61] Prior to the war, homosexuals were offered re-education and if failed this, they could be dismissed and incarcerated in a concentration camp for the duration of their compulsory military service.[62] Under the manpower requirements of war it was felt necessary to recruit all available men,[61] and it was also a concern that rejecting homosexuals from military service could open a loophole for draft evaders.[63] Men considered sex offenders, including homosexuals, as well as rapists and child molesters, could serve in the Wehrmacht assuming they were willing to bear arms and remain celibate during their military service. Known homosexuals and even some former concentration camp prisoners were called up.[64] Even castrated men could serve in the Wehrmacht.[63]

Overall, military courts were more lenient than civilian courts when it came to consensual sex and harsher when it came to cases falling under 175a.[65] The army differentiated between innate homosexuals, who were to be punished, and those who suffered a one-time lapse of self-control. Younger men were therefore seen as capable of rehabilitation. Guidelines were issued for the prevention of homosexuality in communal areas.[66] Soldiers convicted of homosexuality were sentenced to on average one-year prison sentences but served only a fraction of this before being paroled to the front. The length of time served decreased because of the increasing manpower shortage.[67] Although military courts followed the 1935 version of Paragraph 175, they were more lenient than civilian courts and generally only issued a conviction when there was attempted or actual contact with another person's genitals. More than 90 percent of those convicted were reintegrated into the military.[68] In 1943, Himmler, who believed that the military was not hard enough on homosexuality, demanded a classification system that would see "incorrigible" homosexual offenders sent to concentration camps. The military attempted to ensure that as many men as possible were retained under military jurisdiction to preserve vital manpower, but cooperated with the Gestapo to rid itself of a few men who could not control their sexual desires and were therefore seen as a threat to the military.[69] Beginning in 1944, some homosexual concentration camp prisoners were forcibly enlisted in the army, which continued until a week before the unconditional surrender.[70] They were typically recruited into penal battalions, especially the Dirlewanger Brigade.[71]

Citing internal discussions during World War II, Giles argues that if the Nazis were victorious and completed the Holocaust they would have intensified the persecution of other populations, including homosexuals. The Nazis planned to make castration the standard punishment and use the death penalty against repeat offenders; Paragraph 175 would be revised to criminalize female homosexuality. By continuing to label homosexuals as child molesters, they could obtain public support for this intensified campaign. Giles hypothesizes that frustration with the impossibility of eliminating homosexuality would fuel additional radicalization of Nazi anti-homosexual policy.[72]

Annexed territories[edit]

Willi Bondi (1897–1941), a homosexual Jew from Brno, was deported to Auschwitz in 1941 and murdered there[73]

The persecution of homosexuals was extended to the annexed territories but not the rest of German-occupied Europe;[74] the Nazis were mostly uninterested in punishing homosexuals who were not considered ethnically German.[75] After the annexation of Austria in 1938, the persecution applied to homosexual men in Germany was quickly applied and coordinated by the Gestapo until shortly before the beginning of the war.[76] Criminal prosecution of men for homosexuality, which had been illegal before the war under the Austrian criminal code, almost doubled during the Nazi era in Austria.[77] The use of regular police after 1939 did not help Austrian homosexuals and both regular and special courts applied draconian punishments, including the death penalty.[76] German law was applied in the Sudetenland after its annexation in late 1938 and in the case of homosexuals applied retroactively.[78][79] German law was imposed in Alsace–Lorraine in January 1942 and homosexuals there soon faced a harsh legal crackdown, including retroactive application of the law.[78]

In the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, German law applied to ethnic Germans and the old Austrian criminal code applied to others.[80] The latter was much more favorable to men charged with a homosexual relationship, and Czechs convicted under the law were not deported to concentration camps for that reason alone.[81] Although prosecution increased dramatically during the German occupation,[80] the police focused their efforts at breaking up male prostitution rings rather than homosexual relationships between Czechs.[82] At least two homosexuals were subjected to extrajudicial detention in Protectorate labor camps.[83] In 1945, President Edvard Beneš offered an amnesty to those convicted for homosexuality during the occupation, although the law remained in effect.[84] In the Netherlands, Dutch police were reluctant to act on a 1940 edict, Order No. 81/40, punishing consensual sex between adult men. Therefore, there were few convictions.[85]

