ST. PETERSBURG—University of Florida Professor Geoffrey Giles spoke to a standing room only crowd at the opening of the exhibit, The Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945, at the Florida Holocaust museum on Aug. 31.Giles revealed the virtually untold plight of homosexuals in Nazi Germany during WWII.
The Nazi’s broad interpretation of Germany’s 1871 antisodomy law, Paragraph 175, led to the arrest of over 100,000 men, and approximately 50,000 served prison sentences as convicted homosexuals. In the 1920s Berlin had been a virtual homosexual Mecca, and a small number of activists tried to overturn the law, which was seldom enforced. During this time and even after Hitler took power in 1933 many homosexuals considered themselves safe. They were sadly mistaken.
Under Nazi rule, Paragraph 175 was expanded and strictly enforced, making even a subtle glance a criminal act. In response to Germany’s defeat in WWI, Hitler planned to create a pure Aryan race and transform it into a unified fighting force. During the Holocaust the Nazis arrested and persecuted several groups that did not fit this plan. Among them: Jews, Gypsies, the disabled and homosexuals. Mass murder was only carried out against the Jews and Gypsies, while the homosexuals were sentenced to re-education. They were also singled out for slave labor, surgical experiments and castration. Almost 2/3 of them died in the camps.
The Nazis considered including lesbians in Paragraph 175 but later decided against it because, they argued, the subordinate role of women diminished a lesbian’s corrupting influence. And in addition, women homosexuals were still capable of bearing children and therefore able to perpetuate the Aryan race.
The United States Holocaust Museum is dedicated to preserving the memory of all who suffered during the Holocaust. This exhibition is one in a series about the lesser-known victims of the Nazi era and examines the campaign that left thousands dead and shattered the lives of many more.
According to special events coordinator Gabrielle McEntee, the exhibit has been enthusiastically embraced and the turnout overwhelming. “We are grateful for everyone who walks through that door,” she said. The exhibit runs through October 18, 2006. The Florida Holocaust Museum is located at 55 – 5th St. S. in St. Petersburg. FMI 727-820-0100;
www.flholocaustmuseum.org A number of books have been written documenting the persecution of gays and lesbians in Nazi Germany. Additionally, a documentary film, Paragraph 175, and movie, Bent, have also been produced and are available on DVD.
Hidden Holocaust? Gay and Lesbian Persecution in Germany, 1933-45, Gunter Grau, Ed. (1995)
The Men with the Pink Triangle: The True Life-and-Death Story of Homosexuals in the Nazi Death Camps, Heinz Heger. (1994)
The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War against Homosexuals, Richard Plant. (1986)
Days of Masquerade: Life Stories of Lesbians during the Third Reich, Claudia Schoppmann (1996)
Social Outsiders in Nazi Germany, Robert Gellately and Nathan Stoltzfus (2001)
A Mosaic of Victims: Non-Jews Persecuted and Murdered by the Nazis, Michael Berenbaum (1990)
Paragraph 175 Documentary
Who better to describe the fear and humiliation caused by the Nazi enforcement of Paragraph 175 than those who survived it? This story is told through the personal accounts of the few remaining gay men and women who lived through the horrors of Nazi Germany.
In the 1920s, Berlin had become known as a homosexual Eden, where gays and lesbians lived relatively open lives. All of that changed when the Nazis came to power. It took many homosexuals too long to figure out that they were in any danger and when they did for some it was too late.
The accounts are raw and real. The old photographs and tear-filled stories put faces and names to those who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazis. The persecution under Paragraph 175 continued until well after the end of WWII. When the Nazi concentration camps were liberated many homosexuals were rearrested re-imprisoned. Paragraph 175 was not repealed until 1969. This documentary is a sobering tale of what hate, ignorance and homophobia can do.
If documentaries are not your thing, check out Bent. The movie tells the story of a handsome, young gay man named Max who, after an encounter with a German soldier, is forced to run for his life. He is later captured and imprisoned in a concentration camp where he pretends to be a Jew, because to the Nazis even that is better than being a homosexual.
While in prison he begins a relationship with an openly gay prisoner and learns how it feels to really love another man. This film shows just how free and open Berlin was for gays in the days before the Nazis came to power and how quickly and forcefully it came to a terrible end. It is also noted that not all gays were just victims under Nazi rule and some committed terrible crimes against their own people.
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