Clearing the air in Germany

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A still from the film “Fox and his friends” | New York Times | 14302

Germany’s Nazi era laws may have gone but convictions for obsolete offences still stay on the record, as they did until recently in the United Kingdom.

Germany’s failure to expunge the arrests of victims of a legal system that kept a Nazi-era ban on homosexuality on the books for decades after World War II highlights the slow pace of reforms on gay equality in the usually liberal country.

In 1957 the Constitutional Court declared “Paragraph 175” to be constitutional, solidifying its place in West German law. The law’s scope was limited in 1969, but homosexuality was not formally decriminalized until 1994.

Men who were forced to wear the pink triangle, the Nazis’ way of identifying homosexuals in concentration camps, received a measure of justice in 2002 when the German government formally apologized and agreed to compensate them. In 2008, Berlin unveiled a memorial for the Holocaust’s gay victims, a tall concrete slab with a TV screen on one side that displays a video loop of two men or two women kissing.

Victims of Germany’s postwar homophobia, however, have received only modest redress. Parliament officially apologized to them in 2000, but roughly 50,000 men persecuted after World War II have yet to have convictions of sodomy stricken from their police records, according to Manfred Bruns, a retired federal prosecutor and an executive board member at the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany.

No one seems to know how many of those people are still alive, or if they would come forward to seek redress. Calls are growing for Germany to clear the records of remaining victims before they die. Volker Beck, a lawmaker with the opposition Greens and a proponent of gay rights, is one of several members of Parliament who are pushing for legislation that would expunge the records and perhaps offer financial compensation. “For a lot of these men, criminal persecution in the ’50s spelled disaster for their entire civil existence,” he said.

Germany has so far has expunged only the records of people caught up in the draconian legal systems of Nazism and East German Communism. “There is no mechanism for getting rid of old Constitutional Court decisions,” Mr. Bruns said. “When the court’s view of the law changes, then it simply rules accordingly and old verdicts are paved over.”

Fox and His Friends, (German: Faustrecht der Freiheit), also known as Right Fist of Freedom, is a 1975 West German film written and directed by Rainer Werner.


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2 thoughts on “Clearing the air in Germany

  1. If the widespread institutionalilsed slavery from recent history were still in place and needed to be (re)abolished I coudn’t imagine most people being happy with only future enslavements being outlawed and existing arrangements allowed to continue. Yet, most folk don’t even seem to realise that there’s a problem that needs to be addressed when society moves on from horribly unjust practises such as convictions for homosexuality. If it’s unjust now then it was unjust then, and remains so. When you clean up the laws, clean up the old mess.

    No-one seems to believe me when I mention that (as far as I know, from what little I know) when the camps were “liberated” after WWII a proportion of the homosexual people were re-arrested and re-interned. Yee-hah, war is over – but not for you, or you or you guys over there, please get back in your huts.

    Steps off soap-box and exits, stage left …

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  2. Hello, and thank you for your comments. Your understanding is correct. For some years after the war just being gay was seen as a security risk or as posing some other threat to society.

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