Nazi views of homosexuality[edit]

The Nazis were influenced by earlier ideas conflating homosexuality, child molestation, and the "seduction of youth".[43] Before the Nazis' rise to power, there was already a widespread belief among Germans that homosexuality was not inborn but instead could be spread.[86] It was a particular concern for the Nazis that their all-male organizations such as the Hitler Youth, SS, and SA, which were occasionally the source of homosexual scandals, would not be seen as hotbeds of homosexual recruitment.[37] Based on the theories of Karl Bonhoeffer and Emil Kraepelin,[87] the Nazis believed that homosexuals seduced young men and infected them with homosexuality, permanently changing the sexual orientation and preventing the youth from becoming fathers. Rhetoric described homosexuality as a contagious disease[88] but not in the medical sense. Rather, homosexuality was a disease of the Volkskörper (national body), a metaphor for the desired national or racial community (Volksgemeinschaft). According to Nazi ideology, individuals' lives were to be subordinated to the Volkskörper like cells in the human body. Homosexuality was seen as a virus or cancer in the Volkskörper because it was seen as a threat to the German nation.[89] Some Nazis believed that homosexuality was heritable.[90]

The issue of distinguishing "genuine" homosexuals who would require permanent imprisonment from men who were considered salvageable was one that preoccupied the Nazis, especially after many cases surfaced in the supposedly racially pure SS. Succumbing to a homosexual act once, especially when drunk, was not necessarily considered evidence of permanent homosexuality. It was believed that such men could be "cured" by a short stay in a concentration camp or psychiatric treatment. The most detailed typology of homosexuality was created by Luftwaffe physician Oskar Schröder [de] in 1944. Schröder believed that homosexuals could be classified into "quasi-homosexuals, experiential homosexuals, and born homosexuals". The former could be tempted into homosexuality while drunk or for material advantage, the second had become homosexual as a result of upbringing (blamed on a cold mother), and the third was considered most dangerous.[91][89] The Göring Institute offered treatment to homosexuals referred by the Hitler Youth and other Nazi organizations, by 1938 claiming to have changed the sexual orientation in 341 of 510 patients and by 1944 claimed over 500 cures. The institute also intervened to reduce sentences in some cases. The SS sent a few men there after release from a concentration camp.[92] The flip side to the Nazis' persecution of homosexuality was their encouragement of heterosexual relations (including extramarital sex) for racially desirable people.[93][94]

The Nazis, especially Himmler, held conspiratorial beliefs about homosexuals, believing that they were more loyal to each other than the Nazi Party or Germany.[95][96] Himmler claimed that homosexuals promoted others not based on meritocracy, but rather the "erotic principle": that once a homosexual was put in charge of anything, his subordinates would be replaced by homosexuals.[43][95] After the Röhm purge, he told Gestapo personnel that they had narrowly avoided the capture of the state by Urnings (homosexuals).[43] In 1937, the SS magazine Das Schwarze Korps declared homosexuals "enemies of the state" in a headline, explaining that they must be "eradicated": "They form a state within a state, a secret organization that runs counter to the interests of the people, that is, an organization that is hostile to the state."[43][95] The newspaper argued that only 2 percent of those who engaged in homosexual acts were committed homosexuals and the rest could be turned away from homosexuality.[57] Forty thousand homosexuals were considered capable of "poisoning" two million men if left to roam free.[56]

Homosexual men were considered to be shirking their duty to repopulate the German nation after World War I and create sons who could be drafted into the army to fight Hitler's planned wars of aggression.[97] On 18 February 1937, Himmler gave a speech about homosexuality in Bad Tölz. He estimated that there were one or two million homosexual men in Germany, which, he claimed, would lead to the depopulation of Germany by reducing the number of men available for reproduction.[98][99][100] Himmler also called homosexuals pathological liars and "the most cowardly people in existence". Himmler argued that homosexuality could lead to the end of Germany, but it was not possible to end the problem by drowning homosexuals as he claimed used to be done by the Teutons.[101] The ideas in this speech were derived from the 1927 book Eroticism and Race by Herwig Hartner, which claimed that homosexuality was a Jewish plot against Germany.[95] Ultimately Himmler viewed homosexuals as "enemies of the state who had to be eliminated".[102]

