‘Damenkneipe’ (Ladies’ Saloon) painted by Rudolf Schlichter, 1923 | Copyright control | 17133
Germany’s Bundestag has just voted to allow gay marriage. At a time when gay rights have made significant advances in Europe, “The Conversation” looked back to the period from 1920 to 1945.
Before the rise of the Nazis and Fascism, gay people were on the brink of legal reform and securing their rights, but overnight, everything changed.
The total number of Europeans arrested for being LGBTQ under fascism is impossible to know because of the lack of reliable records. But a conservative estimate is that there were many tens of thousands to one hundred thousand arrests during the war period alone.
Far more LGBTQ people in Europe painstakingly hid their genuine sexuality to avoid suspicion, marrying members of the opposite sex, for example. But if they had been prominent members of the gay and trans community before the fascists came to power, it was too late to hide.
In concentration camps, gay men were identified by a pink triangle. Men with pink triangles were singled out for particular abuse; mechanically raped, castrated, favored for medical experiments and murdered for guards’ sadistic pleasure even when they were not sentenced for “liquidation.”
In 1929, Germany came close to erasing its anti-gay law, only to see it strengthened soon thereafter. Only now, after a gap of 88 years, are convictions under that law being annulled.
… With new forms of authoritarianism entrenched and seeking to expand in Europe and beyond, it’s worth thinking about the fate of Europe’s LGBTQ community in the 1930s and ‘40s.
Gay prisoners in the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen with pink triangles. Germany, December 1938 | Unknown photographer | Socialist Worker | 16448gh
Germany is set to compensate up to 50,000 men convicted under a historic law which was still in effect until the late 1960s. “Paragraph 175” was part of Germany’s criminal code from 1871 to 1994, and made homosexual acts between men a criminal offence.
Thousands of gay and bisexual men were arrested and incarcerated in NZI concentration camps. Those who managed to escape the camps were often arrested again under Paragraph 175. The persecution continued well after the end of World War II. Gay men were often socially ostracised as well as losing their homes and jobs.
Since the end of World War II, a total of over 140,000 men were convicted, and 50,000 were prosecuted under Paragraph 175.
€30m will be made available in compensation to survivors, depending on individual cases, and taking the length of sentence into consideration.
Heiko Maas | Heiko Maas | 16449gh
Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas said the draft law, which will be formally announced later in October, will offer “relatively uncomplicated” individual claims, as well as allowing for collective claims.
Fritz Bauer | AP | 16132gh
Fritz Bauer became Germany’s youngest judge in 1930 at the age of 27. He was sent to a concentration camp when the Nazis came to power in 1933 and released nine months later after being coerced into signing a statement pledging obedience to Nazi rule. He fled to Denmark and Sweden where he lived out the rest of the war.
When Bauer returned to Germany in 1949, he found that many Third Reich values were still admired. Former Nazis held key positions in government. The closest aide and national security adviser to the then Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, was Hans Globke, a former Nazi government member who helped draw up Nazi race laws.
Anti-Semitism was so prevalent that he hid the fact that he was Jewish to avoid being labelled a traitor who was “bent on revenge”. West Germany still enforced Nazi-era laws outlawing homosexuality. He lived in fear of being publicly denounced and ousted from his job because he was gay. His attempts to bring Nazi war criminals to justice earned him the reputation as a judge who “fouled his own nest.” He once told a colleague: “As soon as I leave the confines of my office, I am on enemy territory.” Death threats were common.
He made history when in 1957 he was tipped off by a colleague in Argentina that Adolf Eichmann had escaped to Buenos Aires and was living there under an assumed name. Bauer was then chief state prosecutor in Frankfurt. His mistrust of post-war West Germany was so great that he kept Eichmann’s whereabouts secret from the German judiciary. Instead he told the Israeli secret service Mossad. Under West German law his actions were a treasonable offence.
