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Lesbian, gay, bi and trans pride series part 17

Anti-gay terror in Nazi Germany

By Leslie Feinberg

When it came to turning around prejudices and discrimination against same-sex love, the newly formed German Democratic Republic had to clean up the toxic waste dump of centuries of class prejudice.

The GDR faced particularly huge obstacles in carrying out this onerous task.

The Nazi state had been defeated in 1945 not in a revolution from below but by the advancing Soviet Red Army. The German population as a whole had been fed 12 years of Nazi propaganda, including demonizing and dehumanizing cant about homosexual men and women. After the war, Germany was partitioned by the Allied powers. In the eastern sector, after four years of Soviet occupation in which not only the Nazis but the bourgeois class behind them were removed from power, the German Democratic Republic was established in 1949 and began to construct a socialist economy.

The mass German Homo sexual Emancipation Move ment had been crushed during the rise of fascism. Many thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans activists had perished in the death camps.

The Soviet Union was in the grip of its own political regression concerning male homosexuality. As the leader of the Communist International, the Soviet Union's political retreat had an impact on the world movement and the positions it took on gay rights.

The revolutionary struggles in Germany and Russia were intrinsically connected. The crushing of the November 1918 Revolution in Germany had dealt a blow to the young Soviet workers' state, which had hoped that class solidarity, material aid and economic cooperation from a more technologically developed socialist country would soon be on its way.

The face of counter-revolution

After years of economic crisis and the growth of a large but divided workers' movement, Hitler's party got the support of the big German capitalists in 1933 to crush any resistance to their rule. In the violent repression that followed, aimed first at the Communists and the left generally, both anti-Semitism and anti-homosexual terror were raised to heights not seen in Europe since the feudal Inquisition.

Once he became second in command in the Nazi Party, Heinrich Himmler--chief of the SS stormtroopers as well as the police--on June 17, 1936, created the Federal Security Office for Combating Abortion and Homosexuality. Himmler had included homosexuality as one of four illnesses that threatened the existence of Germany. He vowed: "[L]ike stinging nettles we will rip them out, throw them on a heap, and burn them. Otherwise, without being able to fight it, we'll see the end of Germany, the end of the Germanic world."

Today the pink triangle has become recognized around the world as the emblem that those labeled homosexual were forced to wear in German concentration camps. Some were gay, others were accused of same-sex fantasies or fell victim to trumped-up charges by opponents. Estimates of the total number of prisoners forced to wear the pink triangle on their uniforms in Nazi concentration camps range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands.

German historian Richard Plant, in his now-classic book "The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals," estimated that between 50,000 and 63,000 males were convicted of violating Paragraph 175--the Prussian anti-homosexual law--from 1933 to 1944. More than 25,000 youths were convicted between 1933 and 1940. Some 3,976 were between 14 and 18 years old.

Plant, who fled Frankfurt am Main on Feb. 27, 1933--the day the Reichstag burned to the ground and several weeks after the arrest of his Jewish Socialist father--wrote that "from 1935 on, every gay German man knew that if he was caught he risked being shipped to a concentration camp. There, disease, degradation and almost certain death awaited him." Those who survived faced castration.

Although Himmler made no known statements railing against lesbians, Plant added, "Nevertheless, some--albeit very few--German lesbians were caught in the machinery of the secret police."

He noted that "The major campaign against Germany's homosexuals, which began after the Roehm purge, lasted until about 1939 or 1940, when most German men joined the armed forces. Because Himmler's Gestapo agents had no jurisdiction over the military, it offered a relatively safe refuge for most homosexuals of military age."

As the German military machine rolled over national boundaries in Europe, gays in Alsace-Lorraine and Holland--lands expected to become part of the new Reich--also faced death if captured. All German laws were applied to the people of Alsace-Lorraine, including the newly amended Paragraph 175.

However, the anti-homosexual rampage and violent targeting of the German Homosexual Emancipation Movement was mainly an internal campaign aimed at Germans. It was part and parcel of the domestic counter-revolution that smashed the organization of millions of communists, socialists and progressives, crushing the trade unions and all vehicles of working-class organization.

German capital, which controlled few colonies, had to take over new markets, extract raw materials of new territories and super-exploit a vast labor force. Like all its competitors, it had to expand or die. The German industrialists and financiers thought that the Nazis had both the will and the means to carry out this military expansion: rocket technology, a strong air force and Panzer tank divisions, and a military-industrial complex.

But by the end of the war, imperial Germany lay devastated and defeated, a significant part of its territory under the control of its mortal enemies, the communists. The workers' state in the east now had to pick up the pieces and change social relations.

And in the struggle to build new social relations in the workers' state, gays and lesbians made great strides.

Next: Concrete gains of East German lesbians, gays

Reprinted from the Oct. 14, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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