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Monday 8 October 2007

Remembering Sachsenhausen

gay prisoners at sachsenhausen

My fellow blogger Jack P — expressing interest in my posting on gay subjects which aren't to the fore — has promoted me to post this. It's a speech I gave at our local Holocaust Memorial Day in January this year.

It's seems appropriate to post it on a day when the UK Government announces legislation making incitement to hatred of gay people an offence.

I first became aware of the specific experience of gay victims in the Second World War through the efforts of the very few remaining survivors in the late 70s, especially the play Bent, which was based on the first testimony to be published, in the book the Men with the Pink Triangle.

Bent was made into a very good film ten years ago with Clive Owen and Lothaire Bluteau - Trailer:

kitty fisherI also had the honor of knowing the Auschwitz survivor Kitty Fisher in Sydney. Kitty always had a special connection with the gay community because it was a gay man who saved her and her sister's lives in the camp when they were small.

Kitty was in the documentary Paragraph 175, directed by Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman (who also did The Times of Harvey Milk and The Celluloid Closet).

Here's a trailer:

The Memorial Day speech was very hard, emotionally emptying work as I could completely identify with the characters I was reading about. I could then place myself in their shoes, in the Camps, in the Brick Pit. I had much the same experience watching Bent, I felt it viscerally. Same feeling now actually. I can completely understand why people, many survivors especially, never spoke about the Holocaust (although gay victims had different reasons for silence),

People from the local Jewish community could not have been more supportive in giving the speech, offering very useful advice, and it had a fantastic reception, apparently touching people and making them aware in a way they weren't previously. This pleased me greatly as telling this history means talking about how gay survivors were treated by other survivors. There was also another very real link with genocide with a Bosnian survivor, an immensely dignified young man, who I was very pleased to hear and to meet.


Holocaust Memorial Day, 2007

With Germany's military defeat came liberation of Nazi concentration camps, and the discovery of an unprecedented horror.

For our kind - gays - the nightmare began in 1934, one year after the Nazis came to power, with the creation of the Reich Office for Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion.

767 police-identified or suspected homosexuals were arrested by the Gestapo (State Secret Police), awaiting transfer to concentration camps for "reeducation" at the hands of Hitler's fanatical SS paramilitary units.

Treatment was brutal; begun without trial, jury, or mercy. The Gestapo tortured gays for information, confessions, names

- and sadistic pleasure.

In June 1935 a desperate youth wrote to the only person in authority he trusted: Bishop Ludwig Mueller.

prisoners with pink trianglesThis Berliner - alone, panic stricken - tells the bishop the treatment awaiting gays:

The letter reads:

"[Homosexuals] are tortured for weeks and months on end. Hardly anyone can describe what they do to homosexuals and suspects.

"Not only do they use the foulest language they maltreat them in the most brutal way. Each man has to fall in, stand still and watch 50 to 100 blows rained on a poor creature. The cries and the sight of the flowing blood are terrible."

The letter closes naively, "People have said that our glorious Fuhrer would punish such acts most severely if they came to his ears. I am of the same view."

Whether Bishop Mueller had Christian compassion for the plight of gays is not known. There is no record of response from him or of any personal action taken.

German gays - "Varmer bruders" - were worked to death until the war's end.

The death toll for all inmates was 8 million. It is impossible to estimate how many of them were homosexuals. But estimates range from 430,000 (which is probably too high) to 10,000 (which is probably too low).

arbeit macht frei - work will make you free - sign at sachsenhausenDetailed statistical analysis of surviving records indicates that homosexual prisoners were systematically placed in the hardest work commandos (notably the gravel pits at Dachau and the brick works where all of the homosexual inmates of Sachsenhausen worked);

  • that the death rate for homosexuals was 50 percent higher than for political prisoners;

  • that they received more brutal and more frequent extra punishments than the other prisoners;

  • and that they formed the highest percentage of prisoners who were "transported" (the Nazi euphemism for transfer to the gas chambers).

One survivor of Dachau reported: "The inmates with the pink triangles never lived long, they were exterminated by the SS with systematic swiftness."

By all accounts, hardly any of the homosexual inmates of the concentration camps survived.

The pink triangles were spurned by all other groups in the concentration camps, and many survivors even today refuse to acknowledge the existence of their fellow gay prisoners.

After the war, homosexuals were denied the reparations given by the German government to other groups, because they were still classified as criminals under German law.

They were even denied state pensions to compensate for the amount of time spent in the concentration camps.

They could be re-imprisoned for "repeat offences," and were kept on the modern lists of "sex offenders."

The humane institutions of every country have condemned the treatment of all of the victims — except for homosexuals.

On annual days of mourning for the victims, few countries officially mourn for homosexuals.

To the survivor's comment that "one day they were simply gone" we might add "and today are all but forgotten."


The memorial plaque at Sachsenhausen

gay memorial at sachsenhausen

  • Germany is building a monument to the gay victims in Berlin
    Holocaust victims honoured, Pink Paper, 5th. February, 1999
    "Thousands of gays and lesbians who were murdered by the Nazis during the Second World War were formally honoured by the German government for the first time this week. Representatives of the country's gay community joined officials at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp north of Berlin to take part in the annual remembrance ceremony for prison camp victims. Sachsenhausen held large numbers of gay inmates because of its close proximity to Berlin, which had developed a thriving gay community in the 1920s and 1930s."

  • US National Holocaust Museum: Nazi persecution of homosexuals

1 comment:

  1. The only problem with looking at the way the nazis brutally and inhumanely treated homosexuals is that the way the nazis already brutally and inhumanely treated everyone else in the camps way past my capacity to measure.

    Unfortunately distrust of the "other" is still a problem today (leading to fear of, denigration and hatred of, then ill-treatment of): just look at any headline telling you how ebola-infected bogus asylum seekers are driving down house prices in Surrey...

    Just because we in this country are sufficiently 'trained' at present not to slaughter whichever groups aren't the in with the "in crowd" doesn't necessarily mean that we all hold more better attitudes: it could (although I'm not necessarily saying it does) simply indicate that our vicious prejudices have been papered over with a genteel veneer of civility.