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The Journal of Sex Research, vol. 17, no. 3 (August 1981), pp. 270-287
The article also appeared in:
M.B. Duberman, M. Vicinus, G. Chauncey, Jr. (eds.),
Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past, New York, 1989, pp. 365-379
Swastika, Pink Triangle, and
Yellow Star -
The Destruction of
Sexology and the Persecution of
Homosexuals in Nazi Germany
ERWIN J. HAEBERLE
Much early sexological research, indeed the very concept of sexology, was the work of German Jews. Hitler's rise to power first curtailed, then prevented, and finally destroyed all German sex research and a flourishing sex reform movement. Once the scientific and scholarly study of sex had come to an end, the sexual ideology of Nazism, which was antisemitic, antifeminist, and homophobic, could easily be put into practice. The official persecution of German homosexuals between 1933 and 1945 is discussed as a typical policy of a regime which rejected the rational and critical approach to sexual questions.
Shortly before his death in exile, the great German sexologist, Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935), wrote an autobiographical sketch in which he described his persecution by the Nazis:
After the War, when the Nazi movement gripped Munich and spread in ever larger circles throughout Germany, Hirschfeld's name was placed
on the proscription list. After delivering a popular scientific lecture in Munich, he was brutally attacked in the streets. Unconscious,
he was taken to the Surgical Clinic, where his injury was diagnosed as a fracture of the skull. As the press carried a notice that the
attack had proven fatal, Hirschfeld had an opportunity of reading his own obituary1.
What was behind this assault? How could a middle-aged physician and scholar, a life-long advocate of peaceful persuasion, provoke such violence? Why was he singled out, when his colleagues remained unharmed? These questions are at least partially answered by Hirschfeld's friend and collaborator Max Hodann in another work written in exile:
The academic gates were closed to Hirschfeld, and even after the fall of the Hohenzollern Empire in 1918 the Weimar Republic had no
chair anywhere for the tireless investigator. Hirschfeld's work was more unwelcome to the political reaction in Central Europe than even
Sigmund Freud's. He was simply labelled as a "propagandist for homosexuality," and the anti-Semitism so strongly developed in
Germany, even before Hitler's advent, was also an element in consolidating opposition to his work. Moreover, Hirschfeld's political
sympathies were always definitely "Left", i.e. liberal and progressive, although he took no active part in
According to Hodann, Hirschfeld provoked the reactionary opposition by being a Jew, a leftist, and an advocate of homosexual rights. Indeed, similar reasons are given by Hirschfeld himself in the above-mentioned autobiographical sketch:
The Nazis persecuted Hirschfeld, not only on account of his "non-Aryan" extraction, but also because of his open
acknowledgment of pacifistic and socialistic tendencies, and his work in sexual science3.
The difference between the two recollections is slight: Both mention Jewishness and leftist tendencies, but where Hodann lists propaganda for homosexuality, Hirschfeld merely speaks of sexual science in general as a sufficient cause for his persecution. Yet today we may ask whether either of them really told the whole story or, for that matter, even wanted it told. After all, some sources suggest that there was still another reason for the persistent, widespread hostility. Indeed, this reason, which is never mentioned eister by Hirschfeld himself or by his friends, may very well have been decisive.
We get a hint at the truth in the work of Albert Moll, a fellow Jew and fellow sexologist, who, in 1926, organized the first Congress for Sex Research in Berlin without inviting Hirschfeld's participation. This struck many observers as odd, since the latter had not only convened the first Congress for Sexual Reform a few years before, but also founded the first Institute for Sexology in the same city. Moreover, this Institute attracted visitors from all over the world quite apart from any special occasion. Under the circumstances, the deliberate snubbing of Hirschfeld was bound to attract attention, and thus Moll found himself forced to explain his action in print. His defense, while couched in academic language, is remarkably blunt:
People complain that important researchers were not invited to the congress
. . . for example . . . Magnus Hirschfeld . . . Therefore, a frank observation: He was not invited, because it had to be assumed that
important personalities would not have attended the congress if Magnus Hirschfeld had received an invitation. The reason is . . . that
many serious researchers do not consider him an objective seeker of truth, because ... he confuses science with propaganda. However, an
additional reason not to invite Magnus Hirschfeld was his problematic nature, about which I have a great deal of material although I do
not want to publish it at this time without being forced to do so4.
This statement leaves no doubt that Hirschfeld was unpopular not only with Nazis and antisemitic enemies of sexology. Indeed, it shows quite clearly that he had little support even among his own colleagues. Again, the charge of unscientific propaganda is made, a reference to his work on behalf of homosexual rights. After all, by the time of this particular controversy, he had already been openly active in this regard for nearly 30 years. His Scientific Humanitarian Committee, his Yearbook for Sexual Intermediate Stages, his book Homosexuality, and his ceaseless campaign for repeal of Paragraph 175, the German sodomy law, had made him a well-known, and as we see here, notorious public figure. However, as we also discover, such notoriety was anathema to Moll and many other sexologists who strove, above all, for social and academic acceptance. This overriding concern also explains their attitude toward Hirschfeld as a private individual: They were quite uncomfortable with his "problematic nature," i.e., his homosexuality.
