Lesbian, gay, bi and trans pride series part 18
Denazification in socialist Germany opened door to gay
By Leslie Feinberg
Three major English-language sources written over the course
of a decade and a half offered rich examples of the advances
for gays and lesbians that took place in the German Democratic
Republic--"East Germany"--after it was established in 1949.
Canadian historian Jim Steakley wrote the earliest of these
accounts, "Gays under Socialism: Male Homosexuality in the
German Democratic Republic." The article, containing material
from his seven months of research in the GDR during the 1970s,
appeared in the December 1976-January 1977 issue of The Body
A noteworthy contribution of Steakley's extensive research
was his initial admonition that each socialist country has
local features that it inherits from its past and its material
He was followed by John Parsons, who made four research
trips to the GDR over a six-year period. Parsons elaborated on
the arduous political task the young workers' state had
inherited. In his published findings--a 10-page article
entitled "East Germany Faces Its Past: A New Start for
Socialist Sexual Politics" (OUT/LOOK, Summer 1989)--he wrote:
"The work of both the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee and the
Communist Party was put to an end with the Nazi rise to power.
Homosexuals, Communists, Social Democrats, and especially Jews
were all ruthlessly persecuted and murdered.
"The Nazis succeeded, moreover," he continued, "in
thoroughly tearing out the roots of cooperation that had
existed among various people on the issue of sexuality. During
the Nazis' 12-year rule, they reorganized the medical, legal
and teaching professions--promoting confirmed Nazi ideologues,
searching out those who were not, and raising a generation on
Nazi propaganda. What few threads of the earlier cooperation
the Nazis themselves did not destroy, the devastation of the
war and the battle lines drawn in the Cold War finished
Even before the founding of the German Democratic Republic
on Oct. 6, 1949, the United States and Britain were maneuvering
to stop socialist revolution from spreading across Germany.
By the end of World War II, the Soviet Red Army had crushed
the Nazi invaders and forced them to retreat westward. As the
collapsing army of German imperialism fled, the Red Army
marched into Berlin and the fascists were defeated. But under
pressure and threats from the U.S. and British, the Soviet Army
was forced to pull back.
Nazis: Uprooted vs. replanted
After the defeat of fascism, Germans in the east, with
Soviet help, worked to root out the Nazis and their capitalist
collaborators and mobilize the population to rebuild.
Steakley offered an overview of conditions for gays and
lesbians--his particular focus was on gay men--in the period of
"Anti-fascist Democratic Renewal" from 1945 to 1949.
He wrote: "During this period of de-Nazification, the gay
scene in the Soviet Occupied Zone was marked by a rapid
recovery from the genocidally homophobic politics of German
fascism. Homosexuals came out of hiding or returned from
concentration camps, and gay bars began to reopen in both the
East and the West.
"Overall," he added, "the de-Nazification program carried
out in the Soviet Occupied Zone was far more aggressive and
thorough than those in the Western zones."
In fact, in the West, the occupying forces of imperialism
tried to prop up capitalist rule with massive infusions of
financial aid, most from the U.S. Marshall Plan, while
permitting tens of thousands of Nazi war criminals to emigrate
or to re-enter Bonn's political arena. The United States and
Britain allowed these former Nazis to resume their place in
West German industry and government because they were the
Richard Plant emphasized this point in a June 1990 article
in Outweek, "East German Journal: East German Gay Laws Years
Ahead of West." Plant had been forced to flee Germany on the
day of the infamous 1933 Reichstag fire that Hitler used to
consolidate his power.
After the war, he wrote, "East German leaders tried to
indict and convict as many high-ranking former Nazis as
"The West German government, on the other hand, continued to
employ some notorious Nazis in high positions long after the
beloved Fuehrer's suicide."
The first chancellor of West Germany, Conrad Adenauer, who
was approved by the U.S. occupiers, continued to keep Hans
Globke as his secretary of the chancellery despite protests.
Plant explained, "Globke was instrumental in drafting Nazi
laws, enacted during the 1930s, which deprived Jews of their
citizenship." Even after an East German court indicted Globke
in absentia in 1950, Adenauer would not budge.
"Neither did Adenauer rescind the tough anti-gay Nazi
decrees of 1935, which, for example, declared that a man
observed 'glancing lewdly at another man' could be taken into
That law, Paragraph 175A, was a Nazi amendment to the 1871
Prussian anti-homosexual Paragraph 175. The amendment allowed
the Nazis to criminalize and snare those they accused of even
homosexual fantasies or intent.
