Holocaust is known for the period during which Europe’s Jewish community was decimated. Nazi propaganda promoted antisemitism and the superiority to the “Aryan Race” and persecution for those considered “inferior,” but other minorities were also persecuted and suffered. This was not recognized by the international community after the war ended. As with Jews, homosexuals suffered the same hateful crimes as Jews. They were subject to psychological torture and gas chambers. Even after the war was over, homosexuals were still subject to the deeply held homophobia of European society. This paper will focus on the persecution of homosexual men during and after World War II. I also discuss the conditions they lived in death camps.
Understanding the German approach to homosexuality before Nazism is crucial to understanding how the holocaust saw homosexuals persecuted. German unification saw courts establish sodomy laws that primarily addressed male intercourse. Paragraph 175, also known as this law, began to lose strength over the years. This was until 1929 when Germany went through a period of progressive growth for homosexuality known as the “Golden Twenties.” The context allowed a parliamentary committee to rewrite Germany’s moral code, almost eliminating the anti-sodomy statute. The Nazi party’s influence in the legal process meant that such a recommendation did not get introduced to Parliament. Nazis were concerned about homosexuals because Nazi opposition to emancipation appealed primarily to conservatives whom the Nazis wanted to co-opt. Although gay bars were shut down in many big cities following Hitler’s election, they were still a minority group. Jews were easier targets because they listed their religion on birth certificates, government records, and other documents. Paragraph 175 in 1935 was strengthened. Two men could not have sex with each other for conviction. You could be punished with imprisonment or forced labor in extermination camps for simply looking at another man differently. Heinrich Himmler, Nazi leader and Holocaust survivor, said that homosexuality wasn’t just a crime, but a threat for the future Aryan population. The Nazis wanted the Aryan race as the main project and therefore any attempt to stop natural reproduction was justified by persecution and death. The Nazis saw homosexuals as weak and dependent on state aid for survival. Their behavior as homosexuals was what made their ‘weak’. If they continued these behaviors, it would cause a ‘corruption’ to other citizens. Additionally, they were engaging in non-procreative sex while the Nazis sought to produce as many offspring possible. Hitler’s plan was to create and expand the Aryan Race.
Heinz Heger shares his story through The Men with the Pink Triangle. He describes his experiences of being a gay man in Nazi Germany and how he was tortured. The fact that he had been dating Fred, a Nazi high ranking official, was the first sign of trouble. Nazi officials found proof of Fred’s homosexuality when he sent a Christmas card to him. Heinz was unaware that he would be held in prison for six years for being homosexual when he was asked to visit the Gestapo headquarters. Heinz didn’t get the freedom he wanted after he was released from prison. He witnessed from every angle the homophobia rooted in him as he was pushed along a wagon by other criminals. He shared his wagon with two criminals and said that they soon made it clear to him that he was a “175er,” a “filthy queer,” as they called him. They also spoke with contempt for homosexuals, even though they were murderers and were therefore more disregarded by society. They insisted that they were still “normal men” and not a’manlike’. Because they considered themselves “naturally men”, and because the European male-dominated society encouraged heterosexuals to dictate rules and narratives, the murderers believed that they were morally superior. Homosexuals, like Jews and Gypsies were treated badly and considered to be the lowest of society.
Heinz was first to Sachsenhausen, where he saw the brutal treatment of gay men. Heinz describes the difference between the badges worn non-queer offenders and the pink triangles that gay men had to wear.
However, the pink triangle was approximately 2-3 centimeters bigger than the other, so we could easily be recognized from a distance. Heinz illustrates the segregation and abuse of homosexuals in the camps. It was a cruel and humiliating treatment that the homosexuals in segregation received. They were repeatedly kicked in stomachs and whipped. Heinz says, “It wasn’t January and the temperature was below zero. There was an icy wind blowing through camp camps. Yet we were left naked, barefoot, on the snow-covered floor, to wait.” An SS soldier in a winter coat with fur collar strode past our ranks, rubbing each of our feet with a horsewhip. He and others were tortured by the Nazis, which led to their fall.
Homosexuals were also forbidden from higher-ranking positions within the barracks. This was in addition to fear and torture inmates. The SS guards suspected they were “trying to seduce them” and prevented them from doing so. Heinz was tortured at Sachsenhausen. Heinz was taken into the Klinker backwoods’ clay pit. Heinz didn’t know what else brutality would await him. It was “the most difficult working conditions, along with actual torture,” Heinz described. Many would eventually succumb to exhaustion due to the fact the clay pits had been built on top of steep hills. The harsh treatment meant that they had to work in difficult conditions.
Kapos responsible for supervising homosexuals were also ordered by SS to ensure that no one was hurt if they failed to fulfill their duties. Heinz shows that there was no hierarchy within camps. However, Kapos who had immediate supervision over homosexuals were ordered by the SS to follow orders.
The SS officers treated homosexual prisoners with cruel and bizarre punishments at the Flossenburg Camp. Heinz witnessed the beating and beating of a homosexual Czech. His description was as chilling as it was real. Other games that the guards played with prisoners would lead to their deaths were also common. The barbed wire fence was the maximum distance that prisoners could be allowed to go within five meter of. The guards would pick a prisoner when they got bored and place a bucket on their head. They would then spin them around. The guards would then remove the bucket from the prisoner and push him toward the gate. The prisoner would feel dizzy, disorientated and start to feel dizzy. He would feel confused and dizzy before he could get back to his senses. The guards would then shoot him for trying to escape.
The Nazis made labor a murder game. Heinz Heger describes another kind of work he was forced in concentration camps. Along with homosexual prisoners, he was required to build dirt mounds that the Nazis could use as target practice. Heger needed to be careful and avoid being shot at by the Nazis. Although Heger was fortunate in that he was able to get transferred quickly, many prisoners who needed to continue working were killed while on the job.
