Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Gays and The Holocaust

-At the top is the prison photo of Erwin Schimitzek, a store clerk from Breslau.   He was arrested for homosexuality and sent to Auschwitz in 1941. He died there in 1942.  He was 23 years old at the time of his death.

-Below is an actual pink triangle attached to a concentration camp uniform. The pink triangle, used by the gay movement (especially in the darkest days of the gay AIDS plague in the 1980s), was created by the Nazis as part of a system for categorizing concentration camp inmates. Pink triangles designated homosexuals. Opponents of LGBT emancipation once claimed that the pink triangle was a fable since no one could produce an authentic one from that time. Beginning in the 1990s, aging survivors began to come forward and to donate their triangles and camp uniforms that they had kept hidden for years to archives and institutions like the Yad Vashem in Israel and The Holocaust Museum in the United States.

A few years ago, I had a friend (who has since died) that I'll call Hans.   He was a veteran of World War II, a veteran of the German Wehrmacht. He was drafted in 1943 at the age of 17. The Germans had just lost the Battle of Stalingrad and their military now had a desperate manpower shortage. Hans' mother was Swiss, and he wanted to go sit out the war with his relatives in Switzerland. But, his father, who was not sympathetic to the Nazis, told Hans that it was his duty to defend the Fatherland in the hour of need. Hans never spoke to his father again. He was stationed in occupied Italy. He was wounded at the Battle of Monte Casino. Hans' description of the German army in occupied Italy was very different from the movie image of mechanically evil Nazis fighting fanatically to the end. Hans described a thoroughly demoralized army rife with corruption. Everyone knew the War was lost, but couldn't say so. Complaining soldiers were shot or hanged by the Gestapo for "defeatism." Everyone was primarily concerned with staying alive and with being in the best position when the inevitable surrender came; close to the Americans and British and as far away from the Russians as possible.
Hans was a gay man. He was already sexually active before he was drafted. He used his youth, good looks, and sexual availability to survive the War.
When it was over, he worked for the American Occupation forces in Munich and began a long affair with an American officer. They came back to the USA, and lived together near Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. When his American partner died, Hans came to New York. He never lived in Germany again, though he went back frequently to visit family and friends.

Hans regularly took guests to the Gay Holocaust memorial in Berlin. He always told them to double the number of dead inscibed on the monument to get a conservative estimate of the real number of gays and lesbians who died at the hands of the Nazis. While the Jews were the main target of the Holocaust ("the First Front of the War" the Nazis called their war on the Jewish people, diverting much needed resources to the slaughter of Jewish populations even when the military situation became desperate), gays were treated especially harshly, and few survived the camps. They were despised and brutally treated by guards and other inmates. They were frequently the subjects of sadistic "medical experiments" that ranged from drug tests to vivisections.
After the War, surviving gay inmates were imprisoned again as criminals by the Allied Occupation. Many were not freed until the late 1950s. Most of the survivors kept their pasts secret until very recently.

Paragraph 175 , first issued in 1871, criminalizing same sex attraction, was finally repealed by the German government in 1994.


Grandmère Mimi said...

Counterlight, what a powerful post. The details of the story of the Nazi's persecution of gays and lesbian are largely untold. Thank you for your part in telling the story.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I echo Mimi's comments. This is an important part of history.

Davis said...

Thanks. A beautiful post.

susan s. said...


FranIAm said...

Powerful indeed.

When I visited Dachau in 1999, there was an exhibit there about the gay persecution. I was there with 2 of my male friends. A man struck up a conversation with us and he said what your friend did... No matter what is said it was more people and it was worse than could be imagined.

I did not know there was a gay Holocaust memorial in Berlin. I was there in 2005 with my real-life and blog friend Dcap. Had we known, we would have gone.

Thank you for all that you do here.

Brian R said...

The Gay holocaust memorial was only opened in late May
unfortunately a few weeks after my recent visit
There are other memorials in Germany
I recently visited the one in Frankfurt.
Thanks Counterlight for this history.

Counterlight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Counterlight said...

It may have been "a" gay holocaust memorial rather than "the" gay holocaust memorial Hans was talking about. Anyway, it was some kind of monument with an estimated number on it. I have never been to Berlin, so I couldn't say.

I wish I could say that Hans was wounded at Monte Casino fighting bravely. That was not the case. The story he told me was that he was over on a hill looking out over the valley toward the Abbey. He spent most of the battle watching it from a bunker. Some soldiers were playing cards and drinking contraband beer in one of the rooms of the bunker with a porthole left open. Hans yelled at them to close the portal. They complained that it was hot and told him what his mother was and where to go. As soon as Hans left the room and shut the door, a shell came right through the portal and killed everyone in that room. He was wounded in the leg.

I should preview these things before I post them.