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Autobiography of Pierre Seel, a gay man sent to a concentration camp by the Nazis

In the 1920s, homosexual people in Germany, particularly in Berlin, enjoyed a higher level of freedom and acceptance than anywhere else in the world. However, upon the rise of Adolf Hitler, gay men and, to a lesser extent, lesbians, were two of the numerous groups targeted by the Nazi Party and were ultimately among Holocaust victims. Beginning in 1933, gay organizations were banned, scholarly books about homosexuality, and sexuality in general, were burned, and homosexuals within the Nazi Party itself were murdered. The Gestapo compiled lists of homosexuals, who were compelled to sexually conform to the "German norm".

An estimated 1.2 million men were homosexual in Germany in 1928 (6% of men over the age of 20). Between 1933-45, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested as homosexuals, of which some 50,000 were officially sentenced. Most of these men served time in regular prisons, and an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 of those sentenced were incarcerated in concentration camps. It is unclear how many of the 5,000 to 15,000 eventually perished in the camps, but leading scholar Ruediger Lautman believes that the death rate of homosexuals in concentration camps may have been as high as 60%. Homosexuals in the camps were treated in an unusually cruel manner by their captors, and were also persecuted by their fellow inmates. This was a factor in the high death rate for homosexuals, compared to other groups.

After the war, the treatment of homosexuals in concentration camps went unacknowledged by most countries, and some men were even re-arrested and imprisoned based on evidence found during the Nazi years. It was not until the 1980s that governments began to acknowledge this episode, and not until 2002 that the German government apologized to the gay community. This period still provokes controversy, however. In 2005, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the Holocaust which included the persecution of homosexuals.


Rise of Nazism

Before the advent of the Third Reich, Berlin was considered a liberal city, with many gay bars, nightclubs and cabarets. There were even many drag bars where tourists straight and gay would enjoy female impersonation acts.

Berlin also had the most active LGBT rights movement in the world at the time. Jewish doctor Magnus Hirschfeld had co-founded the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee (Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee, WhK) in Berlin in 1897 to campaign against the notorious Paragraph 175 law that made sex between men illegal. The committee also sought social recognition of homosexual and transgender men and women. It was the first public gay rights organization.

In 1919, Hirschfeld co-founded the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sex Research), a private sexology research institute. It had a research library and a large archive, and included a marriage and sex counseling office. In addition, the institute was a global pioneer in the call for civil rights and social acceptance for homosexual and transgender people.

The German gay community's advances were soon erased, however, with the rise to power of Hitler's Nazi Party. Nazism declared itself incompatible with homosexuality, because gays did not reproduce nor perpetuate the "master race" (Natalism). For the same reasons, masturbation was also considered harmful to the Reich, but treated less harshly. There was also a fear among Nazis of contamination by a "gay gene".

Hitler believed that homosexuality was "degenerate behavior" which posed a threat to the capacity of the state and the "masculine character" of the nation. Gay men were denounced as "enemies of the state" and charged with "corrupting" public morality and posing a threat to the German birthrate.

Nazi leaders such as Heinrich Himmler also viewed homosexuals as a separate people and ensured that Nazi doctors experimented on them in an effort to locate the hereditary weakness many party members believed caused homosexuality. Some leaders clearly wanted gay people exterminated, while others wanted enforcement of laws banning sex between gay men or lesbians.

Ernst Röhm, a man Hitler perceived as a potential threat, and the leader of the SA, the Nazi Party's first militia, was homosexual but kept his sexual orientation a secret. Röhm and his other alleged co-conspirators were eventually purged in the Night of the Long Knives, which included the purge of several other homosexuals such as Edmund Heines.

Some historians have advanced the thesis that Hitler himself was homosexual. The most prominent example of this thesis is the recent work by the German historian Machtan, in his controversial book The Hidden Hitler (which is devoted exclusively to the thesis). The notion of Hitler's homosexuality was raised by the psychoanalyst Walter Charles Langer in his Wartime Report prepared for the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II, published by Basic Books in 1972 after declassification as The Mind of Adolf Hitler, although Langer's conclusion was that Hitler was essentially a heterosexual coprophagic or coprophilic masochist.

German Jews played a prominent role in the gay rights movement in Germany. The German-Jewish arts and film community had a large concentration of homosexuals. German Jews like Magnus Hirschfeld were heavily criticized. They were demonized for their controversial ideas which were shocking to many people in Europe. Even though Sigmund Freud had nothing to do with the gay rights movement in Germany (since he was an Austrian Jew), he was targeted because he was Jewish and had controversial ideas about sexuality. Anyone who promoted controversial sexual ideas was thought of as a deviant by German society and especially by the Nazis. Freud was particularly criticized for some incestuous concepts like Oedipus Complex and the Electra Complex, which he claimed were psychodevelopmental phenomena where children developed sexual feelings toward the opposite sex parent.


