LGBT Experience of Nazi Persecution and Post War Responses

In this section of the website we have curated a host of materials exploring the impact of the Nazi era on LGBT life.

Amongst the information and stories, readings and research, you will find a 1919 public education film from the ‘Einstein of Sex’ Dr Magnus Hirschfeld, Berlin-based exhibits, and the first submission to the international community documenting LGBT experience.

You will also learn how the Allies and German Federal authorities did not recognise LGBT victims even when they had been subjected to the most inhuman treatment.

At this time of rising persecution of LGBT people in places like Uganda and Russia, and growing extremism at home, we believe that the echoes from history should never be forgotten. This is a start to an ongoing programme of resource development. Let us know what you would like to see us add.

Nazi Ideology

Hitler and other leading Nazis had a plan for German society which valued sameness, not diversity.  Their goal was to make Germany an exclusively Aryan nation and they had an ‘ideal’ picture of a German citizen — strong and healthy, fair skinned, blond haired and blue eyed. Propaganda films were made to show this ideal of young German men and women.  Hitler was obsessive about same-ness and, for him, not all human beings were equal; some were even untermenschen – subhuman.  He feared and hated anyone who was different, including people who might look like this German ideal but think or act differently.  For example, a person’s political or religious views might deviate from the Nazi’s concept of ‘normality’. Sexual orientation was also important to Hitler because he believed lesbian or gay people were also genetically inferior and their presence would spoil the Aryan blood line.

Defence of LGBT rights dates from 1897 

In Germany a Scientific-Humanitarian Committee had been set up to defend the rights of LGBT Germans in 1897.  By the 1920’s, especially in Berlin, there was a more open and tolerant view towards homosexuality with newspapers and magazines on sale in newsagents, openly lesbian and gay bars and dedicated community service organisations. (see Dr Magnus Hirshfeld for more)

Nazi Opposition and Persecution

However, from the beginning the Nazi party made its opposition clear.  The reason they gave for this was that all sexual relations had one major purpose – the birth of more Aryan German children to build up the nation or Volk.  They  also had very fixed ideas of the roles of men and women –  gays and lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people were seen as pre-programmed to be antisocial, to conflict with these roles.

When the Nazis came into power, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels made the party’s policy very clear on the night of 6 May, 1933

“We must exterminate these people root and branch; the homosexual must be eliminated.”

In 1933, the Nazis began taking people into what they called ‘protective custody’ (Schutzhaft), but which really meant they were arrested.  Anyone who represented a threat to Nazism, through their political, religious or other views was included in the Schutzhaft.  People who were known to be gay or who had been involved in defending gay rights were also rounded up.  In 1935, it was made an offence to ‘promote friendships’ between men which might have a homosexual element.

The Nazis theory of racial superiority impacted on Jews, Roma and Sinti, disabled, LGBT and black people in related but different ways.

During 12 years in power the Nazis implemented a broad range of measures, including expanding Paragraph 175 to encompass suspicion and a broader range of activities. An estimated 50,000-80,000 gay men were sentenced and imprisoned, some of whom faced the death penalty. Up to 15,000 gay men were deported to concentration camps and made to wear the pink triangle symbol that identified them as homosexual. It is likely that the majority of LGB concentration camp victims were not pink triangle prisoners, having arrived for other reasons.  However, LGBT members of the Jewish, Roma, communist or trade union communities,who became known, were, in many cases, segregated with other gay prisoners within prisons or camps. It is known that some Jewish homosexuals were made to wear a pink and yellow Star of David, combining the two triangles. A pink badge of any type made people identifiable to the guards and singled them out for extra torment.  In at least one camp, it is recorded that the SS used the pink triangles on the men’s chests as targets to shoot at ‘for practice’. Many of these detainees were subjected to specific measures of starvation and hard labour, castration, medical experiments and collective murder actions. (See Leopold Obermeyer, Albert Christel, Albrecht Becker, Pierre Seel)

Lesbianism was not illegal in Germany, because women were not recognised as having such power. Whilst lesbians did not suffer the same kind of persecution as gay men, there is historical evidence of police records being collected on lesbians. Some lesbians who did not conform to the authorised women’s role and behaviour were sent to concentration camps, sometimes even classed as prostitutes. They wore green triangles as anti-socials. By contrast, in Austria lesbianism was criminalised and liable for prosecution and persecution.

Post War Allied and German Federal Response

After the war, neither the Allies nor the new German or Austrian States recognised gay men or lesbians as victims of Nazism alongside other groups. Not only were they were not considered eligible for compensation but they had to return to the same laws, police and magistrates that had persecuted them. Some were even re-imprisoned. As one survivor, Pierre Seel, said:

“Liberation was for others.”                                                                                                                  .

Despite an initial re-emergence of LGBT life after 1945, as the Constitutional Court rejected cases for equal treatment of gay victims, and alone amongst Nazi measures Para 175 was not repealed, the community drew back. It suffered decades of repression, with many people born after the war living in the shadow of Hitler. Nazi laws against homosexuality remained in place in Germany until 1967. Unsurprisingly, very few victims of wartime persecution came forward to fight for recognition or tell their stories. Those that did were often further victimised and committed suicide. (See Albert Christel)

To mark the 50th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1995, the first international conference on LGBT experience under the Nazis was mounted a Birkbeck College, London University. Directed by the World Congress of LGBT Jewish Organisations and funded by Stonewall’s charitable arm, the Iris Trust, it not only brought together key researchers and LGBT agencies, (some had not met before) but also 150 members of the public. An international Pink Triangle Coalition was established to lobby for restitution and promote education and research.

During the late 20th and early 21st centuries a sequence of international conferences were held to address education, welfare issues, looted art and gold, unclaimed bank accounts and destroyed communal property.

The Pink Triangle Coalition Submission was the first detailed historical document on LGBT experience accepted into the record by the international community. It was submitted at the 1998 London Conference by the London-based representatives of the Coalition, with the support of key Jewish representatives.

Holocaust Memorial Day was created on 27 January 2000, when representatives from 46 governments around the world met in Stockholm to discuss Holocaust education, remembrance and research. Here is the historic declaration they signed.

From the beginning in the UK, HMD was to include LGBT experience, with Angela Mason from Stonewall and Jack Gilbert of the Pink Triangle Coalition working together to ensure that was achieved. An inclusive Statement of Commitment  was developed. It is read at every HMD event. It is now available in 14 languages and used across the globe.

In the years following the London Conference the members of the PTC worked together to enter into negotiations in the US, Switzerland and Germany. In 2001, almost 70 years after Hitler was elected,  the German state and Swiss bank compensation and education/research programmes were finally extended to include LGBT victims.

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