Stories have been written and films have portrayed what the life looked like of someone who was a marginalized community individual during the days of Nazi control. But those of queer survivors and the way in which they were treated have been difficult to retell for reasons known and unknown.
The Nazi take over and occupation of European and Asian territories took place between the years 1933 and 1945.
The Homocaust website reported 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 shared that of the approximate 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. Its 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.
This legal device enabled the Nazis to persecute, try and sentence gays under criminal law. Some were sentenced to prison, while those even less fortunate were doomed to concentration camps. However, it did not matter because gays were ranked and treated more brutally than “political prisoners, criminals, asocials, Roma – gypsies – and Jehovah Witnesses,” wrote Charles Alexander in a feature on Pridesource.
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, severe beatings, torture, medical experimentation (as a type of conversion therapy or worse) 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.
Alexander shared this horrific picture of life on the inside of the Nazi system:
“Upon arriving at the police station he [Pierre Seel] says that he and other homosexuals were repeatedly beaten. Any who resisted the SS Gestapo brutes had their fingernails torn out. Others had their bowels punctured, causing them to bleed profusely. After his arrest he was sent to the concentration camp at Schirmeck.
“There, Seel shares that during a morning roll-call, the Nazi commander announced a public execution. A man was brought out, and Seel recognized his face. It was that of his eighteen-year-old lover from Mulhouse. The Nazi guards then stripped the clothes off his lover, placed a metal bucket over his head, board banged it repeatedly, then released trained German Shepherd dogs to maul and tear him to death.”
Recounts from gay survivors have been few and far between. Once liberation occurred, gays still had to contend with Paragraph 175 and known information from arrest and capture records about these individuals’ sexual identity. Some were re-arrested and put into prison based upon evidence that the Nazi regime gathered during the occupation across the landscape. Even after WWII, the law remained and incurred some revisions until its demise. It was not until March 10, 1994, that Germany struck down the law due to the changes in social norms.
On May 17, 2002, Germany passed a supplement to the Act of Abolition of National Socialism which coincided symbolically as 17.5. It annulled the convictions of gays and deserters from the Wehrmacht. In 2016 a move was put into place to provide amnesty, pardons and remuneration for those gays who were convicted under Paragraph 175. Sums were based upon a conviction plus more money for each year spent in custody. It passed overwhelmingly in 2017 and became the law of the land. Those affected by convictions are entitled to apply for a “vindication certificate” which is open to those who are living and posthumously by relatives.
Among those survivors and victims of the Holocaust were the following:
Albrecht Becker, an actor and photographer
Was convicted under §175 and sentenced to Nuremberg due to his admission that he was gay. He served three years and was released.
Kurt Hiller, director of the Magnus Hirschfeld Institute of Sex Research
Was sent to a concentration camp.
Gad Beck, Resistance fighter
Stole a German Youth uniform to breach Auschwitz and win release of his Jewish lover. Beck, who was half Jewish and half Gentile, was surprised when his lover refused the release, saying he did not want to leave his family behind.
Rudolph Brazda, Legion of Honour awardee
Held in Buchenwald until liberation and spoke out against Nazi treatment of gays and France’s role in the deportation of Jews and gays.
Heinz Dörmer, survivor
Recounted his experience of hearing those sentenced to death howl and scream in inhuman ways.
Friedrich-Paul von Groszheim, survivor
Was arrested thrice during the occupation and agreed to castration.
Karl Gorath, survivor
Punished for not obeying orders to decrease bread ration for Polish war prisoner patients.
Three memorials have been erected in Germany to honor LGBTQ victims. They are located in Frankfurt (Frankfurter Engel), Cologne (Kölner Rosa Winkel/Rosa Winkel Mahnmal) and Berlin (Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism). Others around the globe include ones in Sydney, Australia, the United States and others.