On May 10, 1933, Nazis in Berlin burned works of Jewish authors, the library of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, and other works considered "un-German".

In late February 1933, as the moderating influence of Ernst Röhm weakened, the Nazi Party launched its purge of homosexual (gay, lesbian, and bisexual; then known as homophile) clubs in Berlin, outlawed sex publications, and banned organized gay groups. As a consequence, many fled Germany (e.g., Erika Mann, Richard Plaut). In March 1933, Kurt Hiller, the main organizer of Magnus Hirschfeld's Institute of Sex Research, was sent to a concentration camp.

On May 6, 1933, Nazi Youth of the Deutsche Studentenschaft made an organised attack on the Institute of Sex Research. A few days later the Institute's library and archives were publicly hauled out and burned in the streets of the Opernplatz. Around 20,000 books and journals, and 5,000 images, were destroyed. Also seized were the Institute's extensive lists of names and addresses of homosexuals. In the midst of the burning, Joseph Goebbels gave a political speech to a crowd of around 40,000 people. Hitler initially protected Röhm from other elements of the Nazi Party which held his homosexuality to be a violation of the party's strong anti-gay policy. However, Hitler later changed course when he perceived Röhm to be a potential threat to his power. During the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, a purge of those who Hitler deemed threats to his power took place. He had Röhm murdered and used Röhm's homosexuality as a justification to suppress outrage within the ranks of the SA. After solidifying his power, Hitler would include gay men among those sent to concentration camps during the Holocaust.

Himmler had initially been a supporter of Röhm, arguing that the charges of homosexuality against him were manufactured by Jews. But after the purge, Hitler elevated Himmler's status and he became very active in the suppression of homosexuality. He exclaimed, "We must exterminate these people root and branch... the homosexual must be eliminated." (Plant, 1986, p. 99).

Memorial to Gay Victims of the Holocaust in Berlin (its inscription: Totgeschlagen - Totgeschwiegen (Struck Dead - Hushed Up))

Shortly after the purge in 1934, a special division of the Gestapo was instituted to compile lists of gay individuals. In 1936, Heinrich Himmler, Chief of the SS, created the "Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion."

Gays were not initially treated in the same fashion as the Jews, however; Nazi Germany thought of German gay men as part of the "Master Race" and sought to force gay men into sexual and social conformity. Gay men who would or could not conform and feign a switch in sexual orientation were sent to concentration camps under the "Extermination Through Work" campaign.

More than one million gay German men were targeted, of whom at least 100,000 were arrested and 50,000 were serving prison terms as convicted gay men.[1] Hundreds of European gay men living under Nazi occupation were castrated under court order.[2]

Some persecuted under these laws would not have identified themselves as gay. Such "anti-homosexual" laws were widespread throughout the western world until the 1960s and 1970s, so many gay men did not feel safe to come forward with their stories until the 1970s when many so-called "sodomy laws" were repealed.

Lesbians were not widely persecuted under Nazi anti-gay laws, as it was considered easier to persuade or force them to comply with accepted heterosexual behavior. However, they were viewed as a threat to state values and were often branded "anti-social." See black triangle.

Homosexuality and the SS

According to Geoffrey J. Giles (mentioned earlier) the SS, and its leader Heinrich Himmler, were particularly concerned about homosexuality. More than any other Nazi leader, Himmler's writing and speeches denounced homosexuality. However, despite consistently condemning homosexuals and homosexual activity, Himmler was less consistent in his punishment of homosexuals. In Geoffrey Giles' article "The Denial of Homosexuality: Same-Sex Incidents in Himmler's SS", several cases are put foward where members of the Nazi SS are tried for homosexual offences. On a case by case basis, the outcomes vary widely, and Giles gives documented evidence where the judges could be swayed by evidence demonstrating the accused's "aryan-ness" or "manliness", that is to say by describing him as coming from true Germanic stock and perhaps fathering children. Reasons for Himmler's leniency in some cases may derive from the difficulty in defining homosexuality, particularly in a society that glorifies the masculine ideal and brotherhood.[3]

Concentration camps

Estimates vary widely as to the number of gay men killed in concentration camps during the Holocaust, ranging from 5,000 to 15,000[citation needed]. Larger numbers include those who were both Jewish and gay, or even Jewish, gay, and communist. In addition, records as to the specific reasons for internment are non-existent in many areas, making it hard to put an exact number on exactly how many gay men perished in death camps. See pink triangle.

Gay men suffered unusually cruel treatment in the concentration camps. They faced persecution not only from German soldiers but also from other prisoners, and many gay men were beaten to death. Additionally, gay men in forced labor camps routinely received more grueling and dangerous work assignments than other non-Jewish inmates, under the policy of "Extermination Through Work". SS soldiers also were known to use gay men for target practice, aiming their weapons at the pink triangles their human targets were forced to wear.