According to historian Stefan Micheler, "Nearly all Germans came into contact with Nazi homophobic propaganda."[103] Micheler argues that this propaganda encouraged Germans to denounce homosexual men.[104] There was never a Nazi policy of exterminating all homosexuals in the way that there was the Final Solution targeting Jews.[105][106] Nevertheless, the Nazi regime considered it one of its goals to eliminate all manifestations of homosexuality in Germany, and therefore the persecution of homosexuals can be considered eliminationism.[106]

Methods[edit]

Identification and arrest[edit]

Homosexuals were more difficult to round up than other groups targeted by the Nazis.[90] Police were given detailed instructions on spotting homosexuals. They were instructed to be on the lookout for flamboyant men, those who avoided women or were seen walking arm-in-arm with other men, and anyone who rented a double room at a hotel. Hairdressers, bathhouse attendants, hotel receptionists, railway station porters and others were asked to report suspicious behavior. Complicating the Nazis' efforts, many homosexual men did not fit these stereotypes, and in contrast, many effeminate men were not homosexual.[55]

According to one estimate, denunciations resulted in 35 percent of arrests of homosexuals.[107] Men were denounced by "neighbors, relatives, coworkers, vengeful students or employees, and even angry or jealous boyfriends", passersby who overheard suspicious conversation, and Hitler Youth or other Nazi supporters who voluntarily acted as the morality police. State employees working in youth welfare or rail stations, or Nazi functionaries in the German Labor Front (DAF), the SA, the SS, or the Hitler Youth also brought cases to the attention of the authorities.[108] Although some denunciations were motivated by private vendettas, the majority concerned child abuse or "youth seduction" as there was an injured party to complain.[109] Some men were falsely denounced as homosexual by other Germans.[110] The snowball method involved arresting one man, interrogating him and searching his belongings in order to find additional suspects;[43] this method accounted for 30 percent of arrests.[107] Some men were observed before their arrest or temporarily released in hopes that they would lead the police to additional suspects. Some were shown photo albums of other suspected homosexuals; especially male prostitutes were often willing to identify other homosexuals this way.[111] Another ten percent of victims were arrested in police raids often conducted in parks and public toilets and areas frequented by male prostitutes.[107][108] In Hamburg, the police watched restaurants that served a mixed clientele as well as the most trafficked public toilets.[51] Entrapment was also used as way to ensnare homosexuals.[97]

Charges of homosexuality were sometimes deployed against people who were not guilty.[97][112] Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels commented, "When Himmler wants to get rid of someone, he just throws §175 at him."[97] About 250 Catholic clergy were charged with morals offenses [de] in the mid-1930s. Many of the charges, including both sexual abuse of minors and consensual homosexual activity, were true. Others were probably invented. The trials, a tactic previously used during the Kulturkampf, were of limited efficacy in their intended purpose of discrediting the church.[97][113][114] Catholic authorities alternated between reprimanding the guilty and covering up the scandal.[115]

Regional and class-based targeting[edit]

Regional differences in convictions under Paragraph 175 in Germany, 1930s. Hamburg is the highest

Active policing tactics were mainly limited to the larger cities; in rural areas, the police relied on denunciation.[97] The difference in policing strategy as well as likely overrepresentation and greater visibility of homosexuals in urban areas led to vastly different conviction rates in different parts of Germany. Convictions in Bavaria and Mecklenburg were below the national average while in Rhine Province, Hamburg, and Berlin, they exceeded the average. Within states, urban areas had more cases than rural areas located in the same state. Because of the reliance on denunciation in rural areas, a disproportionate number of cases involved child abuse or "youth seduction".[109]

Young and working-class men were overrepresented among those arrested and prosecuted, perhaps because they were less able to evade the authorities.[116][117] Working-class men made up half of suspects, another third came from the lower middle class, and fewer men from higher classes were affected.[117] In Austria, where working-class homosexuals were the traditional targets of criminalization, arrests were extended to the middle class, but it still took more egregious behavior for a higher-class person to be punished for homosexuality.[65] A considerable number of those persecuted for homosexuality also belonged to other groups persecuted by the Nazis such as Jews, Romani people, the disabled, sex workers, communists, social democrats, deserters, or forced laborers.[118]

