Police bans, raids and arrests: 1933 to 1935

A few days after the Reichstag Fire (27 February 1933), the Prussian Minister of the Interior issued three decrees for the combating of public indecency. The first was directed against prostitution and venereal diseases. The second concerned the closure of bars which 'are misused for the furtherance of public indecency'. Included in this definition were public houses solely or mainly frequented by persons who engage in unnatural sex acts', and proceedings were to be immediately started to revoke their licence. The third decree prohibited kiosks and magazine stands, in hire libraries and bookshops, from trading in books or other publications which, 'whether because they include nude illustrations or because of their title or contents, are liable to produce erotic effects in the beholder'- the penalty being a fine, revocation of the hire agreement or withdrawal of the trading licence.

Although neither those affected nor the public at large were initially aware of it, these decrees already betokened a policy that would assume a clearer shape over the following months and years: a policy of arbitrary measures designed to deter and to eradicate through terror, and of coercive measures to cure the 'scourge' of homosexuality.

In the next few months, most of the bars known as meeting-places for homosexual men and women were closed down in all the big towns of Germany.

The few which escaped for whatever reason would later serve the police and the Gestapo as places where the 'scene', and what was considered as such, could be more easily kept under observation. Public and hire libraries and bookshops were purged of writings that now counted as 'indecent'- in effect, all literary, popular and scientific works published since the turn of the century, and especially since the First World War, which dealt with the theme of homosexuality and 'the love without a name'. Magazines of the homosexual liberation movement - for example, Blätter für Menschenrecht, Die Insel or Der Kreis - had to abandon publication. Publishing houses such as Adolf Brand's (which printed Der Eigene, among others) underwent searches and had part of their stock confiscated, so that in the end there remained nothing other than bankruptcy.

On 6 May 1933 Magnus Hirschfeld's Sexual Science Institute, renowned well beyond the limits of Berlin, was destroyed, and on 10 May Hirschfeld's writings were publicly burned together with those of Moll, Ellis, Freud and many others. The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, the political organization which had fought since 1897 to repeal §l75 of the Penal Code, was forced to give up its work.

A year later, in February 1934, followed the edicts of the Prussian Minister of the Interior on the preventive detention of 'professional criminals' and the regular surveillance of those still 'running free', as it put it. The concepts of professional criminal and habitual sex offender were arbitrarily defined and then reintroduced into legal terminology.

The ensuing operations especially affected homosexual paedophile men, a category which before 1933 had accounted for the majority of those sentenced under sections 174 to 176 of the Penal Code. In the second half of 1934, allegedly in connection with the events surrounding the so-called Röhm Putsch, a special section was set up at Gestapo Headquarters to deal with cases involving homosexuality. At the end of the year all Regional Criminal Police Bureaux were asked for lists of persons who had been homosexually active in the past, especial interest being expressed in their membership of Nazi organizations. lt has not so far been possible to ascertain whether and to what extent this registration served as the foundation for nation-wide actions against homosexual men.

In Berlin a number of pubs were raided in March 1935. According to a tabular survey drawn up for the Reichsführer-SS, 413 of the 1770 men held in 'preventive detention' were identified in June 1935 as 'homosexuals', 325 of them interned in the infamous concentration camp al Lichtenburg. The brutal proceedings led four gay men to turn for help to Reich Bishop Müller and General Keitel, while remaining anonymous for fear of the consequences. Parallel to these drastic arbitrary measures devoid of any legal basis, efforts were intensified to develop a new penal code for the 'Third Reich'. In October 1933, on Hitler's orders, Reich Minister of Justice Gürtner hooked the members of an official Criminal Law Commission and made Wenzeslaus Graf von Gleispach, the Viennese conservative theorist of criminal law, responsible for the 'sex offences' rubric. While the Commission discussed how the criminal law should be adapted to the ideology of the Nazi state and whether this required a tightening of §l75, a trial al the Weimar Court caused a great stir in April 1935. For the verdict, which sentenced several people to terms of imprisonment for offences under §l75, drove a coach and horses through previous interpretation of the law. The judge's opinion warned that in future any homosexual activity would be punished. And the case never got as far as the Reichsgericht [Supreme Court], which should evidently have been brought in at that stage to give a higher ruling. In late June 1935 the Sixth Amendment to the Penal Code, containing crucial changes in the criminalization of homosexuality, was adopted to widespread surprise.

Source: Hidden Holocaust ?, Günter Grau, Cassell, 1995. Translated from German by Patrick Camiller.

Picture : The Reichstag on fire (27 February 1933)

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