Despite homosexual activities being punishable acts in the Weimar Republic, the homosexual scene in Germany flourished. The social acceptance of gay men and lesbian women grew: associations were founded, bars and clubs were opened, and magazines were published. The Nazis viewed this as decadent and felt responsible for eradicating the vice of homosexuality. Beginning with the take-over of power in 1933, the Nazis started to persecute homosexual men. Hundreds were sent to concentration camps, associations and societies were disbanded, bars and clubs were closed, any gay publications were prohibited and homosexuals were forced into hiding.
Hitler and his followers viewed gay men as a danger to the ‘master race’. They were convinced that homosexuals were sick, weak and effeminate. Additionally, they didn’t contribute towards the procreation of the Arian race and couldn’t fight for their country. Those ‘renegades’ could, however, be reintegrated into the ‘master race’ if only they changed their lifestyle and abandoned their ‘pervert activities’. Like many others, the Nazis thought that homosexuality was an illness that could be cured through humiliation and hard physical work.
Lesbians were not deemed dangerous and were not systematically persecuted. They were arrested under the guise of prostitution or simply because they were viewed as ‘asocial’. The persecution of homosexual men was limited to Germans and Austrians.
#The persecution begins
On the 6th May 1933, the SA (Sturmabteilung) conducted a raid of the ‘Institute for the Science of Sexuality’ and confiscated approximately 12,000 books and 35,000 pictures. They were burned on the 10th May during the Nazis’ infamous book burning in Berlin. The institute was originally founded in 1919 and researched various topics of sexuality, including marriage problems, sexually transmitted diseases, sex crimes, abortion and homosexuality.
On the 24th October 1934, Hitler ordered the Gestapo to record anybody who had been involved in any ‘lewd act whatsoever’, and put them on the so-called ‘pink list’. The Ministry of Justice tightened the existing Article 175 of the criminal code even further on the 28th June 1935. Not only was ‘unnatural indecency’ punishable, but even the intention of homosexual intercourse. Once again, however, the law did not include lesbian intercourse.
In October 1936, Heinrich Himmler established the ‘Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion’, to encourage a higher birth rate in Germany. From then on, gay men were persecuted even more systematically: their meeting points were searched, and men suspected of being gay were arrested and their address books confiscated. Based on Article 175 of the German criminal code, the Gestapo were now allowed to put gay men in ‘protective or preventive custody’ if they were considered dangerous to the German moral – they often did this without legal proceedings.
On the 15th of November 1941, Hitler published the Erlass des Führers zur Reinhaltung von SS und Polizei (Führer’s Decree for the Purification of the SS and the Police) and ordered that any members of the SS and the police who committed homosexual acts would be put to death. He accused his political opposition in particular of homosexuality so that he could prosecute them.
Foto: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1993-051-07 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5483566
#Gay men in the concentration camp
100,000 of the approximate 1.2 million gay men in the Third Reich were arrested between 1933 and 1945, and roughly half of them were prosecuted due to homosexual activity. Many of them served time in normal prisons. However, between 5,000 and 15,000 of them were transferred into various concentration camps. There they were called “175ers” and had to wear a pink triangle on their camp uniform to identify them as gays.
Homosexuals were treated particularly brutally by guards and other prisoners alike. It is estimated that 60% of the gay inmates died from starvation, illness, exhaustion, cold, forced labour or violent treatment. Additionally, they were used as test subjects for medical experiments, since the Nazis believed that homosexuality should be viewed as a curable illness. Danish SS doctor Carl Værnet, for example, performed surgeries on the prisoners, implanting artificial hormonal glands in their groin area. The inmates were also promised a reduction of their imprisonment if they would agree to be castrated. Later, judges and SS officers were allowed to perform castrations even without the inmate’s consent.
After the Second World War ended, homosexual concentration camp inmates were not officially recognised as victims of Nazi persecution and, therefore, also did not receive compensation. It is difficult to estimate how many fell victim to the Nazis, since this particular topic was taboo for a long time and many victims didn’t speak up because they were too ashamed. On the 1st September 1969, paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code (which stated that homosexual acts between males a crime) was first reformed in West Germany – stating that homosexual actions between adults were no longer punishable. However, the paragraph was only removed from the Penal Code in 1994.
# Unknown Author „Rosa Winkel: Das Schicksal Homosexueller im Dritten Reich und der lange Leidensweg der 175er“. Available in German at: https://www.uni-oldenburg.de/fileadmin/user_upload/geschichte/projekte/ol.verfolgungsszenarien/download/Rosa_Winkel-script.pdf (Accessed 07.04.2018)
# United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (2016) „Online Exhibition – Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals”. Available at: https://www.ushmm.org/information/exhibitions/online-exhibitions/special-focus/nazi-persecution-of-homosexuals (Accessed 07.04.2018)
# United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (2016) „Persecution of Homosexuals”. Available at: https://www.ushmm.org/learn/students/learning-materials-and-resources/homosexuals-victims-of-the-nazi-era/persecution-of-homosexuals (Accessed 07.04.2018)
# United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (2016) „Persecution of Homosexuals in the Third Reich”. Available at: https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005261 (Accessed 07.04.2018)
# Zinn, A. (2008) „Homosexuellenverfolgung im „Dritten Reich““. Available in German at: http://homo-denkmal.de/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5&Itemid=45 (Accessed 07.04.2018)