Rudolf Brazda: Last known survivor of the 'Pink Triangle' gay inmates of Nazi concentration camps

Rudolf Brazda was the last known survivor of the "Pink Triangles," the many thousands of German and other European homosexuals sent to Nazi concentration camps where a triangle of pink cloth on their uniforms distinguished them from Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, disabled and other inmates.

Hitler considered homosexuals "infectious" and sought to isolate or exterminate them to ensure his pure German master race. Most of what the Nazis called "die Rosa-Winkel" (the Pink Triangles), died – possibly up to 15,000 of them – either from exhaustion or starvation in the camps or on long marches led by the Nazi SS as allied forces closed in.

Their long-ignored story finally gained recognition almost 25 years after the end of the Second World War – first through Martin Sherman's play Bent, which opened at the Royal Court in London on 3 May 1979 with IanMcKellen playing the camp inmate Max. Clive Owen and Mick Jagger, with McKellen in a different role, starred in the film version in 1997. And in 2000, the award-winning US documentary Paragraph 175 appeared, its title referring to the paragraph banning sodomy in the 19th century German penal code.

Brazda, the son of Czech immigrants to Germany, spent 32 months in the Buchenwald camp in central Germany before he was freed by American forces on 11 April 1945. Although homosexuals were only a fraction of the number of Jews in Buchenwald, they were often picked out for particularly harsh treatment by SS guards, and also faced homophobia from other inmates. Some were castrated in medical experiments aimed at making them "normal."

Brazda was badly beaten by SS guards, once having three teeth knocked out, and once told he was about to be executed. But he reckoned he survived because of two SS guards who helped him. One, possibly himself gay, "who became a little infatuated with me," got Brazda off hard-labour quarry duty and eventually got him extra food rations withheld from Jewish inmates. In late March 1945, as the allies closed in, another SS officer hid him in the camp's pig shed so that he wouldn't be taken on a forced march. "I lay there with the pigs for 14 days until the Americans came," he said in his memoirs. "After that I was a free man. Others died, but I came through."

Brazda spent the rest of his life quietly in Mulhouse, Alsace, on the French side of the border, along with his partner Edouard "Edi" Mayer, with whom he lived for 50 years until Mayer died in 2003. It was only three years ago, when Brazda was 95, that he saw a television report from Germany saying there were no more Pink Triangles alive but that a memorial was being unveiled in Berlin to commemorate them. Through friends, he made himself known to Berlin's gay mayor Klaus Wowereit, who invited him to the city to lay a flower at the memorial.

Brazda had been openly homosexual during the 1930s, the anarchic, bohemian days portrayed in the movie Cabaret as the Weimar Republic gave way to the thump of Nazi jackboots. The youngest of eight children of immigrants from Bohemia, he was born in June 1913 in the hamlet of Brossen in Germany's central state of Thuringia. He was brought up in the nearby town of Meuselwitz and his father, a coal miner, died when he was nine. A sensitive child, he was upset at not getting a job as an assistant in a local men's clothes store and found himself working instead as a roofer with less sensitive colleagues.

Moving to the bright lights of Leipzig when he was 20, he had his first gay relationship, with a young man, Werner, whom he had met at a dance. They shared a room let by a landlady who was a Jehovah's Witness and who herself later disappeared. Brazda's mother, long aware that he was gay, blessed them with an informal "marriage" ceremony, a family procedure not unusual at the time but about to be crushed by the Nazis.

During their rise in the 1930s, the Nazis expanded Paragraph 175 to make homosexual acts a felony and began raiding gay bars in Berlin, Leipzig and other cities. Brazda was arrested in 1937 and jailed for six months for "unnatural lewdness and debauchery." After being deported to Czechoslovakia – he had citizenship from his parents – he was again arrested by the Nazi occupiers in 1941 and spent a further six months in prison. In August the following year, during a Nazi purge, he was put on a train to Buchenwald, given the inmate No 7952 and a pink triangular patch for his uniform. He found out that Jehovah's Witnesses wore a purple triangle, Gypsies brown, political prisoners red and Jews yellow with a Star of David.

After Brazda's death was announced on the Pink News website, one reader commented: "I have a pink triangle tattooed onto the inside of my left wrist. I had it done to remind me of those who have gone before, and suffered for being who they are. It is my 'poppy.'" Last year, Brazda published a book relating his experiences, Itinéraire d'un Triangle Rose (Journey of a Pink Triangle). In April this year, France appointed him a Knight of the Legion of Honour for promoting awareness of the Nazi deportation of homosexuals, some of whom were Frenchmen in German-occupied France.

PHIL DAVISON

Rudolf Brazda, concentration camp survivor: born Brossen, Germany 26 June 1913; died Bantzentheim, Alsace, France 3 August 2011.

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
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: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Recruitment Genius: Delegate Telesales Executive - OTE £21,000 uncapped

£16000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: High quality, dedicated Delegat...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Consultant - School Playground Designer

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Traffic Planner

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As the successful candidate you...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor