Branded by the Pink Triangle by [author’s name] is a short, cursory overview of the persecution of gay men during the Holocaust. The short book covers the story of life before the rise of the Nazi Party, the systematic persecutions of gay men as told through some survivors, their treatment after the war and the slow but forming acceptance of homosexuality and gayness.
Many people do not know that before the Nazi Party, Berlin was essentially the gay and lesbian capitol of the world. While there was a law on the books (Paragraph 175) it was rarely enforced. And when enforced was usually a warning. At the time, Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, a Jewish doctor,was advocating for gay rights and the repeal of Paragraph 175. Hirschfeld was ultimately successful in convincing the scholarly class of Berlin including Albert Einstein, but was not able to make significant headway on the German populace before the rise of the Nazis and Hitler.
With the rise of the Nazi Party, the relatively carefree lives of homosexuals abruptly came to an end. The people that had been brought into police stations for violating Paragraph 175 were placed on “pink-lists”. The Nazi party strengthened Paragraph 175, and made it a lot more vague so as to capture more men in their snare. The focus was primarily on heterosexual men, as these were viewed as a sickness that was contagious and directly threatened the German fatherland and Nazi success. While some lesbians were sent to concentration camps, they were usually singled out as social degenerates and social introverts and not explicitly for their homosexuality. Men captured under Paragraph 175 served a prison sentence and were sent to do hard labor at a concentration camp. Much of this persecution happened in the later 19030s, before the Nazis turned their full force on the elimination of the Jews.
At the concentration camps, these men were forced into hard labor, some were killed, but all were watched around the clock to make sure they were not doing anything sexual with one another. When they slept they had to keep their hands above the blankets to prove they weren’t mastubating. The men in these camps were segregated from other prisoners to stop them from spreading homosexuality and were disproportionately selected for medical experimentation. Many survived only at the mercy of a Kapo, a prisoner allowed some authority to lead them. Many were forced into sexual relationships with these men in order to survive.
The tales of some of these men are heartbreaking. Some men went to the police for help only to find themselves imprisoned and sent into labor camps. One man had to watch as his boyfriend was mauled to death by dogs. Some were released for good behavior only to be forced to fight on the front lines for the very government that imprisoned them. Of all the men persecuted by being forced into the camps and to wear a pink triangle, only one remains that can be identified to a person, Josef Kohout. Many were liberated when the Allies had won the war.
While there was universal sympathy, remorse and compassion for the Jewish and Roma people imprisoned, the countries freeing the camps had laws outlawing homosexuality. Many saw the men as criminals. They were treated with disdain in many cases. Some men had to fight the courts in order to win a full pension since the government refused to count the years spent in the concentration camps. It wasn’t until 1969, an important year for gay rights worldwide, that the German law was repealed and some measure of dignity was restored to these men. Now there are many monuments in Europe and the U.S. to remember the lives lost and humanity destroyed simply for men who loved men.
The inhumanity of the Holocaust was real and was devastating to all involved. While we tend to think of the Holocaust affecting only Jews, which it did to an incredible extent, we cannot forget the other groups affected by Nazi hate. We cannot ignore the fact that the there are gay men, Roma, Jews, social introverts and many others swept up in the broad campaign of genocide espoused by the Nazis. The world should not and can not forget the incredible cruelty of the Nazi regime. It stands as one of, if not the darkest, mark on humanity, that we could be capable of such remorseless acts of wanton violence toward others for no reason whatsoever apart from creating an all white race that would be superior in no way to any other variety of humanity.