The United Nations General Assembly designated January 27—the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau—as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this annual day of commemoration, the UN urges every member state to honor the victims of the Nazi era and to develop educational programs to help prevent future genocides.
The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of over six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. Holocaust is a word of Greek origin meaning “sacrifice by fire.” The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in January 1933, believed that Germans were “racially superior” and that the Jews, deemed “inferior,” were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community.
But also as a part of the Nazis’ attempt to purify German society and propagate an “Aryan master race,” they condemned homosexuals as “socially aberrant.” Soon after taking office on January 30, 1933, Hitler banned all gay and lesbian organizations. Brownshirted storm troopers raided the institutions and gathering places of homosexuals. While this subculture had flourished in the relative freedom of the 1920s, Nazi tactics greatly weakened it and drove it underground.
Later, a harsher revision of Paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code went into effect, making a broad range of “lewd and lascivious” behavior between men illegal and punishable by imprisonment. The revision of Paragraph 175.
The Nazis believed that male homosexuals were weak, effeminate men who could not fight for the German nation. They saw homosexuals as unlikely to produce children and increase the German birthrate. The Nazis held that inferior races produced more children than “Aryans,” so anything that diminished Germany’s reproductive potential was considered a racial danger.
The police had powers to hold in protective custody or preventive arrest those deemed dangerous to Germany’s moral fiber, jailing indefinitely—without trial—anyone they chose. In addition, homosexual prisoners just released from jail were immediately re-arrested and sent to concentration camps if the police thought it likely that they would continue to engage in homosexual acts.
From 1937 to 1939, the peak years of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals, the police increasingly raided homosexual meeting places, seized address books, and created networks of informers and undercover agents to identify and arrest suspected homosexuals. On April 4, 1938, the Gestapo issued a directive indicating that men convicted of homosexuality could be incarcerated in concentration camps. Between 1933 and 1945 the police arrested over 100,000 men as homosexuals.
The Nazis interned some homosexuals in concentration camps immediately after the seizure of power in January 1933. Those interned came from all areas of German society, and often had only the cause of their imprisonment in common. Some homosexuals were interned under other categories by mistake, and the Nazis purposefully miscategorized some political prisoners as homosexuals. Prisoners marked by pink triangles to signify homosexuality were treated harshly in the camps. According to many survivor accounts, homosexuals were among the most abused groups in the camps.
Because some Nazis believed homosexuality was a sickness that could be cured, they designed policies to “cure” homosexuals of their “disease” through humiliation and hard work. Guards ridiculed and beat homosexual prisoners upon arrival, often separating them from other inmates. Rudolf Hoess, commandant of Auschwitz, wrote in his memoirs that homosexuals were segregated in order to prevent homosexuality from spreading to other inmates and guards. Personnel in charge of work details in the Dora-Mittelbau underground rocket factory or in the stone quarries at Flossenbürg and Buchenwald often gave deadly assignments to homosexuals.
Survival in camps took on many forms. Some homosexual inmates secured administrative and clerical jobs. For other prisoners, sexuality became a means of survival. In exchange for sexual favors, some Kapos protected a chosen prisoner, usually of young age, giving him extra food and shielding him from the abuses of other prisoners. Homosexuals themselves very rarely became Kapos due to the lack of a support network. Kapo guardianship was no protection against the guards’ brutality, of course. In any case, the Kapo often tired of an individual, sometimes killing him and finding another on the next transport. Though individual homosexual inmates could secure a measure of protection in some ways, as a group homosexual prisoners lacked the support network common to other groups. Without this help in mitigating brutality, homosexual prisoners were unlikely to survive long.
One avenue of survival available to some homosexuals was castration, which some criminal justice officials advocated as a way of “curing” sexual deviance. Homosexual defendants in criminal cases or concentration camps could agree to castration in exchange for lower sentences. Later, judges and SS camp officials could order castration without the consent of a homosexual prisoner.
Nazis interested in finding a “cure” for homosexuality expanded this program to include medical experimentation on homosexual inmates of concentration camps. These experiments caused illness, mutilation, and even death, and yielded no scientific knowledge.
The sinister Paragraph 175 which criminalized homosexuality was in effect until 1969. Even after the concentration camps were liberated gay prisoners would be sent to sent to regular prisons to finish out the terms of their sentences.
In 1985, gays and lesbians had wanted to place a plaque in the camp at Dachau, but it was not until 10 years later, in 1995, that gays and lesbians have been recognized as a group of victims.
At this time here are no known statistics for the number of homosexuals who died in the camps but some scholars estimate the numbers could actually be in the hundreds of thousands.
Please watch the 2000 documentary film Paragraph 175 (below) that chronicles the lives of several gay men and one lesbian who were persecuted and arrested by the Nazis for the crime of homosexuality under Paragraph 175.