Homophiles in Hitler's concentration camps

When the German concentration camps were thrown open in 1945, a wave of terror swept over Germany and the entire world. But the indignation, pity and horror soon were wiped out by the general misery that followed the war, by daily worries about finding food and a place to live. The Dachau trials remained unknown to large parts of the public, and it didn't take long before some individuals started to show signs of doubt about the genuine gravity of the horrors that took place in the camps. Too many people had a powerful interest in minimizing the atrocities that had been committed and in letting them fall into obscurity as quickly as possible. A few books did appear, but they were not always objective, and often they were aimed at sensationalism. As for the survivors of the horrors of the camps, they were busy trying to find their place in the new society then being formed -- a society that they hoped would be in keeping with fundamental humanitarian principles. From time to time, organizations representing the interests of the victims -- particularly Jews, who were the most severely affected, as well as communists, socialists and displaced foreigners -- tried to claim indemnification, most often without much success.

The common law prisoners -- pimps, killers and professional thieves who had been so numerous in the camps and who had at first greatly damaged the reputations of the liberated internees -- quickly rediscovered their old lives and disappeared from view. Bonds of friendship already had been less than firm in the camps, where shared misery too often brought out the basest instincts; such bonds rapidly came undone. The recent trials of former concentration camp doctors have created barely even a weak renewal of curiosity and interest regarding these past events.

Yet there is one group among all the victims that has never received the light of publicity, hasn't complained about the damage it sustained, and hasn't encountered any understanding from the newspapers, from government agencies or from organizations that defend the interests of former internees: That group is the homophiles. Because Paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code -- the very Paragraph 175 that has been a subject of debate for decades -- makes homophiles into criminals, they encounter no pity from the public, and of course can make no claim for damages. To this day, no one has sought to learn how many homophiles were hunted down by the Nazis, nor to learn what the survivors retrieved of their lives and their belongings.
The trials of former camp doctors have recently called to mind the fact that thousands of homophiles were forcibly castrated, often under beastly conditions. In the camps, homophiles often were singled out for special mistreatment. The author of these lines himself once witnessed how an effeminate young man had to dance repeatedly in front of the SS, only to be subsequently strung up on a beam in the guardroom with his hands and feet tied, then beaten horribly. The author also recalls the "latrine parades" in one of the first camps (Sonnenburg), for which the commandant always chose homophiles.

We must not forget that the homophiles in question often were honorable and cultured citizens who held important positions in society and in the government. During the seven years that he passed in various camps, the author of this article got to know a Prussian prince, major athletes, professors, schoolteachers, engineers, artisans, workers of every type -- and naturally, prostitutes, as well. Certainly, not all of them were worthwhile people, but the majority were completely lost and alone in the world of the concentration camps. During their rare hours of leisure, they lived largely in isolation. It was thus that I came to know the tragedy of a very civilized foreign embassy attaché who remained absolutely walled-up and unapproachable in a boundless and inescapable despair. He couldn't manage to make sense of the atrocious cruelty that he saw around him, and one day, for no apparent reason, he slumped over dead.

To this day, I find it impossible to recall all those comrades, those outrages, those deaths without sinking into profound despair.

None of this would have been possible without the legal opportunities that Paragraph 175 offered to the sadistic butchers of the Third Reich. I am now an old man. In my youth, I knew the activities and the struggles of the homophile circles that were then united under Magnus Hirschfeld, Adolf Brand, Fritz Radszuweit and others -- men who gave their honorable names to the fight for rights. I worked with them and I joined them in hoping for understanding and justice. Whether Paragraph 175 is maintained or repealed is no longer of much concern to me personally. But I hope for all those human beings known or unknown who still live under the weight of its constant threat that -- despite everything -- reason, progress, science and the courage of the medical profession will finally win the day. If that happens, the victims of all the concentration camps will not have died in vain.

Source : Les homophiles dans les camps de concentration de Hitler, B. M., "Die Runde" (Bert Micha), Arcadie, no. 82 (octobre 1960), p. 616-618. Translated from the French by Gerard Koskovich.

Photo: Memorial to the gay victims of the Nazi regime (Nollendorfplatz, Berlin). The inscription on the granite triangle reads: "Beaten to Death. Silenced to Death. The Homosexual Victims of National Socialism." (Photo: G. Koskovich)

NOTE: Arcadie was the main French homophile periodical of the 1950s. It gives little indication of the source of the text translated here: merely the German words "Die Runde" ("the round," "the circle" or "the party") that follow the author's initials. Although not so stated, the article was translated into French from a German text that appeared under the pseudonym "Bert Micha" in the autumn 1958 issue of the mimeographed private newsletter of Die Runde, an informal social group of gay men in the town of Reutlingen, near Stuttgart.

Details about Die Runde and the Micha article can be found in Karl-Heinz Steinle, Die Geschichte der Kameradschaft die Runde 1950 bis 1969, Hefte des Schwulen Museums, no. 1 (Berlin: Verlag rosa Winkel, 1998), pages 12-13, and Andreas Sternweiler et al. (eds.), Goodbye to Berlin? 100 Jahre Schwulenbewegung (Berlin: Verlag rosa Winkel, 1997), page 199. Thanks to Prof. James Steakley of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA, for providing this information. --GK

Translation copyright © 2009 by Ray Gerard Koskovich; may be reprinted for noncommercial purposes provided the translator is credited, this copyright note is included, and a copy of the print publication or a link to the online publication is sent to the translator:

Gerard Koskovich
P.O. Box 14301
San Francisco, CA 94114-0301

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