Interrogation and trial[edit]

After arresting a man, the victim was assumed to be guilty, especially if there was a history of homosexual acts or a previous conviction.[119] Police would tell his family[107] and (one man recalled) employer why he had been arrested, demanding that he be released from employment.[51] With a conviction, the victim could expect a complete life breakdown, often including loss of home and job, expulsion from professional organizations, and revocation of awards and doctorates.[50] Interrogations were harsh and geared to forcing the victim to confess to the acts that the police believed him guilty of. Austere cells of temporary detention facilities were sufficient to obtain confessions in some cases. Other suspects would crumple in the face of "screams, curses, threats, and endless questions", and some were beaten. Held for weeks with nothing to do but await interrogation, some suffered from mental breakdown. In order to encourage some men to confess or incarcerate them when there was not enough evidence to obtain a conviction, some were sent to concentration camps under protective custody. The police would tell suspects that if they confessed they would get less punishment while otherwise they would suffer indefinite detention in a concentration camp or lengthy incarceration.[108]

Both the Gestapo and the Kripo (criminal police) targeted homosexuals, a rivalry that may have encouraged the latter to adopt the more brutal tactics of the former.[120] Torture was regularly used to extract confessions and the use of "enhanced interrogation" (verschärfte Vernehmung) was explicitly approved of by Josef Meisinger, the head of the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion. Meisinger believed that "enhanced interrogation" of homosexuals was appropriate as they conspired in the same way as communists.[53] After 1936, the cases were processed in an expedited fashion and the accused rarely had a legal defense. Most had already confessed, which guaranteed a guilty verdict. An unknown number found unfit to stand trial were confined to psychiatric hospitals.[51]

Prisons[edit]

Arnold Bastian (1908–1945) was arrested in 1944 for his homosexuality and died in prison in 1945

Most men persecuted for homosexuality were convicted in the legal system and imprisoned in the prison system.[12] In Germany, it had long been the practice to isolate homosexual prisoners in individual cells, but because of the vast increase in arrests this proved impractical. In addition, the economic exploitation of prisoner labor meant that many prisoners were held in labor camps and housed in barracks. While some officials built tiny one-man cells in order to keep homosexual prisoners isolated, other officials spread out homosexuals among the general prison population and encouraged "brutal homophobia" among other prisoners in order to keep them under control. Homosexual prisoners did not have to wear a badge but could be identified by red underlining on their name tags.[121]

Although before 1933 prison sex had been common, prevention and punishment of this activity became much more important under Nazi rule. Any prisoner who tried to initiate a same-sex relationship, even if it did not result in any physical contact, could expect harsh punishment. The wardens relied on informers among the inmates to deter same-sex activity. Nevertheless, despite facing discrimination, homosexual prisoners were much better off in the prisons than concentration camps.[122]

Castration[edit]

Friedrich-Paul von Groszheim (1908–2006) was spared from a concentration camp after agreeing to castration under pressure in 1938

In June 1935, the Sterilization Law [de] was amended to allow individual convicted criminals to be "voluntarily" sterilized to eliminate their "degenerate sex drive".[123][111] During the Nazi era, it was considered to extend the policy of involuntary castration, previously applied to child molesters and other sex offenders, to homosexuals, but such a law never passed.[124] In 1943, Gestapo chief Ernst Kaltenbrunner advocated a law for involuntary castration for homosexuals and sex offenders, but dropped this request because he believed that the Gestapo could ensure that "voluntary" castrations were carried out where it desired.[125][126]

Although the fiction of voluntariness was maintained, some homosexuals were subject to severe pressure and coercion in order to force them to agree to castration. There was no age limit and some boys as young as 16 were castrated. Those who agreed to castration were exempted from being transferred to a concentration camp after completing their legal sentence, a threat which was leveraged in order to encourage men to "volunteer" for the procedure.[127] An estimated 400 to 800 men were castrated in this way.[60]

Concentration camps[edit]

