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social sciences

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National Socialism and the Third Reich

The National Socialist Party, the Nazis, explained Germany's problems in terms of betrayal. Good Germans, they contended, could have defeated the Allied armies if only they had not been betrayed by subversives. Chief among the subversives identified by the Nazis were the Jews. But Nazis also targeted Communists, Jehovah's Witnesses, gypsies, and homosexuals. Using highly inflammatory rhetoric, Hitler, Goebbels, and other Nazi propagandists employed their demagogic skills to incite crowds to frenzies of nationalistic and racial fervor.

It did not matter that the "facts" did not bear out the wild claims of betrayal, conspiracy, and subterfuge proclaimed by rabid Nazi rhetoricians to throngs of eager listeners. If one did not look too closely or question too deeply, Hitler and his gang seemed to offer viable solutions to many of Germany's problems. With Nazism came better economic conditions, better housing, and a restoration of national dignity and honor. The purely emotional, irrational appeal characteristic of a high-school pep rally swept most of the nation to the point where otherwise good people became blind to hatred, intolerance, cruelty, and murder in their midst.

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Beyond any political or ideological reason, the Nazi Party, with its appeal to hyper-masculinity and manly beauty, attracted a considerable number of homosexual members, including Ernst Röhm (1887-1934), Hitler's second in command and the only one he addressed with the familiar "du." Röhm, head of the Sturm Abteilung, or SA, also known as the Brown Shirts, was indispensable to Hitler's rise to power. Soon, however, Hitler came to regard Röhm as more of a liability than an asset.

During the "night of the long knives," June 30, 1934, Hitler purged the party of Röhm and some 300 other members of the SA. But even before this internal purge, the Nazis had begun the persecution of homosexuals throughout the country.

Bars and clubs that catered to glbtq customers were closed down beginning in 1933. Nazis requested and received lists of known homosexuals from police. Citizens were encouraged to denounce people they suspected of homosexuality. In May of 1933, Hirschfeld's Institute for Sexual Science was raided by troops who entered the building to the accompaniment of a brass band. The Nazis destroyed the Institute's collection of books and photographs in a public burning before the Opera House.

In addition, Nazis rewrote and reinterpreted Paragraph 175, which had previously referred specifically to anal intercourse, to prohibit any homosexual activity, including all "lewd and lascivious acts"; even homosexual intent fell under the new interpretation. In excess of 100,000 men were arrested under the provisions of Paragraph 175 during the Nazi years; of these approximately 50,000 served time in regular prison and perhaps as many as 15,000 were incarcerated in concentration camps, where most of them were literally worked to death.

Nazis regarded homosexuals as decadent, depraved, and harmful to Germany, believing them to sap the country of its virile men, thereby weakening the family and inhibiting population growth. Clearly accepting Krafft-Ebing's early interpretation of homosexuality as mentally and physically degenerate, Nazis wished to eradicate this blight on German manhood.

The Nazi persecution of homosexuals focused almost exclusively on men. Lesbians did not threaten Nazi ideology in ways that gay men did. Moreover, following World War I and the loss of so many young men, Germany, like France, Great Britain, and Russia, suffered an imbalance in the number of men and women of a marriageable age. One of Hitler's 1932 campaign promises had been, "In the Third Reich every German girl will find a husband." The lesbian subculture that thrived during the Weimar period was effectively dismantled by the Nazis.

In the Nazi concentration camps homosexuals faced harsh regimens of work and/or medical treatments that ostensibly were designed to "cure" them of their obstinate affliction. Although Nazis believed homosexuals were biologically degenerate, they also believed that, unlike Jews or gypsies, some homosexuals could possibly be recovered by grindingly hard work, forced visits to brothels, hormone treatments, castration, and other medical experiments.

In the camps, pink triangles identified homosexual inmates. Men of the pink triangle died at a rate disproportionate to other non-Jewish groups confined to the concentration camps. Although Nazis sent some lesbians to the concentration camps as "asocials" or prostitutes, gay men were always the primary focus of their efforts to exterminate or reform homosexuals.

Post-War Germany

Upon the collapse of the Third Reich, Germany's glbtq community did not enjoy an immediate resurgence of freedom. Nor was any compensation offered for the sufferings they experienced during the dark days of the Nazi era. Indeed, many who were convicted under Paragraph 175 remained incarcerated since the Allies argued that these men were truly criminals and therefore legitimately held. To make matters even worse, someone sentenced for eight years of imprisonment under Paragraph 175, who had served three years in jail and then five years in a concentration camp, was still liable to serve five more years in jail since, the Allies contended, the concentration camps were not prisons.

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