The Nazis used the Holocaust’s most horrific horrors, including the pain and torture that gay men endured in the camps. There were experiments on all types of prisoners, from children and pregnant women to twins and disabled people, as well as homosexuals. The experiments that were done on the prisoners involved different methods. Many experiments were conducted on homosexual prisoners to test their ability to become “real men.” This belief was widespread by Nazis, which allowed them to discover a cure. It was clear that Nazis wanted to torture homosexual prisoner to prove their point.
Many homosexual prisoners suffered the consequences of these experiments throughout their lives, either because they could not trust the results or because the process was slow.
Castration was another notoriously cruel experiment on homosexuals. Castration was used to further emasculate and punish the men for their ‘crime. Castrated males would then lose their sexual desires and be able incorporated into the camp’s rest. Based on their additional criminal convictions, homosexuals could be forced to castrate. However, some prisoners were allowed to choose voluntary castration. This was believed by some to be a way to keep them from the gas chambers for longer.
Paragraph 175, a documentary about the persecution and survival of homosexuals, offers a good starting point to understand this story. It features the testimony of a few survivors of the SS guards’ brutality and their Kapos inside death camps. Heiz Dormer speaks out about his childhood as a boy’s leader in a boy scout organization. Hitler Youth was determined to ban gay boy’s clubs from being formed. Dormer described the takeover as “My group and me could only survive for six more months.” We were attacked by the Hitler Youth with other weapons and brass knuckles.
Albrecht Becker (another survivor) describes Ernst Rohm, a homosexual officer who was also a victim of the systematic attack upon homosexuals. He was a German Officer and helped consolidate and spread the Nazi Party’s influence. Rohm and the SA grew rapidly in the 1920s. Hitler became frightened of an uprising, and decided that he would kill this paramilitary group, which became known under the name “The Night of Long Knives”. Rohm opposed the party’s position on Paragraph 175 in Germany’s penal code which made homosexual acts against men illegal. Some German homosexuals thought that Rohm might finally change his Nazi position. The film claims that “opponents, eagerly to denounce Nazis, promoted Rohm’s homosexuality,” which was an exception to Hitler’s tolerance, as the Nazi party has always condemned homosexuality.
Rohm was executed because his SA membership was known and not because he was homosexual. Despite Paragraph 175 being restrictive on homosexuality in its definition, homosexual behavior was part of concentration camp life, especially for those who were gay. The relationships that homosexuals have with their commanders, particularly those of sexual nature, can make or break the life of these prisoners in death camps. Inmates of homosexual camps were more likely to have sex with Kapos or SS commanders. This would enable them to receive better treatment and less arduous jobs as well as more food. This was a strategy amongst the inmates but anyone caught in homosexual behavior could be punished. Heinz describes how his bond with Kapos was essential for survival during his time in clay pits. If I wanted to be his lover, I could just load the earth into the barrows. I don’t have to carry the stones to the butts. I would then be safe from the SS shots. Heinz was able to live with less work, which proved to be a valuable asset. These were easy relationships for both parties, which meant that homosexuals could survive. Heinz expressed gratitude for his protector, the Kapo who kept a protective hand over him. He saved me more than ten times, and I’m still grateful for that today, twenty-five years after it happened. Heinz, even though he was the Kapo’s ‘dollyboy’ and could do what the Kapo asked, still feels grateful for the Kapo having offered him “life”.
While there is not much testimony from gentile gay men, they are nearly all available. Gad Beck, one of only a few survivors, only briefly spent time in a transit center and not in a concentration.
He provided shelter and food to Jews hiding during the war. His story focuses mainly on his work in keeping Jewish citizens safe and helping them to survive. Beck’s story helps to illustrate the divide between different Holocaust victims. Research tends not to consider the intersectionalities of victims but only one group. Prisoners were not restricted to one group. Jewish prisoners who are members of a different group of prisoners would have one star of yellow and one triangle of that color to make their Star of David. One yellow triangle would form the Star of David for a gay Jewish prisoner.
Many Holocaust victims were freed after World War Two. They were freed by the Soviet and American armies who tried to restore order in Germany. Former prisoners tried to locate their relatives who survived and return home to their homes. After spending so much time in the camps and witnessing the horrors, it was hard to imagine how it felt to be back in a different world. The discrimination faced by homosexual inmates after being released from the camps was even worse. Knowing that the prisoners were there for the crime they committed, many were taken to Soviet prisons. Paragraph 175 was a law since 1871. The Supreme Court ruled that it was still illegal in 1957 because it was not created under the Nazi regime. Paragraph 175, which was included in the German constitution, remained until 1969. It meant that homosexuality could still be considered a crime up until that point. While other prisoners attempted to make sense of events and move on, homosexual prisoners suffered more discrimination. Inmates who were part of medical experiments or in homosexual barsracks often kept their stories quiet out of fear of being ridiculed.
Data collected by research institutes that study holocaustinstitutes, such Yad Vashem and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum says that Paragraph 175 was used to arrest over 50,000 people during the Nazi totalitarian rule. Around 15,000 people were believed to have been murdered by those held in prison. Since the Nazis had poor records and destroyed many of these records when they suspected their end, it is hard to know exact numbers. The treatment of homosexuals in camps was often avoided after the Holocaust. They were subject to discrimination, and often, if they revealed why they were sent, would be imprisoned. They were not able to request recognition for nearly 50 years after liberation. Even today, their suffering is not recognized and rewarded. It has become commonplace to testify about being a Holocaust survivor gay in recent years. They deserve to be respected and acknowledged for the suffering they endured in the camps. They should be heard and educated alongside all Holocaust victims. The Nazis will win if the world ignores or silences them.