Homosexual prisoners at Buchenwald, 1938 to 1941
5 September 1940 Gestapo order for the detention of Hans Retzlaff (1901–1940) an "incorrigible homosexual" in Sachsenhausen

The concentration camps differed from the legal punishment system as one was held in indefinite detention without recourse to law and were at the mercy of the SS and Gestapo.[128] The use of concentration camp detention for homosexuals began in 1934 and 1935; it was initially seen as a temporary reeducation measure.[56] In May 1935, the Prussian police detained 513 accused homosexuals in protective custody.[55] Himmler did not consider a time-limited prison sentence sufficient to deal with homosexuality, stating that the homosexual leaves prison exactly how he entered it.[56] After 1939, it was a policy send anyone convicted of more than one homosexual act to a concentration camp after they served their sentence.[128] On 12 July 1940, the Reich Security Main Office formalized this policy, decreeing that "in future, all homosexuals who seduced more than one partner shall be taken into preventive custody by the police after their release from prison".[56] According to research in some parts of Germany, non-aggravated homosexuality, as a rule, was not punished with concentration camp imprisonment, which was mostly reserved for those considered "youth seducers" or were convicted of male prostitution or child molestation. In other cases, homosexuality combined with criminal offenses or political opposition could see a man transferred to a concentration camp.[129]

Historian Clayton J. Whisnant states that homosexual concentration camp prisoners "experienced some of the worst conditions that humans have ever been forced to endure".[130] In the prewar camps, both Jews and homosexual prisoners ranked at the bottom of the prisoner hierarchy and those who were both Jewish and homosexual fared the worst.[131] Along with Jews, they were often assigned to segregated labor details where they had to perform especially dirty and backbreaking work[132] or punishment commandos where conditions were even harsher than the rest of the camp.[56][133] Homosexual prisoners rarely benefited from solidarity from other prisoners (even Jews) who often held negative beliefs about them.[132][134] Surviving the camps often required either building social networks with other prisoners or getting promoted to a position of authority. Homosexuals were disadvantaged in both these aspects. Some younger and more attractive men could obtain advantages from a sexual relationship with a kapo or SS guard.[135] After 1942, conditions improved because of the need for forced labor, and some homosexual prisoners were able to be promoted because of the influx of non-German prisoners who were ineligible for kapo positions.[136]

It is estimated that about 6,000 or 7,000 homosexuals in total were imprisoned in the concentration camps;[94] during World War II, they were never more than 1 percent of camp prisoners.[137] Sociologist Rüdiger Lautmann examined 2,542 known cases of homosexual concentration camp prisoners and determined that their death rate was 60 percent, compared to 42 percent of political prisoners and 35 percent of Jehovah's Witnesses.[56] Assuming a death rate of 53 to 60 percent, that would mean at least 3,100 to 3,600 men did not survive.[138] SS guards committed murder of homosexual prisoners out of cruelty or during sadistic games, disguising the death as natural causes.[139] At camps like Mauthausen and Flossenbürg, it was standard practice to work pink triangle prisoners to death. In mid-1942, almost all the homosexual prisoners at Sachsenhausen (at least two hundred) were executed. Many homosexual prisoners at Ravensbrück died at the same time.[128][56] The chance of survival depended on which camp the victim was incarcerated in; Neuengamme was considered less harsh for homosexual prisoners than Buchenwald, Dachau, or Sachsenhausen.[140]

Initially, homosexuals were differentiated from other prisoners by a capital "A" badge as used at Lichtenberg. The standardized Nazi concentration camp badges including the pink triangle for homosexual prisoners were adopted in 1938.[56] Homosexual prisoners were a favorite target of Nazi human experimentation during the last years of Nazi rule. The best known experiments involving homosexuals were attempts by endocrinologist Carl Vaernet to change prisoners' sexual orientation by implanting a pellet that released testosterone. Most of the victims, non-consenting prisoners at Buchenwald, died shortly thereafter.[136][141] Homosexual and Jewish prisoners were also used in experiments for treating typhus at Buchenwald and for testing opiates and Pervitin and treating phosphorus burns at Sachsenhausen.[136] Other homosexuals were used in deadly shoe testing experiments at Sachsenhausen where they were forced to run until they dropped.[142][143] Some homosexual prisoners were castrated.[144]

