After the many years of ongoing persecution and Nazi terror, the freedom
dreams of many concentration camp prisoners finally came true when,
in 1944, the liberation began. The German army were being defeated
throughout the Third Reich and as the Allies approached many camps
were evacuated. Those left behind were left bewildered and confused.
On July 24th, 1944, the Soviet Red Army arrived at the Maidanek camp
and liberated those inside. Other camps soon followed with the arrival
of various Allied troops, although the largest of the death camps
- Auschwitz - was not liberated until January 27th 1945. World War
II ended on May 7th, 1945, when Nazi Germany finally surrendered to
the Allied forces.
After the camps were liberated and the plight of the Jewish victims
acknowledged worldwide, the persecution of homosexuals continued throughout
post-war Germany. While many survivors were rebuilding their lives
and families initially in displaced persons camps, homosexuals faced
further persecution and social exclusion. In fact many pink triangle
survivors were re-imprisoned under § 175, with time spent in
concentration camps deducted from their pensions. Time spent in the
camps contributed to their continued sentences that were then completed
While other victims of the Holocaust received compensation for loss
of family and loss of education, homosexuals remained deviants in
the eyes of post-war society. In fact in Germany many more men were
prosecuted under § 175 in the years immediate to the Nazi regime.
The gay survivors who were liberated (i.e. not subject to further
prison terms) often found themselves ostracized from society. Some
were not welcomed back to their homes in the aftermath of war for
the 'shame' they had brought on their family's reputation. Those that
did return often kept their experience to themselves fearing that
the sensitive nature of the horrors would bring further distress to
family members. Some never spoke out about their suffering.
the early days after my homecoming, the neighbours made a bit
of a fuss about this 'queer' concentration camp returnee.'
Gay survivor Heinz Heger (pseudonym)
the post-war years many homosexuals tried to restart their battered
lives; some entered into marriage; others struggled to find anonymity
in their communities; some even entered into the armed forces. The
stigma of the pink triangle was clearly a heavy burden and, without
the support and contact of gay friends who were either in hiding or
dead themselves, many survivors lived with the silent 'shame' of their
experience in secret.
The fight for Justice
§ 175 still in place, many survivors tried hard to put their
experiences behind them fearing further persecution. However, after
the 'liberation' some survivors did bravely struggle for recognition
through the courts. Survivors such as Karl Gorath, Heinz Dörmer,
and Pierre Seel, fought many years for retribution for their imprisonment.
Goraths' attempts at legal reparations were rejected both in 1953
and 1960. Pierre Seel refused to give up and continued fighting throughout
the 1980's and 1990's.
the 1945Nuremberg war crime trials that followed the liberation no
mention was ever made of crimes against homosexuals. No SS official
was ever tried for specific atrocities against pink triangle prisoners.
Many of the known SS Doctors, who had performed operations on homosexuals,
were never brought to account for their actions. One of the most notorious
SS doctors was Carl Peter Vaernet who performed numerous experiments
on pink triangle inmates at the Buchenwald and Neuengamme camps. He
was never tried for his crimes and escaped to South America where
he died a free man in 1965.
of the pink triangle survivors were never recognised as victims of
the Holocaust during their lives and never lived to be repatriated.
For those who continued to fight, it would be many years before their
efforts paid off.