My uncle Heinrich always told me that before 1933 being gay in was better than it was shortly during World War II. In the year 1933 Hitler came to power. Before that, my uncle had lived in Berlin, and worked for the Menschenrecht which translated means Human Rights (Setterington). Berlin was nicknamed the homosexual capital of the world then, and had hundreds of gay clubs and bars (Oswald). Even then, paragraph 175 existed, but wasn’t enforced. Schwanenburg was my uncle’s favorite bar. He used to go nightly to meet up with friends, and hook up with others. My uncle was a part of Anders als die Andern, when it became the first gay film. Of course, this had happened before Hitler came to power (Setterington).
When Hitler came into power, he blamed the Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals for the loss of World War I. Well, technically, Hitler blamed anyone who wasn’t of his Aryan race. The issue was, even if a homosexual was of the Aryan race they were still blamed for the loss of the previous war. My uncle says that that theory was proven because he was technically of the Aryan race. To make it easier to arrest homosexuals, the Nazi’s decided to edit Paragraph 175. They modified it to make sure that homosexual males or females could not find loop holes. Paragraph 175 then read: A man who commits a sex act with another man or allows himself to be used by another man for a sexual act shall be imprisoned. When a party is not twenty-one years of age when the act happens, the court may refrain from punishment. When the Nazi’s modified Paragraph 175, they also modified Paragraph 174, and 176. When the concentration camps were built and put to use, the people who were arrested, and placed in a camp, because of any of those three paragraphs, were branded with a pink triangle (Safier).
Starting then, Hitler started to close all the gay bars and clubs. He shut down the papers and took control. When he did that, the drag kings and queens started to be more careful about what they did and when they did it. Whenever someone would shout “The police are coming” every one of the kings and queens would hike up their skirts and flee. Being gay had started to become more complicated for my uncle and his other friends. (Setteringron)
In 1937, Hitler officially started arresting Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and anyone else that wasn’t a part of his Aryan race. It took six years before my uncle was caught kissing another man in an alley behind what used to be a printing press for Menschenrecht. Both he and the other man were arrested. If my uncle hadn’t been caught with the man, he would have been fine. He and his friend Giselle had married to avoid getting arrested. Even if Giselle were caught with her partner, she would more than likely not be arrested because lesbians were not prosecuted often (“Lesbians and the Third Reich”).
At first they held my uncle in a prison. They gave him a jail sentence that should have lasted for ten years. While in jail they exposed the homosexuals to inhumane treatment, hard labor torture, executed, or experimented on. My uncle thought he had no chance of surviving through his jail sentence ("Holocaust Memorial Day Trust"). A year after he was put into jail they decided to transfer him over to Buchenwald. He was one of the 169 people in the camp for sexuality (Grau).
While he was held in Buchenwald, many of the homosexual males in the camp were offered freedom if they went to fight for Germany. Some agreed, and were sent out on suicide missions (Olson). My uncle lost many friends in camps alone that he was distraught. When he was placed in the camp they branded him by a pink triangle. They made him work hard, and gave him little food. They called him by 1899.
While in the camps, my uncle went under pain and torture. One time because he had his hands under the blanket when he was asleep one night, he had water dumped on him. Since he was homosexual he couldn’t wear any clothes, except a shirt to bed, and since he was with others branded by the pink triangle he wasn’t allowed to have his hands under the blankets or he would be punished. One time, he told me that he was hung from a tree by his arms because he could not carry a brick (Oswald).
If I thought what happened to the Jews was bad, having someone in my family who experienced the events was even worse. One day he came to me and he said “Janson, I want you to remember that when I was your age, I saw men and women alike go through the most excruciating forms of torture known to man. You live in a better era to be yourself even though you’re gay. You’ll never have issues with surviving. You’ll never be forced into a concentration camp like I was. You’ll live happily. Don’t forget what I say because it could be the most important speech you need to learn over the years.”
Homosexual men had to work in the quarry. Before 1938 they could have worked anywhere. Most prisoners that worked in the quarry had a chance of being switched to a normal block, although it seems that homosexuals were not offered that arrangement (Grau).
Vaernet and the Nazis’ experimented on homosexual men to see what made them homosexual. In 1944 a few campers branded with the pink triangle that were taken in for experimentation. All together fifteen campers had been experimented on. In one experiment Vaernet made an incision in the groin and implanted hormones. Later the people who had that experiment done on them were asked questions. If they answered correctly they were determined to be cured. What happened to these men who had this experiment done to them was unknown (Grau).