Mossad agents kidnapped Eichmann in a spectacular operation in 1960. He was tried and hanged in Israel 1962.
Bauer was found drowned his bathtub at his Frankfurt home in 1968. A post-mortem examination showed that he had taken sleeping pills. There is speculation that he may have committed suicide because of the strain he was under.
Fritz Bauer, judge and prosecuter, born 16 July 1903, died 1 July 1968.
David St. Vincent | Press Association | 16107ga
Gay Activist is sad to record the passing of British travel writer and gay activist David St. Vincent, age 47.
Police are now regarding his death as suspicious, almost a month after his decomposing body was found in his Bucharest apartment. Police spokeswoman Bogdan Ghebaur said on Friday the case of 47-year old David St. Vincent has been handed to the Bucharest prosecutors’ office. His body was discovered on Jan. 12 and police initially suspected he had died of natural causes.
He was a founder of Accept, a group that was instrumental in the 2001 decriminalization of homosexuality in Romania.
Gay Activist sends condolences to family, friends and colleagues.
Klaus Mann | Public domain | 15438
Klaus Heinrich Thomas Mann was born on 18 November 1906 and died on 21 May 1949 in Cannes of an overdose of sleeping tablets. Born in Munich, Klaus Mann was the son of German writer Thomas Mann. He began writing short stories in 1924 and the following year became drama critic for a Berlin newspaper. His first book appeared in 1925.
In 1932 Klaus wrote the first part of his autobiography, which got him in trouble with the Nazis. Apolitical cabaret, the Pepper-Mill, in 1933, also came to the attention of the Nazi regime. To escape prosecution he fled to Paris, then Amsterdam and Switzerland, where his family had a house. In November 1934 he was stripped of German citizenship and became a Czechoslovak citizen.
Mann’s most famous novel, Mephisto, was written in 1936 and first published in Amsterdam. His novel Der Vulkan is one of the 20th century’s most famous novels about German exiles during World War II.
Thomas Quinn Curtiss | Public domain | 15439
Not long after he moved to the US where in 1937, he met his partner Thomas Quinn Curtiss, who was later a film and theater reviewer for Variety and the International Herald Tribune. Mann became a US citizen in 1943.
During World War II, he served as a Staff Sergeant of the 5th US Army in Italy (picture) and in summer 1945 he was sent by the Stars and Stripes to report from postwar Germany.
Carl Værnet | Scanpix | 15097
Peter Tatchell has been examining Danish government archive records into the life of Dr Carl Værnet, a Danish Doctor who went on to work for the Nazis – attempting to cure gay men of their sexuality and turn them heterosexual.
Værnet operated on gay prisoners in Buchenwald concentration camp, inserting artificial hormone glands into their groins. Two of these men died from infections caused by the insanitary conditions. The Nazis were well known for their hatred of gay people and for their aim to “eliminate the perverted world of the homosexual”.
When the war was over, Værnet managed to escape to Argentina where he is understood to have continued his work on the same theme, until he died in 1965. He was never brought to justice, and his victims in Europe were denied justice. It is not currently known if there are also victims of his mad medicine in Argentina.
There is an assumption today that “liberation” of the concentration camps resulted in the release of all of the Nazi regime’s prisoners. Not so, in the case of the gay inmates. As most of them had been imprisoned for homosexual sex offences by the Courts, if they had not served the full term of the sentence of the Court, they were returned to a conventional prison until their sentences had been completed.
From “The Circle” | Stefan Haupt | 14465
The story of Ernst Ostertag and Röbi Rapp—a couple since the ’50s and the first men to be married in Switzerland is used by the new film “The Circle” to reconstruct roughly a decade’s worth of gay Swiss history.
The film’s title has significance for Swiss gay history.
