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social sciences

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Paragraph 175  
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All prisoners of the Nazi concentration camps wore marks or symbols of various colors and shapes that allowed guards and other camp functionaries to identify them by category. The uniforms of those sentenced as homosexuals bore the identifying mark of a pink triangle. Homosexual prisoners were commonly known by the slang name "the 175ers," referring to their conviction under Paragraph 175.

Because some Nazis believed homosexuality was a sickness, medical experiments designed to "cure" homosexuals of their "disease" were conducted. These experiments caused illness, mutilation, and even death, yet yielded no scientific knowledge. At the Buchenwald concentration camp, for example, Nazi physicians performed operations designed to convert homosexual men to heterosexuals. The operation consisted of surgically inserting a capsule that released the male hormone testosterone.

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Some criminal justice officials advocated castration as a way of "curing" sexual deviance. Homosexual defendants in criminal cases or in concentration camps could agree to castration in exchange for lenient sentences. Later, judges and camp officials were given the power to order castration without the consent of a homosexual prisoner.

Concentration camp personnel also administered policies to "cure" homosexuals through humiliation and hard work. Guards ridiculed and beat homosexual prisoners upon arrival. Physically demanding or even life-threatening assignments in the stone quarries at Flossenbuerg and Buchenwald, or at the Dora-Mittelbau underground rocket factory, were often given to homosexuals. Homosexuals were segregated in order to prevent their "disease" from spreading to other inmates and guards.

The death rate of homosexual prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps has been estimated to be as high as 60 percent--among the highest of non-Jewish prisoners. By 1945, with the end of World War II and the dissolution of the Nazi government, only about 4,000 homosexual prisoners in the camps had survived.

Paragraph 175 after the War

After the war, homosexual survivors of the Nazi concentration camps were not seen as political prisoners but rather as criminals under Paragraph 175, which remained in effect even after liberation.

The original Paragraph 175 was not eliminated until June 11, 1994, four years after the reunification of East and West Germany.

Under the Allied Military Government of Germany, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment, regardless of the time already spent in concentration camps. Many homosexuals were actually re-arrested and re-imprisoned after the war. All were excluded from reparations by the German government.

When the international community sought atonement for the victims of Hitler's Germany at the Nuremberg Trials of 1946, neither the atrocities committed against homosexuals nor Paragraph 175 were mentioned. Holocaust research, memorials, and museums likewise ignored the fate of homosexual concentration camp inmates.

It was not until the 1980s that researchers began to document the histories of the gay men imprisoned under the Nazi government.

Since 1984, memorials to homosexual victims of the Nazi regime have appeared in various cities and memorial sites at former concentration camps, including, most famously, the "Homomonument" in Amsterdam (1987). Other commemorations are at Nollendorfplatz, Berlin-Schöneberg (1989); Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum, Oranienburg (1992); "Angel," Platz Schäfergasse/Alte Gasse, Frankfurt (1994); and on the bank of the Rhine River at the Wallraf-Richarts-Museum, Cologne (1995).

In 1999, the documentary film by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, Paragraph 175, was released. The film used new and archival film, family photographs, and accounts of a half-dozen elderly survivors of the German concentration camps to tell the history of gay men under Nazi rule.

In May 2002, the German parliament completed legislation to pardon all homosexuals convicted under Paragraph 175 during the Nazi era.

Craig Kaczorowski

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social sciences >> Overview:  Berlin

Notable in the twentieth century both for its pioneering efforts in homosexual emancipation and for the subsequent Nazi persecution of homosexuals, Berlin is now a major participant in the struggle to gain legal recognition of gay relationships.

social sciences >> Overview:  Europe: The Enlightenment

Although the advocates of the Enlightenment encouraged free thinking, freedom of action, and frank discussion in sexual matters, the legal penalties for homosexual conduct during the period remained severely repressive.

social sciences >> Overview:  Germany

While Germany, until recently, never officially accepted or welcomed members of the glbtq community, German culture and homosexuality have a long and significant history.

social sciences >> Overview:  Nazism and the Holocaust

As part of its agenda to preserve an "Aryan master race," Nazism persecuted homosexuals as "asocial parasites"; more than 100,000 men were arrested on homosexual charges during the Nazi years, with 5,000-15,000 gay men incarcerated in concentration camps.

