The history of homosexuality in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust

5 Jan

It is a little known secret that in the early days of Hitler’s rise to power he used homosexuals to make social and political contacts to serve his purposes. It is however no secret he later turned on them calling their blood dirty and citing them as blights on the face of humanity before sending them to the concentration camps. The history of gays in Nazi Germany during the holocaust is one of mixed messages and defeats, but ultimately nothing more than sheer horror.

It wasn’t necessarily just Hitler that was hellbent on exterminating gays, the real power behind that push came from Himmler who had long been a vocal opponent of homosexuality. It has long been theorized that Hitler himself was bisexual and actually not fully on board with Himmler’s plans concerning gays, but that has always been and likely will always remain nothing more than pure speculation. With all the power Hitler had he never made being homosexual a capital crime which makes what his true feelings on the topic cloudy. This is not said to excuse one of the most inexcusable beings to walk the Earth this past century, it is merely a point of history. It was in fact Himmler that began searching for ways to control the gay population. The first step was discrediting them as was a normal tactic the Third Reich employed. This made it easier to remove them from the social fabric with little public resistance. With little or no resistance from Hitler, Himmler appointed Rudolph Hoess (Sometimes translated as Hoss and not to be confused with Rudolph Hess) whom was a member of the SS and the first commander of Auschwitz to handle the “gay problem.”

Hoess was a fanatical Catholic, his father actually told him that he would be priest which suited young Rudolph just fine until his faith was shaken by a priest whom broke the confidentiality of confession. Shortly thereafter his father died and Hoess moved away from dreams of the priesthood, actually renouncing the Catholic Church, towards the military. He never gave up his beliefs in the Catholic moral code however. Hoess felt that homosexuals needed to be “re-educated to become useful” which he was more than willing to do in the confines of concentration camps. This transformation came about first by isolating them from all other prisoners. They were then put to heavy manual labor and underfed as were all prisoners. Those that died were deemed cured, albeit dead. Those that somehow manged to engage in homosexual activity, were rumored to have done so, or just believed may have, were then added to the next line of victims whom would be gassed with Zyklon-B. If a prisoner in another area of the camp were thought to be gay or to have to have engaged in a homosexual act they were transferred with the rest.

It was during this time that Hoess theorized that being gay was a choice rather than an inborn part of human identity. When a gay detainee made it through a fluctuating period of “rehabilitation” and showed no signs of gay behavior or association to other gay prisoners they were deemed as cured and could be released. Upon learning this many began doing as asked to earn their freedom, who wouldn’t when faced with the option of death? As such Hoess felt he had found the cure for homosexuality, hard labor, isolation, and a strictly enforced moral code of conduct. He further felt that by placing gay men in labor alongside female prostitutes they would learn to embrace heterosexuality. The prostitutes were given concessions if they agreed to sexually excite gay prisoners and in some cases engage them in a sexual act to further the rehabilitative process. The final test was to place two gay men together in a situation in which they could (Or at least believed they could) engage in a sexual act without being caught. If the prisoner being evaluated for release declined the advances they were deemed fully fit to re-enter society. As time marched on however, this tactic and his theories proved untrue and many of the gay prisoners who gained release went back to their previous life only much more secretively.

Hoess felt that his experimentation proved that sufficient motivation, even sufficient money, could cure homosexuality. He did realize however that in some cases a person was so “enslaved” by homosexuality that they would rather die than try to change who they are. Hoess was more than willing to accommodate. This however is only a part of the story.

Around 1929 as estimates vary, the SS began compiling what became known as the “Rosa Listen” (Pink List) which identified all gay men in Germany, some 1,200,000 of whom were openly homosexual. Initially about 100,000 were arrested for homosexuality. Of that original group about half were formally sentenced. The remaining half was made up of those that managed to avoid sentencing through political connections, bribes, or the promise they would conform and become upstanding members or the Nazi Party. Of the remainder, their future is less well defined. Estimates range anywhere from 5,000 to 25,000 having perished in concentration camps. The number increases when adding in those that were detained in regular prisons. While the Nazi’s were known for keeping excellent records, many people appearing on the original Rosa Listen were simply noted as deceased with no cause of death provided. Many more were simply murdered before ever reaching prison. In the past several years Deutsche Welle has stated that the true number of dead from the Rosa Listen rests at around 55,000 people.

