Holocaust: Gay activists press for German apology

Gay-rights activists have written to the German Chancellor asking for compensation and an official apology for the gay community's sufferings during the Holocaust. Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent, reports the Nazis' forgotten victims' struggle to gain

It was early morning when Friedrich-Paul von Groszheim was dragged from his bed by the Gestapo. He was arrested in the port of Lubeck with with 230 other suspected homosexuals in 1937. "They beat us to a pulp," he recalls. "I couldn't lie down ... my whole back [was] bloody. You were beaten until you finally named names."

He was eventually offered the Nazi "alternative" of castration or concentration camp. He chose castration, a decision which probably saved his life.

Paul Gerhard Vogel, who was also arrested on charges of homosexuality, was not given that option.

Sentenced to seven years in Emsland penal camp, he was made to work up to 15 hours a day, seven days a week.

"For half a year, I was kept bent over," he says. "My hands were tied to my ankles." He was forced to go to the toilet in his pants, and to lick food from the floor. Several of the guards sexually abused and beat the homosexual prisoners.

Mr Vogel was later transferred to Nazi-occupied Norway to work in freezing conditions, clearing snow in the far north. He was given shoes made of wood, paper and wire. To keep warm he had to stuff three layers of newspapers under his clothes. Miraculously, he survived the war.

These two were among about 100,000 gay men arrested in Germany and Austria between 1933 and 1945.

Some 50,000 were jailed, mostly in regular prisons, while up to about 15,000 were sent to concentration camps. It is not known how many of them died but one scholar believes 60 per cent - 9,000 - could have perished. Gay men - few lesbians are believed to have been arrested or persecuted - were a target of Nazi wrath in their attempt to "purify" society and propagate a master-race.

Soon after he took office in 1933 Hitler banned all homosexual and lesbian organisations. Brown-shirted storm troopers raided homosexual institutions and the numerous gay bars and cafes that had flourished in the relative freedom of the 1920s, particularly in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Bremen.

In 1934 a special Gestapo division on homosexuals was set up. One of its first acts was to compile "pink lists" of suspected homosexual men; such lists had been kept by police since 1900.

In 1935 Paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code, dealing with homosexuals, was tightened to penalise a broader range of "lewd and lascivious" acts between men; the need to provide overriding proof of homosexual conduct was removed. Spurred on by Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, police stepped up raids on gay meeting places.

Assisted by informers, arrests spiralled. Accusations of homosexuality were also used against suspected political opponents of the Nazis.

Once imprisoned and convicted of homosexuality the inmates, who were known as "175ers" and often had a pink triangular patch, known as a "Rosa Winkel", sown to their jackets, often endured savage treatment by prison guards.

Some homosexuals were victims of medical experiments, including castration.

Operations to "convert" men to heterosexuality by inserting hormone capsules were carried out, sometimes with fatal results.

In spite of their sufferings, most homosexual concentration-camp prisoners were not acknowledged as victims of Nazi persecution after the war and compensation was refused.

Under the Allied military government of Germany, some gay men were forced to serve out jail sentence regardless of time spent in concentration camps, although that period is deducted from their pension entitlement. Rule 175 remained in effect in West Germany until 1969 and in 1957 the Supreme Court ruled that homosexuals arrested by the Nazis were common criminals and therefore legitimately incarcerated.

Gay-rights groups are now clamouring for the German government to acknowledge the past atrocities, pay compensation and establish a monument to remember the Nazis' homosexual victims at a planned Holocaust memorial next to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. They are angry that most of the plethora of books about the Holocaust have ignored the plight of homosexuals and at the failure of the authorities to prosecute any of the Nazi doctors who carried out experiments on gays. A homosexual umbrella organisation is also lobbying officials in Switzerland for inclusion of gays in the new pounds 50m fund to aid victims of the Holocaust.

The OutRage! gay-rights group has written to Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany asking for an official apology to the gay community, payment of compensation similar to that awarded to Jewish survivors, and better pensions.

A spokeswoman for the Germany embassy in London said: "The whole discussion has started again and we have been asked for compensation but at present there's no special provision for homosexuals." Tomorrow OutRage! has organised a Queer Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph in London for homosexuals who died during the Second World War.

Peter Tatchell, of OutRage!, said: "It's time the German government apologised for the Nazi persecution of homosexuals and paid compensation to gay Holocaust survivors. "The story of the gay Holocaust has been suppressed by most historians and most people are unaware of the atrocities that were carried out."

The story of gay Holocaust survivors is being shown in a film, We Were Marked With a Big A, for the first time in Britain tomorrow at the Freedom Bar in London at 3pm.

NAZI TOLL

l An estimated 100,000 homosexual men were arrested by Nazis, and about 50,000 jailed of which 5,000 to 15,000 were sent to concentration camps.

l About 9,000 homosexuals believed to have died in camps. Six million Jews and 500,000 gypsies perished.

l The German government refuses to pay compensation to homosexuals, who were considered "criminals" until 1969.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine