The history behind Seattle's upcoming exhibit and performances
by Eric Andrews-Katz -
SGN Contributing Writer
World War II ended over 60 years ago. Remembering and honoring those who perished is the obligation of the living.
As the 66th anniversary of liberation from oppression approaches, Seattle prepares to remember the past with two events. The Seattle Men's Chorus honors the lives of Gay men under Nazi rule through songs of the era.
In conjunction with the SMC performance is a touring exhibit from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which chronicles the events that led up to the Nazi persecution of homosexuals, as well as the gruesome results.
The Nazi persecutions of the 20th century are perhaps the single largest atrocity against humanity. The horrific and systematic murder of more than 11 million souls considered degenerative by the Reich focused primarily on Europe's Jewish population, but many other groups (Roma/Sinti, Jehovah's Witness, the mentally disabled) were included in the attempt to 'cleanse' German blood and create a 'master race.'
Though the war ended over 60 years ago, it has been less than three decades since homosexuals have been recognized as one of the persecuted groups. They were issued pardons from the German government only nine years ago, and were the last minority group to receive one.
In the early days of the 1930s, the homosexual lifestyle was well tolerated through most parts of Germany. While the German Criminal Code (Paragraph-175, est. 1871) outlawed sexual contact between males (usually pertaining to penetrative intercourse), it was rarely enforced. Not until 1935 did Nazi expansion of the law include the implication of 'any lewd conduct,' even conduct involving no physical contact, and changed the minor offense to a felony charge. After the law was redefined, Gay businesses began to be forced to close, leaving only one establishment open in each area. Informants took notes on those who came and went, reporting them later to officials, inciting blackmail and fear throughout the community. Known Gay meeting places were completely closed shortly after The Night of the Long Knives in the summer of 1934.
the Nazi Party (1919-1934)
Ernst Röhm co-founded the SA (Sturmabteilung - Storm Battalion) as the National Socialist Party's militia as early as 1919. Known as 'brown shirts,' many members were specifically recruited from prisons for showing an early penchant for excessive violent behavior. Röhm and his deputy, Edmund Heines, were both known for being flagrant members of Berlin's notorious Gay community and brought many of their circles into the recruits. Many members of Germany's Gay community felt a false sense of safety from having 'their own' in such high and honored positions.
The SA stood in contrast to the old guard under the Weimar Republic and President von Hindenburg by recruiting the younger, more average German male to their ranks. From the beginning, Röhm gave his complete support (and that of the SA) to his friend and leader, Adolf Hitler. The two men were such friends that Röhm was the singular officer allowed to address Hitler as 'Adolf' as opposed to 'Mein Führer.' Used as blunt force to disrupt any organization standing against the Nazi ideal, the SA reveled in their brawling and quickly took control through brutal fear.
As Hitler rose higher in the political ranks, the officers of Hitler's personal military protective guard, the Schutzstaffel (or SS) were hesitant of the vastly growing numbers in the SA, the only potential opposition to Hitler's rising power. Through careful propaganda, Joseph Goebbels (minister of propaganda) and Hermann Göring (president of the Reich) built up the image of the 'übermensch' ('super male'), emphasizing the ideals of superior masculinity within Nazi ideology with severely damaging (and lasting) myths of homosexual corruption within the SA.
Night of the Long Knives
(June 30-July 2, 1934)
While little resistance was put up when the SA directed its force against Jews and Communists, the general populace grew leery of the organization's excessive violence and brutal force. Following an SA street riot in the summer of 1934, Hitler, Goebbels, Göring, and other high-ranking SS conspired on how to handle Ernst Röhm's leadership. Waiting until the SA were on private retreat, the militia surprised the brown shirts and, on the grounds of conspiracy and 'morality,' began their purge of the SA (June 30, July 1-2, 1934) by conducting massive arrests. Deputy Heines - and his 18-year-old male companion - were arrested and immediately shot on the hotel grounds. Ernst Röhm was arrested for conspiracy; a charge he vehemently denied and refused to believe his close friend Adolf ordered his arrest. After scoffing at the offered 'honorable way out' of suicide, Theodor Eicke (later commandant of Dachau) and Michael Lippert (later commandant of Sachsenhausen) entered Röhm's cell and shot the SA leader in the chest at point-blank range. Röhm's last alleged words were the devoted cry of 'Adolf, mein führer.'
More than 200 arrests were made over three days, with almost as many executions immediately following. Justified as 'The Blood Purge,' the situation sent a clear message: No matter how high your position, we can have you removed. Hitler specifically replaced Röhm with Victor Lutze as leader of the SA to put an end to the 'debauchery' and homosexual corruption within the organization. A weak man politically, Lutze did nothing to further assert the power of the SA and almost seamlessly allowed it to become consumed by the SS, eliminating the last of the Hitler's major oppositions to ruling Germany.