Death penalty[edit]

In a 1937 speech, Himmler argued that SS men who had served sentences for homosexuality should be transferred to a concentration camp and shot while trying to escape. This policy was never implemented, and some SS men were acquitted on homosexuality charges despite evidence against them.[128] A few death sentences against SS men for homosexual acts were pronounced between 1937 and 1940.[145] In a speech on 18 August 1941, Hitler argued that homosexuality should be combatted throughout Nazi organizations and the military. In particular, homosexuality in the Hitler Youth must be punished by death in order to protect youth from being turned into homosexuals. The Hitler Youth never implemented this policy against the thousands of its members engaging in homosexual acts at youth hostels and camps.[146]

After learning of Hitler's remark, Himmler decided that the SS must be at least as tough on homosexuality and drafted a decree mandating the death penalty to any member of the SS and police found guilty of engaging in a homosexual act. Hitler signed the decree on 15 November 1941 on the condition that there be absolutely no publicity, worried that such a harsh decree might lend fuel to left-wing propaganda that homosexuality was especially prevalent in Germany. Since it could not be published in the SS newspaper, the decree was communicated to SS men one-on-one by their superiors. However, this was not done consistently and many arrested men asserted that they had no knowledge of the decree.[146] Even after the decree, only a few death sentences were pronounced.[105][147] Himmler often commuted the sentence especially if he thought that the accused was not a committed homosexual, but had suffered a one-time mistake (particularly while drunk). Many of those whose sentence was commuted were sent to serve in the Dirlewanger Brigade, a penal unit on the Eastern Front, where most were killed.[105] After late 1943, because of military losses, it was the policy to recycle SS men convicted of homosexuality into the Wehrmacht.[148]

The 1933 law on habitual criminals also allowed for execution after the third conviction.[149] On 4 September 1941 a new law allowed the execution of dangerous sex offenders or habitual criminals when "the protection of the Volksgemeinschaft or the need for just atonement require it". This law enabled authorities to pronounce death sentences against homosexuals, and is known to have been employed in four cases in Austria.[150][151] In 1943, Wilhelm Keitel, head of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, authorized the death penalty for soldiers convicted of homosexuality in "particularly serious cases".[152][153] However, only a few executions of homosexual Wehrmacht soldiers are known, mostly in conjunction with other charges especially desertion.[152] Some homosexuals were executed at Nazi euthanasia centers, such as Bernburg or Meseritz-Obrawalde. It is difficult to estimate the number of homosexuals directly killed during the Nazi era.[138]

Continued existence[edit]

Historian Alexander Zinn [de] estimates that about one in four German homosexuals was investigated during the Nazi era and no more than ten percent were imprisoned. He argues that this relatively low rate is evidence of indifference among the general German population towards homosexuality; denunciation of consensual homosexual relations was less common.[109] Zinn argues that, while all homosexuals in Nazi Germany suffered from the indirect effects of criminalization, their lives cannot be reduced to fear of arrest and they retained a limited degree of personal freedom.[154] Many homosexuals married even before 1933 and the Nazi rise to power provided an added incentive, although such marriages were usually unhappy. Homosexual desires did not go away and some sought homosexual contact outside of marriage, thereby risking denunciation by an unhappy wife. Some men organized lavender marriages with lesbians that they knew from the pre-1933 scene.[155] Although nearly all tried to keep a low profile and avoid the attention of the authorities,[107] men continued to find sexual partners at Kreuzberg bathhouses or Münzstrasse [de] movie theaters or by cruising in places such as Alexanderplatz and the Friedrichstrasse in Berlin. Many suffered from disrupted relationships, loneliness, or loss of self-esteem.[156] A significant number of gay and bisexual men committed suicide;[138] 25 percent of those persecuted in Hamburg.[118]

