Exhibition turns spotlight on Nazi's gay victims

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The Independent Online

Focusing attention on a long-neglected group of Nazi victims, a two-part exhibition about gays persecuted under the Nazis opened Sunday at museums in Berlin and in a former concentration camp where many of the victims were killed.

Focusing attention on a long-neglected group of Nazi victims, a two-part exhibition about gays persecuted under the Nazis opened Sunday at museums in Berlin and in a former concentration camp where many of the victims were killed.

The exhibits of documents, photos, drawings and other objects collected during 10 years of research is the largest on the subject ever mounted in Germany, project organizers said. It documents the fate of 700 individuals who suffered under the Nazis' draconian anti-gay laws and tells the personal stories of 60.

"We want to return to the gay victims of the Nazis their names and to show their lives, as far as possible, so as to at least symbolically liberate them from the dehumanizing barbarity of the Nazis," said Andreas Sternweiler, project director at the Gay Museum in Berlin, where part of the exhibit is being shown.

The other half opened at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where many gay victims - labeled with a pink triangle - ended up because of the camp's proximity to the capital. Some 600 homosexuals were killed there between 1939 and mid-1943 alone, according to the researchers.

Few surviving victims ever came forward after World War II because of continuing stigma associated with homosexuality, which remained illegal in West Germany under the same Nazi law, known as "Paragraph 175," until 1969. Tens of thousands of men were prosecuted in those postwar years.

Historians also generally ignored the Nazi persecution of homosexuals until the 1980s, meaning many survivors had already passed away, organizers said. Only a handful are known to still be alive; their stories are told in a U.S.-made documentary, "Paragraph 175," that won awards at film festivals in Berlin and at Sundance this year.

Germany's center-left government introduced a bill last week - 55 years after the end of the war - that would require parliament to officially recognize and apologize to gay victims.

It also calls on the government to study whether a blanket annulment should be issued for convictions under the Nazi anti-gay law, under which even a glance between men could be cause for prosecution. Lesbians were generally ignored, since the Nazis were mainly concerned with perceived threats to their ideal of Aryan manhood.

Guenter Morsch, director of the Sachsenhausen memorial, noted that protests erupted after the first plaque dedicated to gay victims of the Nazis was hung at the Dachau concentration camp outside Munich in the 1980s.

Last year, Germany's national Holocaust memorial day commemorated gay victims for the first time with a ceremony at Sachsenhausen.

Events like that and the new exhibit are important, he said, because all groups - not just those that are "politically correct" - must be remembered if tolerance is to be promoted.

About 200,000 people were interred at Sachsenhausen between 1936 and 1945, including Jews, Romanies, communists and other political prisoners. More than 1,400 Jews were killed there, thousands more sent off to be killed in Auschwitz. Others were forced to work in adjacent factories.

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