arts >> Overview:  Symbols

The various symbols of glbtq pride render marginalized communities visible and assert self-esteem in the face of discrimination and oppression.

social sciences >> Overview:  Vienna

The capital of Austria, Vienna is also the country's largest city, as well as its political, economic, and cultural center, and the undisputed hub of Austrian gay and lesbian life.

arts >> Epstein, Rob

Writer, director, and producer Rob Epstein is one of the most accomplished documentary filmmakers of his generation, having worked on a number of landmark gay-themed films.

social sciences >> Hiller, Kurt

German writer and activist Kurt Hiller contributed to several pacifist and intellectual movements, including the fight to repeal Paragraph 175, which criminalized homosexuality.

social sciences >> Hirschfeld, Magnus

German-born Magnus Hirschfeld deserves recognition as a significant theorist of sexuality and the most prominent advocate of homosexual emancipation of his time.

arts >> Homomonument

Amsterdam's Homomonument is one of the world's foremost public memorials acknowledging the persecution endured by gay men and lesbians during World War II and throughout history.

social sciences >> Karsch-Haack, Ferdinand

Ferdinand Karsch-Haack's most significant contribution to the sexual emancipation movement in Germany consisted of demonstrating the occurrence of same-sex sexual activity throughout the animal kingdom, among the so-called primitive peoples, and in all non-Western cultures.

social sciences >> Kertbeny, Károly Mária

Károly Mária Kertbeny, an Austro-Hungarian man of letters, translator, and journalist deserves credit for coining the word homosexual.

social sciences >> Krafft-Ebing, Richard von

The carefully detailed case studies of nineteenth-century psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing shed light on the sexual habits of a wide spectrum of men and women.

social sciences >> Pink Triangle

Originally a mark of criminalization and persecution under the Nazis, the pink triangle was later reclaimed by gays both as a memorial and as a celebration of sexual identity.

social sciences >> Röhm, Ernst

Ernst Röhm, both an avid supporter of Hitler and the national socialist movement in Germany and a homosexual, was assassinated in 1934, when the German leader "cleansed" the party of homosexuals.

arts >> Schwules Museum [Gay Museum]

Berlin's Schwules Museum [Gay Museum] is a private institution dedicated to preserving, exhibiting, and discovering homosexual history, art, and culture.

social sciences >> Seel, Pierre

Sent to a Nazi concentration camp because of his homosexuality, Pierre Seel remained silent about his ordeal for decades but finally chose to speak out, demanding recognition of the suffering of gay men and advocating for glbtq rights.


Burleigh, Michael, and Wolfgang Wipperman. The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Giles, Geoffrey J. Why Bother About Homosexuals? Homophobia and Sexual Politics in Nazi Germany. Washington, D. C.: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2001.

Grau, Günter. Hidden Holocaust? Gay and Lesbian Persecution in Germany, 1933-45. Patrick Camiller, trans. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1995.

Heger, Heinz. The Men with the Pink Triangle: The True, Life-and-Death Story of Homosexuals in the Nazi Death Camps. David Fernbach, trans. Boston: Alyson Publications, 1994.

Lautmann, Rüdiger. "Gay Prisoners in Concentration Camps as Compared with Jehovah's Witnesses and Political Prisoners." A Mosaic of Victims: Non-Jews Persecuted and Murdered by the Nazis. Michael Berenbaum, ed. New York: New York University Press, 1990. 200-21.

_____. "The Pink Triangle: Homosexuals as 'Enemies of the State.'" The Holocaust and History: The Known, the Unknown, the Disputed, and the Reexamined. Michael Berenbaum and Abraham J. Peck, eds. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998. 345-57.

Plant, Richard. The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War against Homosexuals. New York: H. Holt, 1986.

Rector, Frank. The Nazi Extermination of Homosexuals. New York: Stein and Day, 1981.

Steakley, James D. The Homosexual Emancipation Movement in Germany. Salem, N. H.: Ayer Company Publishers, 1975.


    Citation Information
    Author: Kaczorowski, Craig  
    Entry Title: Paragraph 175  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated December 13, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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