The Pink Triangle (1934-1945)
Following The Night of the Long Knives (or 'Röhm-Putsch'), the doors to homosexual arrests were thrown open with practically no resistance. Between the years of 1933 and 1945, an estimated 100,000 men were sentenced for the 'offense of homosexuality,' with approximately 10,000-15,000 sent to Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, or other concentration camps beginning as early as 1934. Although not used in every camp, the badge of an inverted rosa winkel (pink triangle) was assigned to identify Gay male prisoners. Often forced to sleep with barrack lights kept on and hands kept outside the blankets to ensure no sexual conduct, those who wore pink triangles were considered the lowest ranking prisoners, and marked for abuse by guards as well as by other inmates. Prisoners were hung from trees with their wrists hoisted behind their backs. The wooded area outside of Buchenwald was called 'The Singing Forest' because of the consistent screams and moans heard emanating from the trees. Often assigned the most brutal of work details, homosexual men were also subjected to forced sterilization, extreme medical experimentation, target practice (executioners aimed for the triangle over the chest), or attacked and ripped apart by dogs for sheer amusement. The mortality rate for Gay men in concentration camps is estimated at over 60%; more than any other non-Jewish inmate.
Lesbians in the Reich
Viewed differently from their male counterparts - although still technically verboten - Paragraph 175 never outlawed Lesbianism, but an attempt was made to include it. As 'vessels of reproduction,' Aryan women were considered sacred, and with the goals of creating a master race of übermensch, no pure-blooded woman could be discredited to bear an heir to the Reich. To the ultra-masculine ideals of the Nazi Party leaders, Lesbianism was considered to be a passing phase with the falsely phallic belief that female homosexuality was curable. Within the intensely meticulous records kept by the Nazi regime, only five documented cases of women being arrested and sent to concentration camps for the sole purpose of being a Lesbian were recorded.
The War Ends and
The war ended in May 1945 and liberated prisoners began to gather up what remained of their lives. While refuge aid and internment camps were being set up, most homosexuals could not say why they were incarcerated as the sodomy laws were still in effect and still being enforced. Many men found themselves liberated from concentration camps only to be thrown into state prisons. Although state pensions and damages were awarded to other prisoners, homosexuality was still considered a criminal offense. The sodomy laws remained enforced until 1968 (East Germany), 1969 (West Germany), and 1971 (Austria), although the Nazi 'anti-Gay' law remained on the books until 1994.
Out of the Holocaust
In 1979, Martin Sherman's controversial play Bent hit London's West End Theatre District, telling the story of Gay men incarcerated in Dachau immediately following The Night of the Long Knives. Bent is credited as being one of the first sources to bring the Nazi persecution of homosexuals to light.
As more survivors overcame the imposed shame of the past, more stories were told only to face a new surfacing of old prejudices. Books including The Men with the Pink Triangle began to be published, but it wasn't until 1984 that any national acknowledgment was mentioned on behalf of the murdered homosexuals.
Eight monuments (http://andrejkoymasky.com/mem/holocaust/ho08.html) have been erected to the memory of the homosexual victims in Berlin, Amsterdam, Sydney, Montevideo, three notorious concentration camps, and a planned monument in Tel Aviv's Meir Garden.
The last admitted survivor of the pink triangle, Pierre Seel, died on November 25, 2005. Despite his being denied damages on several occasions, a street was named for Seel in his hometown of Toulouse, bestowed by French President Jacques Chirac in 2008.
Although a pardon was extended from the German government to homosexual prisoners in 2002, no reparations have ever been awarded. Since only one homosexual survivor was known to have children later on in life, it is doubtful any future fights for personal pink triangle compensation will occur.
AND RESOURCE CENTER
The Seattle Men's Chorus presents Falling in Love Again April 2 at 8 p.m. and April 3 at 2 p.m. at McCaw Hall. Act I, titled 'Life is a Cabaret,' recreates Berlin's free-wheeling pre-WWII Weimar period that ended with Hitler's rise to power in 1933. Spectrum Dance Theater will join the chorus for this segment.
In sharp contrast, Act II presents For a Look or a Touch, a musical drama of the true story of two Gay men caught in the Nazi regime. Pre-concert lectures will give additional background to the concert. www.flyinghouse.org.
In conjunction with the concert, a touring exhibit, 'Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933-1935,' on loan from The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, will be at McCaw Hall from March 30-April 2, noon-10 p.m., and April 2, noon-5 p.m.
The exhibit will feature reproductions of some 250 historic photographs and documents and will examine the rationale, means, and impact of the Nazi regime's attempt to eradicate homosexuality that left thousands dead and shattered the lives of many more.
The Washington State Holocaust Education Resource (http://www.wsherc.org) has extensive collections of books, videos, and artifacts from survivors on permanent display at the center.
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