Pink Triangle Coalition

An International Coalition for Coordinating Affairs
Relating to Nazi Persecution of Gay Men and Lesbians


The ideological basis for the persecution of homosexual men and women stemmed directly from Nazi racial theories1, together with their conception of gender roles. Prior to Hitler coming to power, gay and lesbian community life flourished more in Germany than in any other European country. Within weeks of taking over, the Nazis had destroyed community institutions, expunged books and organised activities designed to instill terror.

This paper outlines the unique pattern of persecution that developed; one which relied not just on the activities of the Gestapo or SS, but on civil institutions - the police, law courts and judiciary. This was a pattern of persecution which meant that people could be imprisoned purely for being suspected of being gay: could suffer terrible deprivations and experimentation whilst detained; and could even find themselves persecuted by other prisoners.

In the immediate post-War period, neither the Allies nor the German or Austrian States recognised homosexuals as victims alongside other groups. They were not eligible for the same compensation and restitution. Nor was property of a communal nature properly compensated for. Indeed the Nazi version of the §175 stayed in force in West Germany until 1969. Unsurprisingly, very few victims came forward in such circumstances, and comparatively few known victims are still alive today.

For those concerned to promote greater awareness of Nazi patterns of persecution and for those who wish to make amends, it is important to appreciate that in addition to making gay and lesbian survivors lives easier, much needs to be done to research, memorialise and educate in this field - out of respect for those who died, those who survived, and those gay men and lesbians who grew up in the Nazi period.

The Situation in Germany Before 1933

Homosexual acts had been punishable in Germany under Paragraph 175 of the Reich Penal Code since 1871. As with other aspects of the Penal Code, police practice and case law developed over time to define which acts " between whom and in what circumstances " would come under the purview of §175. In 1929 - as a consequence of a decades-long campaign by sexual reform organisations and the gay movement (from 1897) and growing popular support for law reform - the Reichstag Committee on Criminal Law recommended the abolition of §175.2. This recommendation had not been approved by parliament by 1933, the time of the Nazi take-over of power in Germany.

Notwithstanding these formal legal barriers, thriving gay and lesbian communities had developed in Germany between the turn of century and the early 1930s. Berlin, Hamburg and other big cities were major centres for these communities, and were the sites of both organised and informal collectives and networks. Lesbian and gay organisations, magazines and other publications, cafs and bars, cultural events, and other expressions of a community were to be found in significant numbers. Such community structures provided lesbians and gay men with means of expressing their identity, engaging in political activities, and ensuring mutual support.

Nazi Ideology and Anti-Homosexual Policy Development

The NSDAP from the outset was ideologically hostile to homosexuality and homosexuals. For instance, in 1930 the Völkischer Beobachter, its official newspaper, wrote that "all foul urges of the Jewish soul" come together in homosexuality, and "the law should recognise [them] for what they are - utterly base aberrations of Syrians, extremely serious crimes that should be punished with hanging and deportation"3.

Nazi ideas on race, gender and eugenics played a central role in the formulation of the regime's policy vis-à-vis homosexuality. Homosexual men and women were blamed for lower birth rates, and for polluting the "hereditary flow". The Nazis' declared aim was the eradication of homosexuality. To this end, over the twelve years of its rule, a wide-ranging series of measures were put into place in support of the Nazi regime's population policy.

They included: 4

The Pattern of Persecution

After the NSDAP had secured power in 1933, repression against homosexuals and their collectives increased dramatically. Raids by police and Gestapo throughout the country led to the arrest of significant numbers of gay men. Lists of "homosexually active" persons were established by the police (Reich Office and Gestapo records of "suspects" for just the three years 1937-1940 include the names of over 90.000 individuals). Most bars known as meeting places for gay men and lesbians were closed throughout the country and the few remaining ones served as sources of information for the police and the Gestapo. Libraries and bookshops were purged of "indecent" scientific and literary materials relating to homosexuality. Emancipatory organisations had to cease their activities, including the publication of their magazines; publishers' stocks were confiscated, forcing them into bankruptcy. The Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, a driving force behind the campaign for law reform, was destroyed on 6 May 1933. The writings of its President and Founder, Dr Magnus Hirschfeld, and other scientists were publicly burned on 10 May 1933.

Historians estimate that some 50,000 men were sentenced to severe jail sentences by Nazi judges on the basis of §175. Between 1937 and 1939 alone, 24.447 men were sentenced to jail sentences under §175; no reliable data exist for the years after 1943. Rates of acquittal declined sharply after 1933 and fines were increasingly replaced by imprisonment or penal servitude; clear indications of the heightening of repression.

Up to an estimated 15,000 homosexual men were deported to concentration camps for "re-education through labour". In the camps they were often subjected to the harshest regime and assigned the most hazardous work duties. As a result, an unknown but large number of these Pink Triangle detainees died in the camps, often from exhaustion. Many were castrated and some subjected to so-called "medical experiments". Instances of collective murder actions against homosexual detainees, in which hundreds were exterminated at a time, are well-documented7. An as yet undetermined number were forced into military service in so-called punitive battalions, whose high-risk duties included clearing mine fields.