The harsh treatment can be attributed to the view of the SS guards toward gay men, as well as to the homophobic attitudes present in German society at large. The marginalization of gay men in Germany was reflected in the camps. Many died from beatings, some of them caused by other prisoners. Nazi doctors often used gay men for scientific experiments in an attempt to locate a "gay gene" to "cure" any future Aryan children who were gay.

Experiences such as these can account for the high death rate of gay men in the camps as compared to the other "anti-social groups." A study by Ruediger Lautmann found that 60% of gay men in concentration camps died, as compared to 41% for political prisoners and 35% for Jehovah's Witnesses. The study also shows that survival rates for gay men were slightly higher for internees from the middle and upper classes and for married bisexual men and those with children.


One point of the Homomonument, in Amsterdam, to gay and lesbian victims of persecution, which is formed of three large pink triangles made of granite.

, homosexual concentration camp prisoners were not acknowledged as victims of Nazi persecution.[4] Reparations and state pensions available to other groups were refused to gay men, who were still classified as criminals — the Nazi anti-gay law was not repealed until 1994, although both East and West Germany liberalized their criminal laws against adult homosexuality in the late 1960s.

Gay Holocaust survivors could be re-imprisoned for "repeat offences," and were kept on the modern lists of "sex offenders." Under the Allied Military Government of Germany, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment, regardless of the time spent in concentration camps.

The Nazis' anti-gay policies and their destruction of the early gay-rights movement were generally not considered suitable subject matter for Holocaust historians and educators. It was not until the 1970s and 1980s that there was some mainstream exploration of the theme, with Holocaust survivors writing their memories, plays such as "Bent", and more historical research and documentaries being published about the Nazis' homophobia and their destruction of the German gay-rights movement.

Since the 1980s, some European and international cities have erected memorials to remember the thousands of homosexual people who were murdered and persecuted during the Holocaust. Major memorials can be found in Berlin, Amsterdam, Montevideo, and San Francisco.[5] In 2002, the German government issued an official apology to the gay community.

In 2005, the European Parliament marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp with a minute's silence and the passage of a resolution which included the following text:

"...27 January 2005, the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Nazi Germany's death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where a combined total of up to 1.5 million Jews, Roma, Poles, Russians and prisoners of various other nationalities, and homosexuals, were murdered, is not only a major occasion for European citizens to remember and condemn the enormous horror and tragedy of the Holocaust, but also for addressing the disturbing rise in anti-Semitism, and especially anti-Semitic incidents, in Europe, and for learning anew the wider lessons about the dangers of victimising people on the basis of race, ethnic origin, religion, social classification, politics or sexual orientation...."

An account of a gay Holocaust survivor, Pierre Seel, details life for gay men during Nazi control. In his account he states that he participated in his local gay community in the town of Mulhouse. When the Nazis gained power over the town his name was on a list of local gay men ordered to the police station. He obeyed the directive to protect his family from any retaliation. Upon arriving at the police station he notes that he and other gay men were beaten. Some gay men who resisted the SS had their fingernails pulled out. Others were raped with broken rulers and had their bowels punctured, causing them to bleed profusely. After his arrest he was sent to the concentration camp at Schirmeck. There, Seel stated 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 the face of his eighteen-year-old lover from Mulhouse. Seel states that the Nazi guards then stripped the clothes of his lover, placed a metal bucket over his head, and released trained German Shepherd dogs on him, which mauled him to death.

See also


  1. ^ United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  2. ^ Giles, Geoffrey J. "'The Most Unkindest Cut of All': Castration, Homosexuality and Nazi Justice," Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 27 (1992): pp. 41-61.
  3. ^ Giles, Geoffrey J., "The Denial of Homosexuality: Same-Sex Incidents in Himmler's SS", Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 11, No. 1/2, Special Issue: Sexuality and German Fascism (Jan. - Apr., 2002), pp. 256-290
  4. ^ Burleigh, Michael and Wolfgang Wipperman. The Racial State: Germany, 1933-1945. New York: Cambridge, 1991. p.183
  5. ^ Memorials of the Gay Holocaust, Matt & Andrej Koymasky

Further reading

Popular reading
  • Beck, Gad (1999). An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-16500-0. 
  • Seel, Pierre (1997). Liberation Was for Others: Memoirs of a Gay Survivor of the Nazi Holocaust. Perseus Book Group. ISBN 0-306-80756-4. 
  • Seel, Pierre (1995). I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual: A Memoir of Nazi Terror. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-04500-6. 
  • Heger, Heinz (1994). Men With the Pink Triangle: The True, Life-And-Death Story of Homosexuals in the Nazi Death Camps. Alyson Books. ISBN 1555830064. 

External links

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