Or why the religious right creeps me out.
Rudolf Diels, first chief of the Gestapo, about Hitler in Frank Rector’s “The Nazi Extermination of Homosexuals”
-Dr. James Dobson, “Eleven Arguments Against Same-Sex Marriage”, May 2004
–Coretta Scott King, March, 2004
This is a hard diary for me to write. Hard but necessary. Some of my Christian brothers and sisters are using our religion to cover their prejudices with the patina of belief. They rejoice in their acceptance by society, and the stamp of approval they receive by being such good Christian that they could even love a gay person…if only they’d just stop being gay.
I can’t tell you why they do this. I can only tell you it’s wrong.
How do I know it’s wrong? Because I’m a student of history, and specifically the history leading up to and during the Second World War in Germany.
It amazes me still that the same week of the 60th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings called for PBS to ban showing an episode of a children’s program that showed lesbian parents of a little girl, because “many parents would not want children exposed to such lifestyles”. I remember calling Ms. Spellings up in Washington, D.C., and almost breaking into tears talking to the nice, young woman on the other end of the phone who was fielding calls for the secretary.
“Is Ms. Spellings aware of the fact that gays were also targeted by the Nazis and killed in concentration camps?” I asked. The sympathetic young woman said that she didn’t know, but she would pass on my concerns to the Secretary.
Maybe she doesn’t know. Maybe, like Minnesota state Rep. Arlon Linder, she just chooses not to believe it:
“I was a child during World War II, and I’ve read a lot about World War II,” he said. “It’s just been recently that anyone’s come out with this idea that homosexuals were persecuted to this extent. There’s been a lot of rewriting of history.”
Holocaust revisionism always makes me ill, because it usually hides the prejudices that the person doing the revisionism just doesn’t want to deal with. The revisionism that states that gays were not targeted by the Nazis is especially dangerous, because in a way Rep. Linder is right: it has been relatively recent – starting mainly in the 1970’s – that gay men who were targeted by the Nazis felt comfortable coming forward.
What Rep. Linder does not understand is that this is not “rewriting of history”. As Warren Johansson and William A. Percy write in their scholarly paper, “Homosexuals in Nazi Germany”:
…A decision of 10 May 1957 of the West German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) in Karlsruhe injured the homosexual victims of the Nazis even more. It held that the altered version of Article 175 of the German Penal Code, as amended by the Nazi regime in 1935 to make the definition of male homosexual acts more comprehensive and the penalty more severe, was constitutional because it “did not interfere with the free development of the personality” and it “contained nothing specifically National Socialist.” Further, it asserted the primary justification of the law to be that homosexual acts “unquestionably offended the moral feelings of the German people.” The court even recommended that the maximum penalty for the offense without further qualification be doubled-from 5 to 10 years.3 This maximum was higher than the sentences actually served after the war by some concentration camp commanders and guards. No one protested the ruling, least of all the psychiatrists who then rarely missed an opportunity to assert that “homosexuality is a serious disease” and even implied from time to time that ostracism and punishment were not inappropriate forms of therapy.4
Examining the persecution of gays in the Holocaust is not “rewriting history”. It is discovering it. And those who attempt to revise or ignore this history may want to do some soul searching and be brutally honest with themselves why the fact that the Nazis – the undisputed “evil doers” of all time – oppressed gays using the same rationale that is being used today to deny basic civil rights and the opportunity to marry to homosexuals.
What were these justifications for the imprisonment, forced castration and murder of gays in Nazi Germany? It seems to have been a combination of fear of homosexuality – specifically among men – as being a cancer to the nation, that left unfettered would expand and eventually decay the body politic from within, literally like a cancer. This fear of homosexuality was combined by the Nazi desire to increase Aryan birthrate, and they viewed gay men as specifically standing in the way of this goal:
I would like to develop a couple of ideas for you on the question of homosexuality. There are those homosexuals who take the view: what I do is my business, a purely private matter. However, all things which take place in the sexual sphere are not the private affair of the individual, but signify the life and death of the nation, signify world power or ‘swissification.’ The people which has many children has the candidature for world power and world domination. A people of good race which has too few children has a one-way ticket to the grave, for insignificance in fifty or a hundred years, for burial in two hundred and fifty years….
Therefore we must be absolutely clear that if we continue to have this burden in Germany, without being able to fight it, then that is the end of Germany, and the end of the Germanic world….
–Heinrich Himmler, on the “Question of Homosexuality”, February 1937
It’s also hard to calculate exactly how many gays perished under the revised Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code, overseen by the Gestapo under the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion: Special Office (II S). The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum gives the following statistics:
The number of 5,000-15,000 is only an approximate, as it takes into consideration only those camps on German soil. Johansson and Percy state:
Many scholars believe the death rate in the concentration camps for homosexuals was particularly high, estimated at 60%. Again, from Johansson and Percy:
It is also important to note that these numbers do not include gay men who committed suicide rather than be imprisoned.
One of the most heartbreaking stories of gay oppression during the Holocaust comes from survivor, Friedrich-Paul von Groszheim. This is his testimony:
1940-44: Because of the nature of my operation, I was rejected as “physically unfit” when I came up for military service in 1940. In 1943 I was arrested again, this time for being a monarchist, a supporter of the former Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Nazis imprisoned me as a political prisoner in an annex of the Neuengamme concentration camp at Lübeck.
This awful chapter of human history is too lengthy to record in one diary, and I suggest that folks check out all of the links I’ve provided above, in addition to this page, which links to more online material. The life of a homosexual in these camps included rape, molestation, brutal beatings and there is one testimony of death by a dog attack.
It is vitally important that this little-told history reaches the ears of as many people as possible, especially in these days of some forces in our government wishing to use homosexuals as scapegoats and political pawns.
An upbeat epilogue to this diary: Arlon Linder is no longer a state representative in Minnesota.