Germany to officially pardon 50,000 gay men convicted under Nazi-era law criminalising homosexuality

Paragraph 175 continued to be enforced after end of the Second World War

Lizzie Dearden
Wednesday 22 March 2017 15:06 GMT
Thousands of gay men and lesbians were sent to concentration camps but the law was not repealed
Thousands of gay men and lesbians were sent to concentration camps but the law was not repealed (Getty Images)

Germany is to officially pardon 50,000 men convicted under a Nazi-era law criminalising homosexuality that continued to be enforced after the Second World War.

Paragraph 175 was used by Adolf Hitler’s regime to send thousands of people to concentration camps but even after the Holocaust, it was not dropped by the new West German government.

Following decades of work by campaigners, anyone convicted under the law will be pardoned and those living will gain the automatic right to compensation.

Angela Merkel's cabinet of conservatives and centre-left Social Democrats approved a bill granting the pardons on Wednesday but it still requires parliamentary approval.

It foresees compensation of €3,000 (£2,600) for each conviction, plus €1,500 (£1,300) for every year of jail time that convicted men started.

“The rehabilitation of men who ended up in court purely because of their sexuality is long overdue,” said Heiko Maas, the German justice minister.

“They were persecuted, punished and ostracised by the German state just because of their love for men, because of their sexual identity.”

Mr Maas described past judgements as “blatant injustices”, adding: “We shall never be able to completely atone for the crimes of the judicial system, but we want to rehabilitate the victims.

“Prosecuted gay men should no longer have to live with the stigma of their conviction.

“Paragraph 175 disrupts professional paths, destroys careers and blights lives.

“The few victims who are still alive today should finally be afforded justice.”

The minister pledged financial support for the Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation, which has documented the persecution and raising awareness of the effects of Paragraph 175.

The group hailed “justice, finally” on Wednesday, saying the draft law was an important step on a long road or rehabilitation for victims.

The Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany “welcomes the fact that, after long decades of ignorance, legal consequences are being drawn from the serious mass human rights violations that were committed against homosexual people by the democratic state,” said its spokesman, Helmut Metzner.

Paragraph 175 was introduced in to Germany’s criminal code in 1871 but was broadened by the Nazis in 1935, with the ensuing prosecutors see thousands of gay men and lesbians sent to concentration camps during the Holocaust.

A Reichstag committee had voted to repeat the law six years before but Adolf Hitler’s government changed it to allow for the persecution of any “lewd act” between men, regardless of physical contact.

Even after concentration camps were liberated, some prisoners were forced to serve out two-year prison sentences under Paragraph 175, while those freed faced stigmatisation.

Although East Germany abolished the Nazi amendments in 1950, West Germany did not and had them confirmed by its constitutional court.

Chris Bryant makes an emotional plea for further action in pardoning gay men

The move caused an estimated 100,000 men to be drawn into legal proceedings between 1949 and 1969, with 50,000 convicted and some taking their own lives.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in Germany 1969 but the legislation was not formally removed until 1994.

Six years later, Germany's parliament approved a resolution regretting the fact that Paragraph 175 was retained after the war and in 2002 it annulled the convictions of gay men under Nazi rule, but not afterwards.

The new law will exclude men who were convicted for homosexual activities with children or for acts that involved violence or threats.

It also will apply to men convicted in communist East Germany, which had a milder version of Paragraph 175 on the books and decriminalised homosexuality in 1968.

A total of around some 68,300 people were convicted under various forms of the law in both German states.

Mr Maas said the strength of a country was marked by the “courage to correct its own mistakes”, adding: “We have not just the right but the duty to act.”

The move comes months after the British government announced that thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted under now abolished sexual offences would be pardoned under the “Alan Turing law”.

It was named after the pioneering mathematician, whose code-breaking skills are said to have shortened the Second World War by years, who killed himself after being chemically castrated as punishment for “gross indecency”.

Several other countries including Canada and New Zealand are considering pardons for those convicted under repealed laws against same-sex relationships.

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