Another experiment that they did, was they had girls from other concentration camps come, and they set up a brothel. They had ten girls in the brothel. It became required, for the homosexual males to go use the brothel service at least once a week. While any of the campers used the brothel, the SS would watch the men have sex with the women in the brothel through holes that they drilled into the walls (Heger).
In 1945, the war ended. The concentration camps were discovered, and everyone who was still alive was near death. For many of the homosexual prisoners the end of the war was not the end of their punishment. If the men had already finished out their prison sentences, then they were released. If they had not finished their sentence they were put into jail to finish out their sentence. The allies England, United States, Russia, and Canada all thought that this was best since homosexuality was also at the time out lawed in those countries (Setterington).
Two years after my uncle had been released he had once again been imprisoned. At that time he lived in West Germany where Paragraph 175 was still enforced. During a twenty year time span, over 100,000 men were arrested for homosexuality. Any of those that were arrested that had been in concentration camps were treated even more harshly since they were repeat offenders (Setterington).
Looking back at it now, it seems unsettling that such events took place. My uncle died when he was 86. That year, the German government decided that it was time to give the gays their recognition (Setterington). My uncle claimed his compensation and soon died. He left his partner Tomas, of twenty-five years, alone when he died. My uncle had been happy. He had left his past behind him, but still had rough patches when he’d wake up screaming from the memories of what happened to him and his friends. That never changed the way he felt though.
My uncle died many years ago, and now memorials are in place to allow us to remember those that died in the Holocaust. Now memorials for the gays that died as well as the gypsies, and Jews shine light on what happened. Now everyone is being recognized, and there is more freedom. All together 50,000 gays arrested, but only somewhere between 10,000 to 15,000 of the gays were put into concentration camps ("Gay Holocaust Memorial Honors Pain, Sacrifice"). Now the Human Rights Campaign is going in full force, and all we want to be able to be like everyone else. It doesn’t matter now if we’re gay, straight, transgender, or known as any of those. It doesn’t matter that we’re not yet at a point in time where we can all feel free to marry whoever we want to, it mainly matters that we’re traveling down the road to our freedom. That is what matters now. Sure thousands of homosexual men died during the holocaust, but that’s not what matters. We to be free and known. It has been long enough for us to decide that it is finally time to say that look we may have been prosecuted over sixty years ago, and we weren’t acknowledged for it, but it is time for our stories to be known.
Heinrich died in 2001 of a heart attack. Tomas went on to live for about five more years before also dying. Janson fights, for freedom even today by traveling the world, and attending rallies making Heinrich’s story known. While freedom is not yet won, we keep on fighting hoping for something better.
* Please note that this is a story. While the facts about what happened, and how it happened are all true the characters Janson and his uncle Heinrich are both fictional characters. In reality Heinrich was not branded with 1899 and while the name was a common name in Germany during this time he was not meant to be a real person.*
"Gay Holocaust Memorial Honors Pain, Sacrifice." Tell Me More 26 June 2008. Student Resources in Context. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.
Grau, Günter, Claudia Schoppmann, and Patrick Camiller. Hidden Holocaust?: Gay and Lesbian Persecution in Germany, 1933-45. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1995. Print.
Heger, Heinz. The Men with the Pink Triangle: The True, Life- and Death Story of Homosexuals in the Nazi Death Camps. Boston: Alyson Publications, 1994. Print.
"Holocaust Memorial Day Trust." Gay People. Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, 2005. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.
"Lesbians and the Third Reich." United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States Holocaust Memorial Council, 10 June 2013. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
Olson, Elizabeth. "Gay Focus at Holocaust Museum." New York Times 4 Jan. 2003: B7. Student Resources in Context. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
Oswald, Lewis. "Before It All." Homocaust: Remembering the Gay Victims of the Holocaust. Www.LewisOswald.com, 2004. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
Oswald, Lewis. "The Camps." Homocaust: Remembering the Gay Victims of the Holocaust. Www.LewisOswald.com, 2004. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.
Safier, Scott. "Paragraph 175 and Other Sexual Deviance Laws." Pink Triangle Pages. Scott Safier, 1992. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
Setterington, Ken. Branded by the Pink Triangle. Toronto, ON: Second Story, 2013. Print.