To mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi Germany’s concentration camps, BTL’s Charles Alexander offers this historical reflection.
World War ll ended on May 8th – Victory Europe Day – 60 years ago, followed by surrender of Japan in the Pacific Theater three months later. The cost of the war: 55,000,000 lives.
With Germany’s military defeat came liberation of Nazi concentration camps, and the discovery of an unprecedented horror: the documented extermination of 5,295,000 Jews, Poles, Russians, Gypsies, Jehovah Witnesses, “undesirables,” and gays through starvation, dehumanizing brutality, disease, medical “experiments,” gassing and cremation.
For our kind – gays – the nightmare began in 1934 with the creation of the Reich Office for Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion, one year after the Nazis came to power. 767 police-identified or suspected homosexuals were arrested by the Gestapo (State Secret Police), awaiting transfer to concentration camps for “reeducation” at the hands of Hitler’s fanatical SS paramilitary units.
Treatment was brutal; begun without trial, jury, or mercy. The Gestapo tortured gays for information, confessions, names – and sadistic pleasure.
In June 1935 a desperate youth wrote to the only person in authority he trusted: Reich Bishop Ludwig Mueller. The anonymous letter as quoted in the book “Hidden Holocaust?” begins, “I no longer know what to do and so I am turning my steps directly to you. May God grant that you do not close your mind to these lines but that you do everything in your power to put an end to the horror, by protesting at the very top.”
This Berliner – alone, panic stricken – tells the bishop the treatment awaiting gays: “[Homosexuals] are tortured for weeks and months on end. Mentally and physically! [One] prisoner, despite repeated requests, was not taken to the toilet, and did it in his cell; he was then sadistically told under threat to eat his excrement. Hardly anyone can describe what they do to homosexuals and suspects.
“Not only do they use the foulest language – ‘pathetic bastard’; ‘you little piece of shit’; you bugger, you’ll soon get a kick up your arse’ – they maltreat them in the most brutal way. Each man has to fall in, stand still and watch 50 to 100 blows rained on a poor creature. The cries and the sight of the flowing blood are terrible.”
The letter closes naively, “People have said that our glorious Fuhrer would punish such acts most severely if they came to his ears. I am of the same view, for Adolf Hitler wishes to see the realization of justice and most heartfelt love of one’s neighbor.”
Whether Bishop Mueller had Christian compassion for the plight of gays is not known. There is no record of response from him or of any personal action taken. German gays – “warmer bruders” – were worked to death until the war’s end. (Those who survived concentration hells were sent after liberation to prison as sex criminals.)
Under Nazi antigay laws, 100,000 men were arrested, 50,000 sentenced to prison terms, an unknown number committed to mental hospitals, hundreds castrated, a very few released. An estimated 15,000 – deemed “incurable” – were worked to death or murdered in camps. Lesbians were considered “asocials” and interned in prisons.
Historian Gunter Grau, in “Hidden Holocaust?: Gay and Lesbian Persecution in Germany 1933-45” (Cassell Books; 1993) writes, “There was the stigma of being homosexual, which gave them a dangerous special status.
“They were isolated from friends, who did not dare write for fear of themselves being registered as homosexuals; from families, which out of ‘shame’ might disown father or son, and might in the case of [a gay man’s] death refuse to accept the urn or hold a funeral. Other prisoners avoided men with the pink triangle both to keep clear of suspicion and because they shared the widespread prejudices against queers.”
In recent years many cities have erected Holocaust memorials that include or specifically remember gay victims. Major memorials are in Berlin, Amsterdam, San Francisco, New York City, and Washington, D.C. The European Parliament marked the 60th anniversary 2005 with this inclusive resolution:
“The death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where hundreds of thousands [actually 1,700,000] of Jews, Roma [Gypsies], homosexuals, Poles and other prisoners of various nationalities were murdered, is not only a major occasion for European citizens to remember and condemn the enormous horror and tragedy of the Holocaust, but also for addressing the disturbing rise in anti-Semitism, and especially anti-Semitic incidents, in Europe [let us add emphatically: “and LGBTs in America”] and for learning anew the wider lessons about the dangers of victimizing people on the basis of race, ethnic origin, religion, politics, or sexual orientation.”
Remember! Then as now: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.