“May their memories forever be for a blessing.”
translation from Hebraic greeting and mentions of those deceased
Attempts to wipe out entire peoples and civilizations has existed for the millennia. However, none had come so close or had done so much damage as the action that was perpetrated out of Germany and spread across the European continent and to the East into Russia in the last century. The architects were Adolph Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers Party (the Nazi Party).
Among the demographics of those who were tortured, killed and experimented on were: Jews, 6 million; Soviet prisoners of war, 2-3 million; Ethnic Poles, 1.8-2 million; Serbs, 300,000-500,000; disabled, 270,000; Romani, 90,000-220,000; Freemasons, 80,000-200,000; Slovenes, 20,000-25,000; gays, 5,000-15,000; Jehovah’s Witnesses, 2,500-5,000; and Spanish Republicans, 7,000. Each was assigned identification patches, such as a yellow star for Jews. Gays were first required to wear yellow arm bands, but the protocol changed to the inverted pink triangle placed on a jacket’s left side, as well as on the left pant leg.
Being gay was a criminal offense in Germany. Henrich Himmler, one of the high ranking members of the Nazi Party and a cohort of Adolph Hitler, created the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion to deal with “the problem” in 1936. Gays were considered to not be wholesome and regarded as “defilers of German blood.”
In fact, during the Nazi regime, gays were subjected to a host of horrific acts which included court-ordered castration, humiliation, torture, medical experimentation and murder. Those who were relegated to concentration camps were often singled out for sexual abuse. Additionally, lesbians were also targeted, but to a lesser extent since they could more easily be forced or persuaded to appear straight.
The purge of Berlin’s LGBT community’s clubs was accompanied also by the disposal of books, gay organizations, as well as scholarly literature relative to being gay which were systematically burned. Also burned were items that were anti-Nazi, Jewish and/or not in line with party principles and ideals.
While there is not an exact count for gays who perished in the camps, it is thought that it could have been around 60 percent according to Rüdiger Lautmann, a leading scholar.
The Homocaust website reports that up 100,000 gay men and women were persecuted and imprisoned for their sexuality under Paragraph 175 of the 1871 German Penal Code. The code was revised in 1935 to include 175a and 175b (detailed below) The site also shares that of the approximte count, around 15,000 were sent to camps.
Paragraph 175 stated: “An unnatural sex act committed between persons of male sex or by humans with animals is punishable by imprisonment; the loss of civil rights may also be imposed.” During the Nazi Party’s control, the paragraph was revised. It’s components were expanded and read:
175. A male who commits lewd and lascivious acts with another male or permits himself to be so abused for lewd and lascivious acts, shall be punished by imprisonment. In a case of a participant under 21 years of age at the time of the commission of the act, the court may, in especially slight cases, refrain from punishment.
175a. Confinement in a penitentiary not to exceed ten years and, under extenuating circumstances, imprisonment for not less than three months shall be imposed:
1. Upon a male who, with force or with threat of imminent danger to life and limb, compels another male to commit lewd and lascivious acts with him or compels the other party to submit to abuse for lewd and lascivious acts;
2. Upon a male who, by abuse of a relationship of dependence upon him, in consequence of service, employment, or subordination, induces another male to commit lewd and lascivious acts with him or to submit to being abused for such, acts;
3. Upon a male who being Over 21 years of age induces another male under 21 years of age to commit lewd and lascivious acts with him or to submit to being abused for such acts;
4. Upon a male who professionally engages in lewd and lascivious acts with other men, or submits to such abuse by other men, or offers himself for lewd and lascivious acts with other men.
175b. Lewd and lascivious acts contrary to nature between human beings and animals shall be punished by imprisonment; loss of civil rights may also be imposed.
One of the party’s members was Ernst Röhm. In his early days as the Nazis came to power, his gay identity was mostly overlooked. However, that did not last. Hitler had protected Röhm in the beginning, but that changed and Röhm was murdered for his sexual orientation, along with others during the Night of Long Knives in 1934, when those who were thought to be threatening to Hitler and the party’s power, were rounded up and dealt with utilizing Nazi Party methods. Afterward, gays who would not “reform” (disavow they orientation or conduct themselves in acceptable ways) became an unprotected class and were sent to camps.
Unfortunately, reports on how gays were treated in the camps was not openly revealed and acknowledgement was not even made until the 1980s when European countries began to do so. Finally, governmental representatives from Germany extended its apologies to the LGBT community in 2002. Subsequently, a resolution on the Holocaust was adopted by the European Parliament in 2005 and included gay persecution.
Germany erected a memorial in Berlin in 2008 to honor LGBT victims and survivors. The marker includes in part the following: “With this memorial, the Federal Republic of Germany intends to honor the victims of persecution and murder, to keep alive the memory of this injustice, and to create a lasting symbol of opposition to enmity, intolerance and the exclusion of gay men and lesbians.” The monument is a cubist piece designed by artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. Two other monuments were also installed, one in Frankfurt in 1994 — Frankfurt Angel Memorial, and another one in Cologne in 1995 — Kölner Rosa Winkel. The Cologne memorial was a gift of the city trade union. Also, markers are placed in several camps.
The first LGBT Holocaust memorial in Israel was unveiled in Tel Aviv in 2014. Holocaust museums and memorial markers are located worldwide with some more directed at a particular sector or aspect of the devastating time in history.
For more detailed information, visit homocaust.org and yadvashem.org.