Remembering the Persecution of Gay Men and Lesbians on Yom HaShoah

Killed, Silenced; the Gay Sacrifice of the NazisWednesday at sundown marked the beginning of Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Day of Remembrance. Among the millions of people who were arrested, tortured, or killed during this tragedy were over 100,000 gay men. About half of these men were sentenced to prison or work camps, where they were forced to wear pink triangles. These badges signified that they had been sentenced under a harsher version of Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code, which was originally framed in 1871, and punished a broad range of "lewd and lascivious" behavior between men. Nazi leaders also claimed that gay men, by failing to procreate, were responsible for the downfall of the Aryan race.

Friedrich-Paul von Groszheim was just one of many gay men who were arrested and tortured during the Holocaust. He was arrested twice because of his sexual orientation. The first time he served 10 months in prison; the second time he was given the option of returning to prison or submitting to castration and avoiding a prison sentence. He chose the second option. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “many survivors have testified that men with pink triangles were often treated particularly severely by guards and inmates alike because of widespread biases against [gay men].”

Although Paragraph 175 omitted any mention of women and the majority of the persecution in Germany was on gay men, some lesbians also faced severe punishment. Henny Schermann and Mary Punjer, who were both Jewish, were arrested at a lesbian bar in 1940. Both were murdered in gas chambers in 1942. Lesbian writer Grete von Urbanitzky, who had originally supported the Nazi regime, was forced to leave the country, eventually ending up in Switzerland. All of her books were banned in Germany.

After the end of World War II the persecution of gay men went widely unrecognized, in large part because cultural biases against them remained ingrained in the cultures of both Europe and the United States. The version of Paragraph 175 under which the Nazi regime had arrested and punished gay men remained on the books in West Germany until 1969. Indeed, even under the Allied Military Government of Germany, some gay men were forced to serve the entirety of the prison terms they had been sentenced to under the Nazi regime.

Recently, gay survivors of the Holocaust have faced more persecution in the form of defamatory claims by extreme anti-LGBT activists who are claiming that the militancy and violence of the Nazi party was a result of Hitler and many of his elite officers being gay. Scott Lively is at the forefront of these revisionists; his 1995 book, The Pink Swastika, earned him a place in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report in 2005. Lively, who currently runs Abiding Truth Ministries in Springfield, Mass., recently spoke at a Tea Party rally in Boston and will be speaking at Draper Park Christian Church in Oklahoma City from April 27-29. The Cimarron Alliance, a Central-Oklahoma based LGBT advocacy organization, plans to hold a multi-faith press conference in conjunction with The Center for Oklahoma Human Rights Alliance and the ACLU demanding that the LGBT community be treated with honesty and fairness. Oklahoma: Inside Out, a weekly radio show affiliated with the Cimarron Alliance, will feature anti-ex-gay advocates on Friday, and on Saturday morning, several churches will hold prayer sessions for reflection on truth and justice for the LGBT community. GLAAD has profiled Scott Lively as a part of its Commentator Accountability Project.

Yom HaShoah is a day to reflect on the tragedy that led to the murder of millions of people and rededicate ourselves to ending persecution and injustice wherever we see it. During this time of remembrance, it is our hope that the LGBT victims of the Holocaust will not be forgotten. GLAAD honors the memories of all people whose lives were taken or altered forever by the Nazi regime and recognizes those who are advocating for justice and equality today

The photo included in this post is a picture of the memorial to gay and lesbian victims of the Holocaust at Nollendorfplatz in Schöneberg, Germany. This neighborhood had a thriving gay community before being destoryed by the Nazis in the 1930s. The memorial reads: "Killed, Silenced: The Gay Sacrifice to National Socialism."