Historian Manfred Herzer [de] argues that those gay men and lesbians who avoided persecution "belonged to the willing subjects and beneficiaries of the Nazi state just like other German men and women".[156] The likelihood of being persecuted was lower for those who suppressed their sex life or served higher goals of Nazism.[157] Many German homosexuals joined the armed forces during World War II, thereby participating in Germany's wars of aggression. Some also joined the Nazi Party after 1933, similarly to other Germans for reasons of careerism.[156] War and armed service also provided an opportunity for sexual encounters with other men, either members of the armed services or not. There were also opportunities for non-consensual sex with other soldiers, subordinates, people from occupied countries, or prisoners. Both types of sex might be practiced by men who did not identify as homosexual. During the last years of the war there were increased opportunity for sexual encounters in bombed-out cities.[158]

Himmler ordered that culturally prominent German homosexuals be allowed their private lives and required that his permission be obtained before any arrests of such individuals.[159][65] For example, writer Erich Ebermayer continued living with his male partner during the Nazi dictatorship; other gay couples and the bisexual actor Gustaf Gründgens were left alone.[65]

Aftermath[edit]

The Nazi persecution is considered to mark the high point in discrimination and violence against homosexuals across history. Never before in history or since have so many homosexuals been sentenced to prison in such a short period of time, even disregarding concentration camp imprisonment.[160][161] It is estimated that 100,000 men were arrested and half of these spent time in prison.[162] Postwar attitudes towards homosexuality were influenced by Nazi propaganda associating homosexuality with criminality and medical illness.[162] Men who had spent time in prisons or concentration camps had to serve the rest of their sentence after the end of the war.[163] Arrest and incarceration of men for consensual homosexual acts continued to be common in West Germany and Austria through the 1960s;[164][165] between 1945 and 1969 West Germany convicted about the same number of men (50,000) as the Nazis had done in twelve years.[166] The 1935 version of Paragraph 175—one of the few Nazi-era laws not amended or repealed in West Germany[167]—was upheld by the Federal Constitutional Court in 1957[168] and remained in force until 1969, when homosexuality was partially decriminalized.[169] In 1962, historian Hans-Joachim Schoeps commented, "For the homosexuals the Third Reich has not yet ended."[170][171] Although not entirely accurate, this statement captured the view of many West German homosexuals.[170] In East Germany homosexuality was rarely prosecuted after 1957 and decriminalized in 1968;[165] the number of convictions was much lower.[166] The decriminalization did not result in widespread social acceptance, and Paragraph 175 was only repealed in 1994.[60]

Homosexual concentration camp prisoners were not recognized as victims of National Socialism.[172][173] Just as there was a hierarchy among prisoners in the concentration camps, there was also a hierarchy among survivors.[173] Reparations and state pensions available to other groups were refused to gay men, who were still classified as criminals. Even political prisoners or persecuted Jews could be disqualified from victim status if it was discovered that they were homosexual.[174] In the 1950s, Rudolf Klimmer unsuccessfully petitioned the East German government to recognize homosexuals as victims of Nazism and offer them compensation in line with that for other victims.[175] In West Germany, activists made similar demands in the 1970s but were denied.[176] In 2002, Germany annulled the Nazi-era judgements under Paragraph 175[177] and victims were offered compensation in 2017.[178] Because in 2017 annulment of judgements and the offer of compensation extended to men convicted after 1945, it is the only case in which the German state offered reparations for acts not considered "typical Nazi injustice" that would not be possible in a democratic state.[179] The last surviving Nazi concentration camp prisoners imprisoned for their homosexuality, Pierre Seel and Rudolf Brazda, have died.[180]

Legacy[edit]

Before 1970, there were hardly any references to the persecution of homosexuals. This changed in the aftermath of the Stonewall riots and the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in Germany that triggered the era of gay liberation.[181] The memory of the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany in the LGBT community appeared at the same time, in the 1970s, as large-scale LGBT rights movements developed.[182] The awareness of homosexuals as a separate category of Nazi victims began in the United States and was later adopted by German homosexual activists.[183] The term "Homocaust" came into use shortly after "Holocaust" and activists cited 250,000 deaths, but historical research soon refuted the initially exaggerated claims of victimization of homosexuals.[184] The 1979 play Bent by Martin Sherman further popularized the Nazi persecution of homosexuals in English-speaking countries.[185] The pink triangle became one of the most prominent symbols of gay liberation in the United States.[186][181] Activists use the symbol to connect Nazi persecution to present-day discrimination and violence against LGBT people and mobilize opposition against the latter.[187]

