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Nazism and the Holocaust  
 
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As part of its agenda to preserve an "Aryan master race," Nazism indicted homosexuals as "socially aberrant" and persecuted them. Between 1933 and 1945, it is estimated that more than 100,000 men were arrested on homosexual charges, and half of these were officially sentenced.

Most of the convicted men were jailed in regular prisons, but between 5,000 and 15,000 of the men who were sentenced for homosexual offenses were incarcerated in concentration camps.

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Erasure from History

In spite of this well-documented persecution, research on the Nazi war against homosexuals long remained a taboo subject, hindered by the discrimination and social stigma that homosexuals endured in Europe and the United States even in the decades following the Holocaust.

Most survivors of the persecution were afraid or ashamed to tell their stories. Homosexual victims of the Nazi Holocaust have until recently been left out of commemorations of the tragedy and have been erased from the collective memory surrounding this historical event.

Earlier historians of the Holocaust, especially those who asserted that the Holocaust was a historical experience unique to the Jewish people, have contributed to the erasure of homosexual suffering from history, dismissing as unworthy of mention the "prostitutes, homosexuals, perverts, and common criminals" incarcerated by the Nazis.

Nazi Objections to Homosexuality

At the base of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals were a number of legislative and violent actions against homosexuals, motivated by Nazi ideology, which found homosexuality anathema to their eugenic theories.

During the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), glbtq people had created a vibrant subculture in Germany's major cities. Through a proliferation of specialized bars, publications, and political and social organizations, they had become an increasingly visible part of urban life.

However, they were viewed by Nazis as decadent and undesirable. Confirmed male homosexuals in particular were regarded as diseased, degenerate creatures who could weaken the German Volk by spreading contagion, especially by seducing youth and by failing to contribute to the population growth necessary to sustain Nazi imperial ambitions.

Nazi Actions against Homosexual Organizations

Soon after Hitler's rise to power in 1933 the new government instituted a systematic program for destroying gay and lesbian institutions and eliminating homosexual visibility.

In February 1933, police began raiding and shutting down gay and lesbian bars and clubs. Publications with homosexual content were seized and destroyed. Citizens were invited to "denounce" or turn in homosexuals as "asocial parasites."

On May 6, 1933 the Nazis raided the "Institute for Sexual Science" in Berlin, home of the major organization that crusaded for glbtq rights, the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee. A few days later, it burned thousands of books from the Institute's library, undoubtedly the largest archive of glbtq material then in existence.

Founded in 1919 by Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935), the Institute conducted research and discussion on marital problems, sexually transmitted diseases, and laws relating to sexual offenses, abortion, and homosexuality. The author of several studies, Hirschfeld, himself a homosexual, had actively campaigned to reform laws criminalizing homosexuality.

The Purge of the SA

On June 30, 1934, Ernst Röhm and almost three hundred other members of the SA, the Nazi party "Brown Shirts" who helped bring Hitler to power, were slaughtered by members of Heinrich Himmler's rival SS, or Gestapo. The purge was undoubtedly spurred by internal rivalries within the Nazi hierarchy, but the justification for the murders was the homosexuality of Röhm, an early ally of Hitler.

Röhm's homosexuality had been an issue during the electoral campaigns of 1930, much to the embarrassment of the Nazis. The day after the assassinations, Hitler addressed the nation and defended the murders as necessary to protect the nation against degeneracy.

Nazi leaders routinely used allegations of homosexual behavior as a means of attacking enemies and rivals. Hermann Göring, for example, accused the supreme military commander Von Fritsch of homosexuality when he removed him in 1938. Officials of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly Franciscan Friars, were also accused of corrupting Aryan youth.

Paragraph 175

In 1935, Germany's law, the infamous Paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code, originally passed in 1871, was strengthened.

The paragraph read:

A male who commits lewd and lascivious acts with another male or permits himself to be so abused for lewd and lascivious acts, shall be punished by imprisonment. In a case of a participant under 21 years of age at the time of the commission of the act, the court may, in especially slight cases, refrain from punishment.

Whereas the old law punished only anal intercourse, the new law criminalized all "lewd and lascivious acts." Moreover, the law was interpreted to encompass homosexual "intent" as well as acts. Kissing, holding hands, and mutual masturbation were all deemed illegal under the new law. Not surprisingly, the conviction rates for homosexual offenses vastly increased.

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Many homosexuals died at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, which has been preserved in memory of the holocaust. The entrance to the camp (top) bears the inscription "Arbeit Macht Frei." A plaque memorializing homosexuals who suffered at Sachsenhausen (above) has been placed inside the camp.
  
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