Homocaust: The gay victims of the Holocaust
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Date Title Length
January 2005: Homocaust: the forgotten Holocaust' 1000 words

January 2005:

Homocaust: the forgotten Holocaust': Length of article: 1000 words

On the 27th January the world stopped to remember the victims of the Holocaust: TV showed documentaries; world leaders laid reefs at the Auschwitz concentration camp; even the Queen had tea with some survivors. But as people around the world remembered the six million dead Jewish victims they seemed to forget that another five million more were victims of the same Holocaust.

The Nazis were just as intolerant of other groups including Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, all ethnic groups, the Freemasons, and the Gays. Gay people were persecuted for no other reason than their sexuality. At the end of the Holocaust eleven million people lay dead, at least 10,000 of them were gay. Welcome to the forgotten Holocaust: The Homocaust:

In the 1920's and 30's the rise of the bohemian movement left some European cities with a positively cosmopolitan attitude to homosexuality: Berlin alone had over 100 gay bars and clubs. Gays and lesbians met, had sex, fell in and out of love, much as they do today. And then things changed.

With the fall of the Second Reich, middle-class Germans suddenly found themselves on the breadline. They began looking to radical political groups that promised to lead Germany back to greatness: Enter Hitler's National Socialist (Nazi) party. Hitler's' obsession with power and genetics (tracing the German master 'Aryan' race back through generations to biblical times) quickly gained support and rose to office in 1933.

Anyone identified as non-Aryan soon became the scapegoat for all that was going wrong in Germany. Radical laws were introduced reducing the rights of Jews and other groups that were 'undesirable to the future of Germany': among them the Gays.

Homosexuality was seen as a degenerate threat to the purity of the German master race and gay men and women quickly became targets of police raids and interrogation. Bars and clubs were outlawed, prominent homosexuals were arrested and widespread persecutions began.

Although there are records of gay women being persecuted under Paragraph 175 the Nazis largely ignored them considering lesbianism a 'non-permanent condition'. Gay men weren't so lucky.

The Nazis persecuted approximately 100,000 gays under a paragraph of an existing Penal Code. Paragraph 175 made sexual acts between men a criminal offence. Hitler broadened it to include further punishable acts, such as indecency, making arrest and charges much easier. By 1944 all that was required for arrest was a suggestion of homosexuality and many more men found themselves imprisoned.

Of those arrested about 50,000 were sentenced to serve prison terms while 15,000 were sent straight to concentration camps, where they were selected for the toughest forced labour. Many worked in stone quarries carrying huge heavy loads for hours every day.

Clearly identified by the large pink triangle that all homosexual prisoners had to wear at all times, gay inmates were often kept in separate barracks away from other prisoners. The pink triangles were treated with utter contempt in the camps and many lived in fear of their lives at all times. Few other inmates communicated with them for fear of reprisals brought on by association.

The Nazi SS routinely tortured them and excelled in finding new ways to humiliate their victims. 'Punishments' varied from a whipping horse to hanging prisoners from wooden post attached by the hands tied at the back leaving the victim dangling while their body weight slowly pulled their arms up until both shoulders became dislocated. Another was 'egg boiling' - involving dipping a prisoners' testicles into a bowl of first boiling and then freezing cold water repeatedly.

The Nazis initially thought homosexuality was curable and SS doctors began performing operations on prisoners to prove their theories. At some camps gay men were injected with implants containing huge levels of testosterone to make them more aggressively masculine. Many more were tricked into undergoing 'voluntary' castration under the promise of an early release.

By 1943 the SS largely abandoned these theories, preferring their new 'Extermination through work program', specifically designed to literally work homosexuals to death. It is not surprising that for pink triangle inmates the death rate was as high as 60%.

The camps were finally liberated at the end of the war in 1945 and the world learnt of the horrors of the Holocaust. But while the other victims received financial compensation for loss of family and loss of education, gay survivors received little sympathy in post-war society.

In fact many pink triangle survivors were re-arrested and re-imprisoned under the same charges, with time spent in concentration camps actually deducted from their pensions. Time spent in the camps contributed to their continued sentences that were then completed in prisons.

Some survivors bravely struggled for legal recognition of their suffering, fighting many years for retribution for their imprisonment. Acknowledgement did eventually come but was too late for many gay victims & survivors, who lived the rest of their lives as criminals in the eyes of the law. Today less than five gay survivors are known to be alive.

It might be easy to consider these victims consigned to a tragic history: numbers and statistics that are better left in the past so as not to upset the balance of the present. And it is easy to forget. Modern life throws up enough tragedies for the gay community to deal with (the Soho bombing of 1999; the recent murder of David Morley…) It remains easy until the realization strikes that these persecuted images are of gay men like us: gay men with names, with families and friends, gay men whose only 'crime' was to be gay, and 60 years ago what happened to them would have happened to us.

So while the world stops to remember the victims of the Holocaust, and the Jewish community rightly remembers their dead brothers and sisters, isn't it time that we, as the gay community, did the same for ours?

Further information about the Homocaust can be found at www.Homocaust.org while the award winning 'Paragraph 175' documentary is available to buy at most gay interest shops or directly at www.tellingpictures.com

Lewis Oswald
London, 2004

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This site is dedicated to the memory of the many who didn't make it. Never forget ... Never again.©2004 lewis Oswald