Sixty-nine years ago, the New York World-Telegram carried the following short report on its front page:
“Adolf Hitler’s secret police, aided by the Elite Guards, began a nationwide drive today to purge the Reich of sexual abnormality. They threw into jail between 500 and 700 men accused of perversion.
“In recent conferences of the party, Herr Hitler emphasised a determination to stamp out sex perversion among all Nazi organisations. It was recalled that after his ‘purge’ of June 30, he made a pledge ‘to German mothers that their sons would never be contaminated if they joined his Storm Troopers’.”
This was the beginning of the Nazi purge against gays. In the following ten years, some 50,000 gays were branded as “criminals and degenerates” by the Third Reich, with between 10,000 and 15,000 being sent to concentration camps. Few survived.
Last week, the German “parliament” has decided to spend €500,000 ($613.00, £350,000) for a building in central Berlin that will be a memorial to Nazism’s gay victims.
“Homosexual victims of the Nazi regime were mostly shut out of Germany’s culture of remembrance in the past. That is now over,’” commented Volker Beck of Germany’s Green party.
The memorial will be built along the Tiergarten Park in Berlin, close to the site of a planned Holocaust memorial.
Unlike the millions of Jews killed on the orders of Hitler’s government, the gay victims of the Nazi regime have long struggled for recognition.
It was not until December 2000 that the German parliament officially apologised to gays and lesbians who were persecuted under the Nazi regime. Parliament also expressed regret for the “harm done to homosexual citizens up to 1969”, the year when the notorious Paragraph 175 which outlawed homosexuality was repealed after almost 100 years on the statute books.
Most gays were sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin. At the end of the war, the few that survived Sachsenhausen war were then imprisoned for the remainder of their “Paragraph 175” sentence.
One survivor of Sachsenhausen, L.D. von Classen-Neudegg, told of life in the camp:
“We learned that we were to be segregated in a penal command and the next morning would be transferred as a unit to the Klinkerwerk [the “Brickworks”, a notorious part of the Sachsenhausen camp]… We shuddered because these bone mills were more dreaded than any other work detail,” he wrote.
“Guarded by staff sergeants with machine guns, we had to sprint in lines of five until we arrived… They kept beating us with rifle butts and bullwhips… Forced to drag along twenty corpses, the rest of us encrusted with blood, entered the cement quarry…Within two months, the special operation had lost two-thirds… To shoot someone “trying to escape” was a profitable business for the guards. For everyone they killed, they received five marks and three days’ special furlough… When I weighed less than 40 kilos, one of the sergeants told me one morning, “Well, that’s it. You want to go to the other side? It won’t hurt. I’m a crack shot.”