Berlin, Germany June 28, 1935

On this date in 1935, Nazi Germany amended Para­graph 175 of the German penal code that had been in place since 1871 during the chan­cel­lorship of Prince Otto von Bis­marck, the Iron Chan­cellor in Kaiser Wilhelm I’s Second Reich. Para­graph 175 out­lawed acts of “unna­tural inde­cency” only between men. Six years later the German Supreme Court narrowed the pro­vi­sions of the para­graph to “inter­course-like acts” with males and beasts (bes­ti­ality). The change made arrests and con­vic­tions of hom­osexuals more difficult. Never­the­less, since 1900 during the reign of Wilhelm II, German crimi­nal police (Kripo) had been com­piling “pink lists” (dos­siers) of sus­pected homo­sexual men from across the Reich. In a popu­lation of 67 mil­lion (1933 cen­sus), an esti­mated (1928) 1.2 mil­lion were gay. The Kripo made little or no use of the pink lists until the rise of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party in the post-World War I Weimar Republic.

In those heady, hedonistic days of the Golden Twen­ties, a grass­roots cam­paign and lib­eral law­makers in the Reichs­tag failed to repeal Para­graph 175. Mean­while, the Nazi Party espoused a plat­form of tradi­tional values replete with 19th-century sexism, law and order, and a viru­lent policy of per­se­cuting unwanted (in their mind) socially degen­er­ate and, more famously, “racial” groups like German Jews, who inci­den­tally were less than half the size of the homo­sexual pop­u­la­tion. (In 1933 Jews num­bered 505,000, or 0.75 per­cent of the total pop­u­la­tion.) In 1932, the year before Hitler was named German chan­cel­lor by Field Marshal and Presi­dent Paul von Hinden­burg, muni­ci­pal leaders in “Gay Berlin” began en­forcing public moral­ity laws to close bars, cafés, night­clubs, and other meeting places catering to homo­sexual and bi­sexual patrons. Soon after taking office on Janu­ary 30, 1933, Hitler dissolved all gay (Schwule) and lesbian (Lesben) organizations.

The amended version of Paragraph 175 took effect on Septem­ber 1, 1935. Crimes against provi­sions in the amended Para­graph 175 were reclas­si­fied as felonies (Ver­brechen) rather than less serious misde­meanors (Ver­gehen). Maxi­mum penal­ties for homo­sexual acts among adults or youths under 18 rose from 6 months’ to 5 years’ impri­son­ment. Mutual phy­si­cal con­tact was no longer neces­sary. Simply being lewd (unzuech­tig) enough to excite sexual desire in another per­son quali­fied you for poten­tial prose­cution and incar­ce­ra­tion in Hitler’s Third Reich. Nazi movers and shakers said the stronger provi­sions and penal­ties were necessary because “according to expe­ri­ence” homo­sexuality exerts “a ruinous influ­ence” on the moral health of the Volks­gemein­schaft (national community).

On October 10, 1936, Reichsfuerhrer-SS Heinrich Him­mler, after Hitler the most power­ful person in Nazi Germany, opened the Reich Cen­tral Office for Com­bating Homo­sex­u­ality and Abor­tion (Reichs­zen­trale zur Bekaempfung der Homo­sex­u­a­litaet und der Abtrei­bung). The pri­mary task of the Reichs­zen­trale was collecting data about and regis­tering homo­sexuals. By 1940 the sec­tion had accumu­lated data on some 41,000 sus­pected and con­victed homo­sexuals. Small wonder then that the number of con­vic­tions for sexual offen­ses under the new, broadened Para­graph 175 increased expo­nen­ti­ally, from 1,069 in 1934, of which youth under 18 made up 13 per­cent, to 4,200 in 1940, of which youths made up 11 per­cent. About half the pro­se­cu­tions resulted from police (Kripo) work. Forty per­cent resulted from private accu­sa­tions (Straf­anzeige) by non-par­ti­ci­pating obser­vers, and the remainder were from denun­ci­ations by employers and insti­tu­tions. Known widely by its acro­nym, Himm­ler’s Gestapo (Nazi Secret State Police) was autho­rized to pick up and place gays and les­bians in protec­tive cus­tody (Schutz­haft) of arbi­trary dura­tion with­out an accu­sa­tion (or even after judi­cial acquit­tal). This was often the fate of “chronic homo­sexuals” (repeat offen­ders) who, after serving their prison sen­tence, were placed in con­cen­tra­tion camps like Dachau and Buchen­wald for additional “re-education” (Umerziehung) or liquidation.

Institutionalized Homophobia: Nazi Persecution of German and Austrian Homosexuals, 1935–1945

Gay-oriented journal "Die Insel," December 1930Still from 1972 American musical "Cabaret"

Left: “Men for Sale” is the featured article of this Decem­ber 1930 issue of Die Insel (The Island), one of many gay-oriented pub­li­ca­tions in Berlin. The gay rights In­sti­tute of Sexual Science (Institut fuer Sexual­wissen­schaft) in Berlin’s Tier­garten dis­trict, founded in 1919 by Jewish physi­cian and sex­o­logist Dr. Magnus Hirsch­feld (1868–1935), taught that same-sex love was a natural, inborn char­ac­ter­istic of humans, not merely the per­ver­sion of a “normal” sexual ten­dency. Nazis were con­vinced that Jews were intent on under­mining “public morality.” Hirsch­feld’s pre­mises were van­dalized shortly after rowdies from the German Student Union (Deutsche Studenten­schaft), which was dominated by young Nazis, paraded in front of the Insti­tute on May 6, 1933. Four days later the Insti­tute’s library and archives were hauled out and burned in the streets. Around 20,000 homo­phile books and journals, and 5,000 images, were destroyed. Nazi thugs forced Hirsch­feld into exile in France, where he died two years later.