In the East that Nazi amendment--Paragraph 175A--was
immediately removed from the books. Steakley stressed that in
the GDR: "The immediate benefit for gay people came with the
repeal of Paragraph 175a, the Nazi law which had led to the
arrest and imprisonment of tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands
of homosexuals. This law was struck down by the Superior State
Court of Halle in 1948. By contrast, it remained in effect in
West Germany until 1969."
Paragraph 175, however--the Prussian law against male
homosexuality that had long been part of German criminal
code--remained on the books in the Soviet Occupied Zone. It
made sex between men punishable by up to four years in jail.
The law remained on the books in West Germany, too.
Picking up the torch
Parsons gave thoughtful attention to the early struggles in
the East to repeal Paragraph 175 itself.
"At the end of the war," he explained, "the earlier
difference within the Communist Party again appeared as a
discussion arose about how to reconstruct the society. Some
people argued that the democratic reconstruction of the country
should include progressive reforms of the laws and customs
"Articles appeared in many newspapers advocating the
elimination of Paragraph 175. In Saxony, which later became a
part of East Germany, the legislature endorsed repeal of the
One communist in particular deserves credit for these
efforts: Dr. Rudolf Klimmer.
As a medical student in Dresden during the Weimar Republic,
Klimmer, a gay man, had traveled to Berlin many times to follow
developments within the homosexual emancipation movement. He
particularly developed an association with Dr. Magnus
Hirschfeld's Scientific-Human itarian Committee.
Klimmer was a member of the Communist Party. So was the
committee's secretary and later chairperson, Richard
During 12 long years of fascism, Klimmer kept his political
views and sexuality under wraps, marrying a lesbian for mutual
protection. After the Nazis were defeated, he chose to live in
the Soviet Occupied Zone and joined the Communist Party once
Steakley noted, "He launched a one-man campaign which aimed
at repealing all laws against homosexuality, re-establishing
Hirschfeld's Institute for Sexual Science, and agitating with
Soviet and local authorities for the full equality of gay
Klimmer, Steakley said, "also embarked upon a career similar
to Hirschfeld's, continuing his medical practice and appearing
as an expert witness in numerous court cases involving
homosexuals, arguing at every turn for the repeal of Paragraph
Although his tireless efforts were successful in helping to
overturn the amendment to Paragraph 175, he was not able to
repeal the old law itself. Nor was he able to win the
establishment of a new Institute for Sexual Science.
Instead, he was appointed medical director of Dresden's
Polyclinic, where he set up the first Marriage and Sexual
Counseling Center of the Soviet Occupied Zone, which became a
forerunner of dozens of similar centers across the GDR.
Cleaning up old cesspool
John Parsons examined the struggle for sexual liberation in
a material context. He stressed that the efforts of Klimmer and
others proved to be exceptional for two key reasons.
The GDR had to pull itself up out of the ashes of wartime
devastation--hunger, homelessness, dislocation and poverty. The
USSR, unlike the United States, had suffered tremendous
destruction during the war and had no resources to send to
Eastern Europe. Furthermore: "A generation of children had been
raised and educated in Nazi schools. The problems of
de-Nazifying the country, of creating new, democratic
educational programs and new legal and medical professions took
"The Communist Party turned its attention to mobilizing the
population for the barest of economic needs and towards
stabilizing social life in the most orthodox of all
The second cause, he wrote, "lies with developments in the
communist movement itself."
The rise of a bureaucratic current in the Soviet leadership
and the re-establishment of an anti-gay law in the USSR were to
have an impact in East Germany as well. "Stalin's rise ended
the Communist Party's advocacy of sexual reform. The same
reversal occurred in Germany, with the growth of the influence
of Stalinism throughout the world communist movement."
As a result, he stated, "Between 1948 and the late 1960s,
lesbian and gay liberation lost any place in broad public
Steakley concluded that during the period of the
Antifascist-Democratic Renewal, "Homosexuals were generally
able to return to the place in German society which they had
held before Hitler's rise to power"--gains that had been made
possible in the Weimar Republic because of the mass German
Homosexual Eman cipation Movement--"but no further."
However, the work to provide jobs, education, housing and
health care for the East German population as a whole continued
to raise living standards. As material conditions improved, the
struggle for sexual emancipation reached new heights.
Next: 1968--Paragraph 175 is abolished in the
East, but not in the West.
Reprinted from the Oct. 28, 2004, issue of
Workers World newspaper
This article is copyright under a Creative
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