Death penalty for homosexual offenders

Himmler remained adamant that harsh punishment should be meted out to presumed homosexuals, as a deterrent to spreading this "plague." It is virtually certain that Himmler himself was behind the November 1941 introduction of a mandatory death penalty for homosexual offenses in the ranks of the police and the SS. Hitler promptly and decisively sabotaged the full thrust of the ordinance, which was quite evidently one of deterrence by means of the threat of the death sentence, at the moment he signed it.

He told Hans-Heinrich Lammers, the head of the Reich Chancellery, that it should on no account be made public, either in the press or any official gazette, because its release would give the whole world the impression that homosexual offenses were so prevalent in the SS and police that "such draconian measures" were positively required to bring the problem under control.

Whereupon Lammers very sensibly pointed out that potential offenders needed to know in advance that the death penalty awaited them. Why would they be more readily deterred from the crime if they did not know that the law now treated it as a capital offense? Hitler's response was that this was Himmler's problem. He could figure out how to get the message across to all current and future SS and police members "in an appropriate fashion."

Himmler's solution was that all SS men were now meant to sign a declaration, confirming that this delicate question had been explained adequately to them, and that they would not engage in any such acts. The form would be kept in their personnel file, and brandished at them if they later claimed ignorance. The statement read:

I have been instructed that the Führer has decreed in his order of 15 November 1941, in order to keep the SS and the police clean of all vermin of a homosexual nature, that a member of the SS or police who commits an indecent act with another man, or allows himself to be indecently abused by him, will be put to death without consideration of his age.

Hitler's 1941 decree itself was meant to be read out in full to the SS man at the time of signing. He was also ordered to report any "immoral advances" even if they involved a superior officer (which in a sense broke his SS oath of unswerving loyalty and absolute obedience). The existence of so few of these forms in personnel files suggests that this was far from standard procedure. Several SS NCOs later charged with homosexuality claimed quite plausibly never to have heard of the Führer's order in the first place.[...]

While it may be true that the warnings about homosexuality were not always read out as prescribed in some Nazi organizations, it can hardly have escaped the notice of a single policeman in Germany that homosexuality was a serious offense. But again one has to wonder whether the ordinary policeman on the beat knew about the subtleties of the vague law as interpreted by the Supreme Court in 1935, a change that thereafter made mere mutual masturbation punishable with a prison sentence.

Source: Why bother about homosexuals? Homophobia and Sexual Politics in Nazi Germany, Geoffrey J. Giles, Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C., August 2002.

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