Right: Male prostitution, bars, nightclubs, and cabarets popu­lated by gays, bi­sexuals, les­bians, and trans­genders flourished in a wild, incom­par­able sexual sub­culture that was portrayed in the 1972 American film version of Cabaret, starring Liza Min­nelli and Joel Grey. The German Weimar Repub­lic emerged out of the wreck­age of the First World War. The Kaiser was gone, the 1919 Versailles Treaty saw the aboli­tion of German colo­nial posses­sions in Africa, main­land Asia, and the Pacific, and the loss of signif­i­cant amounts of Euro­pean terri­tory. It was a troubled and tor­tured time, but oddly enough Berlin, the old impe­rial capi­tal, became the most liberal city in Germany. High living, a vibrant urban life, and relaxed social atti­tudes, along with the influx of Amer­i­can dollars, defined the Golden Twen­ties, the most crea­tive period in German history up to that time. Writers, poets, artists from London, France, and the United States arrived in Berlin to wit­ness and expe­ri­ence the city’s wild erotic sexual free­dom along with curi­o­sity seekers, voyeurs, homo­sexuals, and gay rights acti­vists. Per­va­sive pros­ti­tution (male, female, hetero­sexual), public cross-dressing, and easy access to pubs, other meeting places, and media that catered to every sort of inter­est were a few of the features that supported Berlin’s sex industry.

Lebensborn Program: Unwed mothers and childrenHomosexual inmates at Buchenwald concentration camp

Left: In a symposium on February 18, 1937, Reichs­fuehrer-SS Himm­ler addressed his higher Schutz­staffel (SS) and police leaders on the subject of homo­sexuality: “With a static number of women, we have two mil­lion men too few on account of those who fell in the [first world] war (1914–1918). . . You can well ima­gine how this imba­lance of two mil­lion homo­sexuals and two mil­lion war dead, or in other words a lack of about four mil­lion men cap­able of having sex, has upset the sexual balance sheet of Germany.” A unique way out of this “catas­trophe” was pro­moted by the fanatically homo­phobic Reichs­fuehrer him­self. His Lebens­born Pro­gram estab­lished home and mater­nity hos­pitals where preg­nant married or unmarried women could give birth to their babies and receive the best medi­cal care to boot. The homes—10 in Germany, where about 8,000 chil­dren were born, 9 in Norway, where over 6,000 were born, 2 in Austria, and one each in Belgium, France, and Luxem­bourg—acted as a kind of state-spon­sored brothel that encouraged sex between single and married SS men and suit­able Aryan (Nordic-looking) women. (In 1939 3,500 SS leaders repre­sented a little over 40 per­cent of the Lebens­born mem­bership.) Mem­bers bedded multi­ple part­ners during week­long visits. Ideal genes to pass on to off­spring were those that pro­duced tall, fair-skinned, blue-eyed, and blond-haired chil­dren. Women renounced all claims to their new­born chil­dren, who, at two weeks, would be placed by the state in special houses and settlements or given to qualifying families to be raised.

Right: Despite male homosexuality being considered a greater danger to “national survival,” les­bianism—deemed gender non­con­formity—was like­wise viewed as unaccep­table though generally licit, and a num­ber of indi­vidual reports on les­bians can be found in Gestapo files. Between 1933 and 1935, some 4,000 men were arrested; between 1936 and 1939, another 30,000 men were con­victed. According to Gestapo case files, the major­ity of those arrested for homo­sexuality were males between 18 and 25 years of age. In some cases “175ers” were insti­tu­tion­al­ized in psychi­a­tric clinics; others were forced to choose between “volun­tary” cas­tra­tion (second offend­ers) and impri­son­ment. Most of the men taken into cus­tody served time in regu­lar prisons, while from 5,000 to 15,000 more were held in con­cen­tra­tion camps. Camp pri­soners wore a large black dot on their uni­forms, later a pink trian­gular patch, and “175” drawn on the back of their jackets. Most gay pri­soners were honor­able people, often highly intel­ligent and accom­plished profes­sionals who held high posit­ions in civil and social life: law­yers, profes­sors, teachers, engi­neers, arti­sans, actors, trade unionists and crafts­men, health care and social workers. In their cam­paign against the Catho­lic Church, the Nazis arrested many Catho­lic clergy­men on false charges of homo­sexuality and acts of per­ver­sion. The targets were really those who voiced oppo­si­tion to the regime or held views the Nazis dis­liked. After serving a prison sen­tence for “immo­rality,” these Catho­lic “ene­mies of the state” were sent to con­cen­tra­tion camps. The camp at Dachau had a special “priest block.” This photo shows a group of homo­sexual con­victs at Buchen­wald, which incar­cer­ated more gay men and women pro­por­tion­ally than any other camp. Other camps holding pink-triangle pri­soners were Sach­sen­hausen, Mauthausen in Austria, and the women’s camp at Ravens­brueck, to name three more. Many “criminal devi­ants” were sub­jected to forced cas­tra­tion in medi­cal exper­i­ments in camp hos­pi­tals or had sur­gical inser­tion of a cap­sule that released the male hor­mone tes­tos­terone in an effort to “convert” them to hetero­sexuals. The death rate for homo­sexuals (60 per­cent) was three to four times higher than for other non-Jewish cate­go­ries of pri­soners (after a year, one in two perished). Perhaps 60,000 incar­cer­ated gays died in Nazi Germany, including gays from Nazi-occupied countries starting in 1939.

Documenting Nazi Persecution of Gays: Collection in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

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