Even those who escaped legal persecution saw their life drastically altered, if not destroyed. Unknown numbers fled abroad, entered into marriages in order to appear to comply with prevailing norms, and/or had to cope with severe psychological disturbances as a result of the general climate of terror.

Since female homosexuality was not included in the criminal code in Germany, lesbians did not suffer from the same forms or degree of persecution as gay men. However, some historical evidence exists of police records being collected on lesbians and the presence has been documented of a small number of lesbians in concentration camps on the grounds of their sexual orientation and because of "anti-social behaviour" (Green Triangle detainees)8. Lesbians did suffer the same destruction of clubs and organisations, banning of publications, closure of meeting places, and destruction of informal community networks as gay men. Furthermore, as all women, lesbians did not, according to Nazi ideology, have any role to play in public life. Lesbians, who could often not rely on a male breadwinner, were at a double economic disadvantage.

Persecution in non-German Territories

Outside Germany, the persecution of homosexuals differed according to the territory in which they lived. Territories annexed to the Reich, including West Prussia and Posen [Poznan] in Poland, the districts of Eupen, Malmady and Moresnet in Belgium, and Alsace-Lorraine in France fell under the jurisdiction of the German Penal Code. In Austria, following a conflict on the application of the Austrian Penal Code, and in the "Protectorate" of Bohemia and Moravia, the Reich penal code was applied, although with the inclusion of lesbians within its terms9. In the "Generalgouvernment" area of Poland, only homosexual acts involving German men were punishable, although Poles found to have engaged in such acts could be deported from Poland (to a concentration camp) because they were seen as a danger to "Germanhood". In the Netherlands, a combination of existing Dutch legislation and German law was applied. Prosecution was generally the responsibility of the Dutch police authorities except in cases involving members of the German SS or Wehrmacht. Between 1940 and 1943 proceedings were initiated against 138 men, of whom 90 were found guilty by Dutch courts.

The Post-War Period and the Issue of Compensation

In the Federal Republic of Germany, the Nazi Paragraph 175 remained in force unamended until 1969. In the German Democratic Republic, the Nazi version of §175 was suspended in 1950 and replaced by the previous law. Between 1949, when the Bundesrepublik was founded, and 1969, more than 100.000 men were exposed to preliminary proceedings for violations of §175. It is not surprising, then, that very few individuals came forward to claim compensation. First, homosexuality remained illegal and prospective claimants would have to consider the very real risk of opening themselves up to renewed state persecution. Second, the majority of compensation provisions did not include persecution on the basis of homosexuality as grounds for compensation. According to the most reliable statistics available, no more than 22 gay men have been acknowledged as victims of persecution by the Nazi regime and have received compensational payments from the German authorities.

The continued presence on the statute books of the unaltered Nazi §175, meant that in the democratic Bundesrepublik entire generations of post-war gay men suffered grave problems, be they psychological, social, or direct prosecution. As Dr Grau succinctly put it: "The long-term effects [of Nazi repression] are still today largely unknown, especially with regard to the hardening of prejudices after 1945. Nor do we know how the individual gay survivor - and the majority did survive - psychologically worked through the experience of those times, or what consequences they had for his (homo-)sexual identity. At any event they were all victims, whether they were interned in a concentration camp, imprisoned by a court or spared actual persecution. For ultimately the racist Nazi system curtailed the life-opportunities of each and every homosexual man and woman10".

The Pink Triangle Coalition currently includes the following organizations:

1 Professors Burleigh and Wipperman ed.s The Racial State, London, 1991

2 Dr Günther Grau (ed.), Hidden Holocaust? Gay and Lesbian Persecution in Germany 1933-1945, London, 1995, p. 1.

3 Quoted in H. Stümke and R. Finkler, Rosa Listen, Rosa Winkel. Homosexuelle und ëgesundes Volksempfindení von Auschwitz bis heute, Reinbek, 1981, p. 96.

4 Dr Günther Grau, op. cit., p. 4.

5 Dr Andreas Sternweiler et. al., Goodbye to Berlin. 100 Jahre Schwulebewegung, Berlin, 1997, p. 161.

6 Dr Ilse Kokula, Der homosexuellen NS-Opfer gedenken, Berlin, Senatsverwaltung fur Jugend und Familie, 1995, p. 8.

7 Dr Andreas Sternweiler, op. cit., pp. 182-189. See also: Strafkommando und Außenlager Klinkerwerk 1938-1945, Informationsblatt 8, Gedenkstätte und Museum Sachsenhausen, Oranienburg, Stiftung Brandenburgische Gedenkstätten, 1997.

8 Claudia Schoppmann, in G¸nther Grau, op. cit., pp. 8-15.

9 Soon to be published research by Claudia Schoppman

10 Dr G¸nther Grau, op. cit., p. 7.