The practice of laying memorial wreaths in concentration camps in memory of homosexual victims began in the 1970s. In 1985, the persecution of homosexuals was officially recognized for the first time in a speech by President Richard von Weizsäcker.[188][60] Permanent memorials were added to several concentration camps, including Mauthausen (1984), Sachsenhausen (1992), Dachau (1995), and Buchenwald (2002).[173][188] This memorialization encountered strong resistance from established survivor associations.[173] Memorials have been constructed in several German cities as well, such as Frankfurt (1994), Cologne (1995), Berlin (2008) and Lübeck (2016) and abroad in Amsterdam, Bologna, Turin, Barcelona, San Francisco, New York, Montevideo, Sydney and Tel Aviv.[189][190] Hundreds of Stolpersteine have been installed to commemorate individual victims of the Nazis' anti-homosexual persecution.[118] In the United States, there was less emphasis on memorialization[191] and more explicit comparisons between the Jewish Holocaust and persecution of homosexuals. German gay activists tended to see a closer parallel to the Nazi persecution of communists and socialists.[192]

Sources attesting to the persecution of homosexuals are scarce.[193] Most homosexuals, especially those who avoided arrest, never spoke about their experiences.[193][194] The Nazis destroyed a great number of records, including the archive of the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion. Remaining sources are mainly in the form of police and court records.[193] In 1972, concentration camp survivor Josef Kohout published his memoir, The Men With the Pink Triangle, which is one of the only accounts from a pink triangle prisoner.[195] The first historical research appeared at the end of the 1970s.[196] The view of persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany as simply another expression of "Nazi terror" disregards the continuity in anti-homosexual practices before and after the Nazi era.[197][198]

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Sources[edit]

Books[edit]

  • Herzog, Dagmar (2011). Sexuality in Europe: A Twentieth-Century History. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-87096-2.
  • Longerich, Peter (2011). Heinrich Himmler: A Life. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-161705-8.
  • Lorenz, Gottfried (2018). Todesurteile und Hinrichtungen wegen homosexueller Handlungen während der NS-Zeit: Mann-männliche Internetprostitution. Und andere Texte zur Geschichte und zur Situation der Homosexuellen in Deutschland [Death sentences and executions for homosexual acts during the Nazi era, male-male internet prostitution, and other texts on the history and situation of homosexuals in Germany] (in German). LIT Verlag. ISBN 978-3-643-13992-4.
  • Marhoefer, Laurie (2015). Sex and the Weimar Republic: German Homosexual Emancipation and the Rise of the Nazis. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-1-4426-1957-9.
  • Snyder, David Raub (2007). Sex Crimes Under the Wehrmacht. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0-8032-0742-4.
  • Storkmann, Klaus (2021). Tabu und Toleranz: Der Umgang mit Homosexualität in der Bundeswehr 1955 bis 2000 [Taboo and Tolerance: Homosexuality and the Bundeswehr 1955 to 2000] (in German). De Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-073290-0.
  • Vendrell, Javier Samper (2020). Seduction of Youth: Print Culture and Homosexual Rights in the Weimar Republic. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-1-4875-2503-3.
  • Wachsmann, Nikolaus (2015) [2004]. Hitler’s Prisons: Legal Terror in Nazi Germany. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-22829-8.
  • Weindling, Paul (2015). Victims and Survivors of Nazi Human Experiments: Science and Suffering in the Holocaust. Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 978-1-4411-7990-6.
  • Whisnant, Clayton J. (2016). Queer Identities and Politics in Germany: A History, 1880–1945. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-1-939594-10-5.
  • Wünschmann, Kim (2015). Before Auschwitz: Jewish Prisoners in the Prewar Concentration Camps. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-96759-5.

Chapters[edit]

Journal articles[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Grau, Günter (2011). Lexikon zur Homosexuellenverfolgung 1933-1945: Institutionen-Kompetenzen-Betätigungsfelder [Reference book of the persecution of homosexuals 1933–1945: Institutions, competencies, fields of activity] (in German). LIT Verlag. ISBN 978-3-8258-9785-7.

External links[edit]

Media related to Persecution of homosexuals in the Holocaust at Wikimedia Commons