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Paragraph 175  
 
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Paragraph 175 was the national German law that prohibited sex between men. It was incorporated into the German penal code in 1871. Some 60 years later, when the Nazis rose to power, it was expanded to punish a broad range of "lewd and lascivious" behavior between men, and was used to justify the incarceration and murder of between 5,000 and 15,000 homosexual men in Nazi concentration camps.

Origins

In 1871, Wilhelm I, King of Prussia was made Emperor of Germany and united the disparate German kingdoms into the federal state that we know today as Germany. That same year he created a constitution and penal code based on the Prussian model.

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The Prussian code included a law prohibiting sexual contact between members of the same sex, which was punishable by one to four years in prison. This law was adopted unchanged and included in the newly formed German penal code as Paragraph 175. It read: "An unnatural sex act committed between persons of the male sex or by humans with animals is punishable by imprisonment; the loss of civil rights might also be imposed."

Several of the states absorbed into the German empire in 1871 possessed more liberal penal codes. These codes were modeled on the Enlightenment principle that men have the right to act as they choose so long as it is consensual and does not harm others. Those dedicated to such ideas were disheartened when the Prussian law was imposed on all the German states.

Although homosexuality continued to be illegal under Paragraph 175, and led to the arrest and conviction of approximately 1,000 men per year, during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), German homosexual-emancipation activists became worldwide leaders in efforts to reform anti-homosexual attitudes and laws. Indeed, the elimination of Paragraph 175 was the chief goal of such emancipationists as Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935).

During the Weimar era, Berlin became known as a homosexual mecca, where gay men and lesbians could live relatively open lives. A vital subculture developed, including bars and clubs for groups with highly specialized sexual tastes.

However, many conservative leaders, including those within the burgeoning Nazi party, regarded the Weimar Republic's tolerance of homosexuality as a sign of Germany's escalating decadence and dishonor.

Nazi Ideology and Homosexuality

In 1933, Nazi party leader Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) was sworn in as chancellor of Germany and immediately moved to consolidate his power. The Nazi party had risen to prominence on a platform of national revitalization through an emphasis on law and order, traditional values, and racial purity that included virulent anti-Semitism and the persecution of undesirable social groups.

Nazi ideology focused on the growth and strength of the Aryan population. The Nazis considered it unlikely that homosexuals would produce children and increase the German birthrate, but would instead diminish the country's reproductive potential. They also believed that male homosexuals were weak, effeminate men who could not fight effectively for the German nation.

As the Nazis took control of the government, efforts were intensified to stamp out the "vice" of male homosexuality and to reverse the gains previously made by homosexual-rights activists. Propaganda linked homosexuality to subversion, even treason, thereby encouraging public intolerance.

Soon after coming to power, the Nazis plundered Hirschfeld's Institute for Sexual Science, which had been founded in 1919, and destroyed the Institute's extensive library and archives.

Early efforts toward eliminating an openly homosexual culture from Germany included closing bars and clubs where gay men and lesbians gathered, banning publications such as Die Freundschaft (Friendship), and encouraging citizens to denounce homosexuals as "asocial parasites."

On June 30, 1934, the "Night of the Long Knives," Hitler ordered the assassination of the leaders of the SA, the Nazi paramilitary group headed by Ernst Röhm. In justifying this purge, which helped Hitler consolidate his control of the military, the Nazi leader specifically evoked Paragraph 175 to explain the massacre as a cleansing of the party of degenerate corrupters of youth.

Nazi Revisions to Paragraph 175

In 1935 the Ministry of Justice revised Paragraph 175, punishing a broad range of "lewd and lascivious" behavior between men. The revisions provided a legal basis for extending Nazi persecution of homosexuals.

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Top: Kaiser Wilhelm I.
Above: The entry gates at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp where many "175ers" were imprisoned during the Nazi era.

  
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