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social sciences

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Paragraph 175  
 
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The new law had three parts:

175. 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. 175a. Confinement in a penitentiary not to exceed ten years and, under extenuating circumstances, imprisonment for not less than three months shall be imposed:

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1. Upon a male who, with force or with threat of imminent danger to life and limb, compels another male to commit lewd and lascivious acts with him or compels the other party to submit to abuse for lewd and lascivious acts; 2. Upon a male who, by abuse of a relationship of dependence upon him, in consequence of service, employment, or subordination, induces another male to commit lewd and lascivious acts with him or to submit to being abused for such acts; 3. Upon a male who being over 21 years of age induces another male under 21 years of age to commit lewd and lascivious acts with him or to submit to being abused for such acts; 4. Upon a male who professionally engages in lewd and lascivious acts with other men, or submits to such abuse by other men, or offers himself for lewd and lascivious acts with other men.

175b. Lewd and lascivious acts contrary to nature between human beings and animals shall be punished by imprisonment; loss of civil rights may also be imposed.

Paragraph 175 did not ban sexual acts between women, and the Nazis never enacted an equivalent law against lesbians. Lesbians were not regarded as a threat to Nazi racial policies and were generally not targeted for persecution. While lesbian bars and clubs were closed, arrests solely for being lesbian appear to have been very rare.

Nazi Persecution under Paragraph 175

The Nazi revisions of Paragraph 175 led to widespread arrests and imprisonments.

The German criminal courts had interpreted the presence of the word "unnatural" ("widernaturlich") in the original Paragraph 175 to mean that the offense required sexual intercourse or acts resembling sexual intercourse. Hence, prosecutions required proof of penetration.

But with the changes introduced in the new Paragraph 175, the courts ruled that the offense no longer required such acts, and that any sexual act fulfilled the requirements of the statute.

This revision of Paragraph 175 opened the door to prosecution for even relatively insignificant forms of erotic interaction between males, including kissing, holding hands, and mutual masturbation. By 1938, German courts ruled that any contact between men deemed to have sexual intent, even "simple looking" or "simple touching," could be grounds for arrest and conviction.

Enforcement of the criminal law fell to the Criminal Police and the Gestapo, under the leadership of Heinrich Himmler. The Criminal Police and the Gestapo worked in tandem, occasionally in massive sweeps but more often as a follow-up to individual denunciations.

The police created networks of informers and undercover agents to identify and arrest suspected homosexuals. Acting on the basis of these informants, the Gestapo arbitrarily seized and questioned suspects as well as possible corroborating witnesses. Those denounced were often forced to give up names of friends and acquaintances, thereby becoming informants themselves.

The Gestapo instructed local police forces to keep lists of all men suspected of engaging in homosexual activities. The Nazis used these so-called "pink lists" to hunt down individual homosexuals during police actions.

Victims of Paragraph 175 came from all levels of German society, although the majority came from the working class. Less able to afford private apartments or homes, they found partners in semi-public places that put them at greater risk of discovery or police entrapment.

According to Nazi documents, from 1935 to 1945, approximately 100,000 men were arrested for homosexuality under Paragraph 175. Of these, nearly 78,000 were arrested between 1936 and the outbreak of World War II in 1939.

Just as arrests rose precipitously after the 1935 revisions of Paragraph 175, so, too, did conviction rates, reaching more than ten times those of the last years of the Weimar Republic.

Around 50,000 officially defined homosexuals were sentenced by the courts and spent time in regular prisons. Additionally, 5,000 to 15,000 were sent directly to concentration camps.

Homosexuals in the Nazi Concentration Camps

Once in the camps, official records suggest, homosexual men had short life expectancies and high death rates from overwork, starvation, physical brutality, or outright murder.

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