The Circle refers to a tri-lingual publication founded in 1932 as a lesbian-oriented periodical, one quickly converted by the pseudonymous “Rölf” (the actor Karl Meier) into a “homophilic” concern. As the couple and supporting interviewees explain, Switzerland never had the equivalent of Germany’s infamous Paragraph 175 or any codified, institutionally enforced homophobic legislation, meaning Zurich became a mecca for continental gay life: The Circle’s annual balls were the only large gay events of their era. That certainly didn’t mean an end to homophobia, with the publication cooperating with the police on self-censorship and gay life occupying a not-quite-public gray zone whose boundaries were increasingly encroached upon by the police.
…The romance between Ernst and Röbi acts as a microcosmic example of a larger debate whose broad terms remain familiar. A teacher from an intellectual family, Ernst remained closeted until his parents’ death, acutely aware they wouldn’t want to learn about his orientation, while Röbi was openly gay and lived in comfortable candor with his mother from an early age. As years pass, the debate takes on a more urgent tone, with Rölf (Stefan Witschi) exhorting monogamy and discretion while his younger staff members find his ideals increasingly outmoded. This split—between openness and closeted, and more broadly a debate about how to live gay life in a public, rigidly straight space—remains germane…
Making the film | SoSoGay | 14085
SoSoGay highlights an appeal for funding for a gay history film project, “Hot Men Cold Dictatorships”.
How did gay men live during the communist era in the heart of Central Europe? Did the subculture flourish from the ’60s? What was the extent of government harassment? Was homosexuality considered a crime, an illness or neither? How did gay men hook up or have relationships during this time of oppression? Did legal changes have any effect on everyday life? Hot Men Cold Dictatorships attempts to answer these questions. Four young Hungarian gay men decided to make a movie about their ’forefathers’ during the dictatorship period.
Hot Men Cold Dictatorships concentrates on telling the stories of the older gay generation in Hungary, who were the pioneers of the gay movement, entrepreneurs and ordinary people who all happened to be gay in the communist era.
After 1962, homosexuality was no longer considered a crime in Hungary, but gay people were under surveillance and blackmailed into spying on their peers by the authorities. During the Kádár era (named after János Kádár, General Secretary of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party and de facto leader of Hungary) they lived underground. Not until the late 1980s and early 1990s did the first visible communities begin to form and initiate a movement.
The film brings to life important scenes and key venues of the communist past: for example, the Egyetem Bár, the best-known gay bar in Budapest at that time; the Duna-korzó, a popular cruising area; or the Island of Rab in Croatia, which was the embodiment of freedom for many Hungarians.
Wim Sonnveld in 1934. Theatre Encyclopaedia, Netherlands | 14117
Dutch cabaret artist and singer Willem ‘Wim’ Sonneveld was born on 28 June 1917. Considered to be one of the giants of Dutch cabaret he was involved in in theatre, musicals and music. He began singing in 1932, and in 1934 met Huub Janssen, with whom he lived in Amsterdam and who joined him in his musical career. In 1937 he was singing in night clubs in France but returned to The Netherlands at the declaration of war. In his cabaret appearances he often appeared in the guise of other characters, especially the popular “Friar Venantius”. Mr Sonneveld died on 8 March 1974 of a heart attack.
Pierre Seel | Youtube | 14345
Pierre Seel, then 17, of Mulhouse, France, near the border with Germany, was arrested and imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp for being gay under the notorious Paragraph 175.
In his book “I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual: A Memoir of Nazi Terror” (1995) Seel reports that prisoners were beaten, their fingernails were torn out and they were raped with broken rulers. One of his friends was escorted to a yard where he was stripped naked, a bucket was placed over his head and unfed German shepherd dogs were set on him.
After spending six months at Schirmeck-Vorbruck concentration camp, Seel was released and forced to join the German army against his will. He married. In 1982, when the bishop of Strasbourg said homosexuality was not a sickness, Seel spoke up. He wrote in his book, “After decades of silence I have made up my mind to speak, to accuse, to bear witness.”
Seel died aged 82 in 2005.