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social sciences

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Nazism and the Holocaust  
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In 1936 Himmler created a Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion: Special Office (II S). The linking of homosexuality and abortion reflected the Nazi regime's concern with population growth. Himmler considered homosexuality a social illness that could divert millions of men from reproducing.

Under the revised Paragraph 175 and the creation of Special Office II S, the number of prosecutions increased steadily, peaking in the years between 1937 and 1939. Half of all convictions for homosexual activity under the Nazi regime occurred during these years. The police intensified attacks on homosexual meeting places, studied carefully the address books of arrested men to find additional suspects, and created rings of informers to compile more lists of names.

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Between 1937 and 1939 almost 100,000 men were arrested by the Gestapo on suspicion of homosexuality. Not all of those who were arrested came to trial and not all those who were tried were convicted; nevertheless, even being questioned about homosexuality could be a traumatic experience. The persecution no doubt had the desired effect of not only stifling the homosexual subculture, but also of drastically reducing the incidence of male homosexual activity.

The vast majority of homosexuals arrested under the Paragraph 175 were "Aryans," especially citizens of present or future provinces of the Reich: Germans, Austrians, Alsatians, Dutch, and Czechs. Non-Aryans and homosexuals in other countries conquered by Germany were not persecuted as homosexuals. Indeed, Himmler argued that homosexuality among subject peoples would hasten their demise.

In spite of Himmler's belief that "we must exterminate these people root and branch . . . . the homosexual must be eliminated," there was never a systematic program for homosexual elimination, as there was the "final solution" for the "Jewish problem." Nazi policy distinguished between individuals considered "homosexual by nature," who were apparently irredeemable, and those who may have been seduced into experimentation. The latter, it was believed, could be reclaimed for the nation and were subject to less severe punishment.


Homosexuals incarcerated in concentration camps suffered far more severely than those sentenced to regular prisons. All prisoners of the camps had clothes marked with distinctive colors and shapes so that guards and functionaries could identify them by category. The uniforms of those sentenced as homosexuals bore various identifying marks, including, in the early years, a large black dot and a large "175" drawn on the back of the jacket.

Later, homosexuals were identified by a pink triangular patch (rosa Winkel), which has since become an international symbol of gay and lesbian liberation.

Conditions in the camps were harsh for all prisoners, many of whom did not have to wait for the gas chamber to die. However, many survivors have testified that gay men were treated particularly severely by guards and inmates alike because of widespread biases against homosexuals. Many homosexual prisoners, used as slave labor, were worked to death; others were beaten to death.

Homosexuals in the concentration camps had a significantly lower rate of survival than comparable groups.

Lesbians in Concentration Camps

Most homosexual victims were males; lesbians were not subjected to systematic persecution. Few women are believed to have been arrested, and Paragraph 175 did not mention female homosexuality. Lesbianism was seen by many Nazi officials as alien to the nature of the Aryan woman. Nevertheless, in some cases, the police arrested lesbians as "asocials" or "prostitutes," so that in concentration camps lesbians bore the asocials' black triangle.

Medical Experimentation

As was true with other prisoner categories, some homosexuals were also victims of cruel medical experiments, including injection with typhus in order to observe the disease's natural progress.

Homosexuals were also often castrated, believing that such treatment would eradicate homosexual desire.

At the Buchenwald concentration camp, Dr. Carl Vaernet carried out experiments intended to convert men to heterosexuality. Believing that homosexuality might be caused by a deficiency of the male hormone testosterone, Vaernet implanted into his victims a capsule that released large doses of the hormone.

Legacy of Nazism

For German homosexuals, the legacy of Nazism persisted for a very long time: the 1935 version of Paragraph 175 was not repealed in the Federal Republic until 1969 and in Austria until 1971. (Indeed, prosecutions and convictions under Paragraph 175 in the first 12 years of the Federal Republic exceeded those during the twelve years of the Third Reich.) More than twenty years after the fall of Hitler, homosexuals in Germany and Austria continued to fear arrest and incarceration.

In the years immediately following the war, homosexual concentration camp prisoners were not acknowledged as victims of Nazi persecution. Reparations were refused, and under the Allied Military Government of Germany, homosexuals found in concentration camps remained imprisoned and their testimony silenced. Their incarceration by the Nazis was considered justified.

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