This pride month, commemorate the memory of the LGBTQ+ individuals who succumbed to the brutalities of the Holocaust and ensure that their memory isn’t snubbed ever again.
We’ve all learned about the horrors inflicted upon the Jewish community by the Nazis but have you ever wondered about what it was like to be gay, lesbian or trans in the German Reich? This pride month, commemorate the memory of the LGBTQ+ individuals who succumbed to the brutalities of the Holocaust and ensure that their memory isn’t snubbed ever again.
Here’s what your textbooks forgot to mention. Until the Nazis came to power, Germany housed a flourishing and vibrant LGBT+ community. What followed after 1933, however, was nothing short of a late modern witch hunt. Paragraph 175 was a provision of the German Criminal Code from the May of 1871 to the March of 1994 that punished same-sex rape, male prostitution, relationships with co-workers, and even consensual gay relationships between men. The Nazis converted this crime into a felon and thus increased its maximum sentence from six months in prison to five years. Gay bars were shut left and right; books on sexual orientation were burnt to a crisp; gay organisations were grabbed by the throat and shoved to the ground. The community was essentially dismantled but that wasn’t enough for Heinrich Himmler, the leader of a major paramilitary organization and a man who considered the existence of homosexuality more lethal than the plague for Hitler’s plans.
Nearly 100,000 men were arrested but just around 50,000 were sentenced. Post accusation, men would be dragged into courts and a trial awaited. If the sentenced were lucky, they would be dumped into a regular prison. If they weren’t, the next (and for most, the last) destination were Nazi concentration camps. Approximately 10,000 queer men never saw the light of hope again let alone the bright beams of liberation.
Due to failed attempts of criminalising lesbianism, paragraph 175 only condemned male same-sex relationships. But its leniency in the eyes of the law didn’t prevent the community from being harassed by the Nazis and the closure of lesbian clubs. Due to imprisonment usually but not completely off the table, every lesbian had a different experience in the Third Reich. First and foremost, lesbians are women and, well, the Nazis had a surging need for women. How else would they fill their country with “Aryans”? Those that couldn’t produce “racially pure” children received the same fate as the Jews, Romanies and 10,000 queer men.
Similar to how Jews were forced to bear a golden star, queer men had to identify themselves with a pink triangle. This triangle of shame has since been reclaimed as a symbol of protest against homophobia and a glowing emblem of self-identity. It reminds us of the LGBTQ+ lives lost during the Holocaust. Yet our history books don’t. Why?
LGBT+ prisoners (more specifically gay and bisexual men) were forced to work longer hours in camps. Slurs and stones were hurled at them by both their fellow inmates and Nazi guards. They were subjected to unthinkable horrors by doctors who claimed they could cure “gayness”. Their working conditions were direr because officials believed that arduous work would turn them straight. Even after the liberation of all concentration camps, LGBTQ+ survivors couldn’t apply for financial and moral support from the newly formed German government. On top of that, their testimonies were deemed significantly less important by Holocaust researchers and courts. It’s this blatant stigmatisation that has led to the history of LGBTQ+ living and dying in Nazi concentration camps being covered up and overlooked by school books. The few gay survivors’ true liberation arrived a decade and a half after the Holocaust when homosexuality was decriminalised in both East and West Germany. The least we can do to commemorate their memory and ensure that the world never witnesses this magnitude of hate ever again is by making certain that future generations are enlightened about what they underwent. The construction of memorials demonstrate that we’re on the right path but our work won’t be over till people realise how fortunate we are to live during a period of time in which who we love, our religion, and our ethnicity doesn’t guarantee death. Everyone needs to know what it was like being Jewish, gay, and outspokenly critical of the government in 1940s Germany. Everyone. History is a collection of humanity's failures and success; it’s the best teacher. LGBTQ+ history is human history and their suffering should never be ignored again. Happy pride month.
-by Rayansh Singh.