By 1933 anything pertaining to gay, lesbian or transgender persons was strictly banned from production and all existing material found was destroyed. This also marked the year in which the LGBT movement of Berlin which was decades ahead of the rest of the world, even progressive by todays standards, officially ended. Kurt Hiller who organized Magnus Hirschfeld’s sex clinic which advocated for the LGBT community was sent to a concentration camp. On May 6, 1933 Nazi Youth pillaged the institute destroying everything, some 20,000 books and journals, thousands of images, and decades of research both old and new from around the world. Much of this was one of a kind and irreplaceable. That same day Joseph Goebbels gave a speech denouncing homosexuality to some 40,000 people and Ernst Rohm in particular. This is significant because Rohm was not only gay he was politically powerful and under Hitler’s protection until that speech, as well as Himmler who believed talk of Rohm’s homosexuality was all slander and Jewish propaganda. Fearing Rohm’s power and this now very public acknowledgement of his sexuality, this protection ended. During Hitler’s 1934 “Night of the Long Knives” Purge of those who he felt threatened his power, Hitler had Rohm murdered using his homosexuality as justification.

The second purge of homosexuals began in 1934 by a special division of the Gestapo known as the Reich Control Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion. This time the “cleansing” was to be expanded to lesbians and transgenders as well as gay men. Previously transgenders were considered more of a nuisance and lesbians a lesser threat. Transgender persons however became popular for medical experiments which Nazi doctors were all to well known for. As lesbians did not contribute to building the master race they were then also deemed as useless if not converted. Although many did suffer death for their sexuality, lesbians in general were the least vigorously pursued. As these people were seen as Germans, their conversion to heterosexual behavior was seen as worthwhile. Those that failed were generally spared the gas chamber and placed in the “Extermination Through Work” program if physically strong enough to be of use. Non German homosexuals found no such options. Gay men were immediately castrated. Many were left to bleed to death from the impromptu procedure.

Gays who survived the Nazi retraining programs often found death may have been more welcome. The wearing of the Pink Triangle made life nearly impossible. Some were known to go through the rehabilitation sham only to find soldiers took sport in using the pink triangle they wore as a moving target their firearms sought. Some were beat to death after release as they continued to be seen as a threat to those in the community who wanted no association to them. In the end, most simply died one way or another.

When the war ended the persecution did not stop. Gay prisoners identified by the pink triangle were re-imprisoned by the Allied-established Federal Republic of Germany. The new regime did not see fit to remove Nazi Amendment 175 which made homosexuality a felony. It remained in force for 24 years after the war ended. Some spent upwards of twenty years in confinement in concentration camps and and New Republic jails like Heinz Dormer. Those people were never compensated for this cruel and unusual punishment by the German government. They were considered insignificant at the time reparations were being made in comparison to those who suffered based on race or religion. They did not even receive an apology until 2002. The true number of gay people that perished in the camps will never be known. It certainly does not compare to a group like the Jews by any stretch of that imagination. However because so many known homosexuals were charged with other crimes which insured a swift death rather than the possibility of “becoming heterosexual”, it is generally accepted the total is somewhere in the range of 120,000 persons not counting those whom were Jewish as well.

While this is a horror, it is a horror we need to remember. It is imperative so that no group of people ever suffer this fate again because of the color of their skin, the God they worship, or the sex of the person they find attractive. Indeed, we must never forget. On May 27, 2008, a memorial to remember homosexuals persecuted by the Nazi’s was erected in Berlin.

This is from a 2005 European Parliament address marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz:

“…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,…”

http://www.familyresearchinst.org/Default.aspx?tabid =140
Death Dealer: the memoirs of the SS kommandant at Auschwitz, Hoss, Rudolf
http://www.joerg-hutter.de/auschwitz.htm#Auschwitz
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biograph y/Hoess.html
http://www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/online/hsx/
http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/timeline/roehm .htm
http://users.cybercity.dk/~dko12530/hunt_for_danish_ kz.htm
http://www.queervisions.com/arch/2005/05/memory_of_t he_c.html
http://www.glapn.org/sodomylaws/world/germany/genews 014.htm
http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/pwh/steakley-nazis.ht ml

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One Response to “The history of homosexuality in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust”

  1. redmetta January 6, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

    Reading this excellent post, I am reminded of Burleigh’s book entitled ‘Death and Deliverance’, a history of the treatment and attempted eradication of the Disabled people in Germany from 1900 – 1945. Many are unaware that the Disabled were treated so appallingly before the establishment of Nazism, that the eventual lethal injections and gassings policy pursued by Hitler was really the terrible conclusion to a sustained campaign of hatred. Prior to the killings, sterilisation was pursued, and I believe this carried on after the war. With regard to the treatment of homosexual people by the regime – I think this is another shameful chapter carried out by a regime that was rumoured to contain many self-hating homosexuals. I am shocked and surprised by the fact that the Allies allowed the new German government to carry on the persecution of gay people.

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