The fact that Hirschfeld was a homosexual who both in his private and professional life associated with individuals considered sick by
his conservative colleagues obviously damaged his reputation. Nevertheless, being financially independent, he made no apologies and
persisted in his lifestyle. Furthermore, he never hesitated to use science in the service of sexual reform. His motto Per scientiam ad
justitiam guided him as an organizer of the World League for Sexual Reform, whose presidency he shared with Auguste Forel and
Havelock Ellis, and which held congresses in Copenhagen (1928), London (1929), Vienna (1930), and Brno (1932). In contrast, the congresses
of Moll's International Society for Sex Research (Berlin, 1926; London, 1930) carefully avoided practical proposals or social and
political resolutions, cultivating instead the ideal of a neutral, "disinterested" sexology. In fact, when pressured, Moll
tended to side with the establishment. Always a militaristic super-patriot, he even found something good to say about the Nazis, once they
had come to power5.
Not so Hirschfeld. When, in 1922, the German foreign minister Rathenau was murdered by the right, the signal was clear: The victim was not only a democrat, but also a Jew and a homosexual. For the growing fascist movement, chauvinism, anti-intellectualism, antisemitism, and homophobia were part of the same program. When Hitler finally took over the government, all sexological work, progressive and conservative, suffered restrictions, because it was largely conducted by Jews. Thus, both Hirschfeld's congresses for reform and Moll's congresses for research came to an end. The sexological journals had to cease publication. However, at first the neutral, "respectable" sexologists remained physically unmolested. Again, it was only the notorious Hirschfeld who became the target of violence. As he recalls in his sketch:
Although the Nazis themselves derived great profit from Hirschfeld's theories (and called on him personally for help) they continued his persecution relentlessly; they terrorized his meetings and closed his lecture hall, so that for the safety of his audiences and himself, Hirschfeld was no longer able to make a public appearance.
Those were the conditions ... when Hirschfeld left his fatherland.... After several years of absence, (he) again stepped on European
soll; now he heard tales and warnings from Germany that his life was in danger if he returned.... It was in Switzerland that the news
reached him that ... the "Nazi Committee against the Un-German Spirit" had broken into his Institute.... Thereupon the Institute
was officially closed.... A few days after the destruction of his Institute, Hirschfeld was in Paris, visiting a cinema, he saw with his
own eyes, on the screen before him, the burning of his library6.
|The official paper of the Nazi party with an attack on Hirschfeld, Oct. 31, 1928. The headline
reads: "Homosexuals as Speakers in Boys' Schools. Magnus Hirschfeld, the fighter for the abolition
of § 175 [the German sodomy law. ed.] is allowed to speak in German high schools. The Destruction of Youth! German Mothers,
Women Workers! Do You Want to Hand Your Children Over to Homosexuals?"
This act of official vandalism took place on May 6, 1933, a little more than three months after Hitler had become Chancellor. It was one of the very earliest acts of government terror, preceding by years the later wellknown Nazi excesses. As a matter of fact, the action seemed so precipitous, even to those who expected the worst, that many searched for some rational explanation. Thus, Ludwig L. Lenz, a gynecologist who worked at the Institute and who managed to escape with his life, later speculated in his Memoirs about the true motive by emphasizing the personal help Hirschfeld had given to Nazi officials:
. . . our Institute was used by all classes of the population and members of every political party.... We thus had a great many Nazis under treatment at the Institute. There was, for instance, a lady from Potsdam who, in referring to Dr. Hirschfeld, invariably said "Dr. Kirschfeld." When I drew her attention to this mistake, she replied blushing and glancing at the swastika on her
breast: "Oh, Doctor, if you don't mind I should rather say 'Dr. Kirschfeld,' it sounds more Aryan."
Why was it then, since we were completely non-party, that our purely scientific Institute was the first victim which fell to the new regime? "Fell" is, perhaps, an understatement for it was totally destroyed; the books from the big library, my irreplaceable documents, all the pictures and files everything, in fact, that was not nailed down or a permanent fixture was dragged outside and burned. What explanation is there for the fact that the trades union buildings of the socialists, the communist clubs and the synagogues were only destroyed at a much later date and never so thoroughly as our pacific Institute? Whence this hatred, and, what was even more strange, this haste and thoroughness?
The answer to this is simple and straightforward enough—we knew too much.
It would be against medical principles to provide a list of the Nazi leaders and their perversions. One thing, however, is certain—not
ten percent of those men who, in 1933, took the fate of Germany into their hands, were sexually normal.... Many of these personages were
known to us directly through consultations; we heard about others from their comrades in the party who boasted of their exalted
friends...; and of others we saw the tragic results: I refer here especially to a young girl whose abdomen was covered with pin scratches
caused through the sadism of an eminent Nuernberg Nazi; I refer also to a thirteen year old boy who suffered from a serious lesion of the
anal muscle brought about by a senior party official in Breslau and to a youth from Berlin with severe rectal gonorrhea, etc. etc.... Our
knowledge of such intimate secrets regarding members of the Nazi Party and our other documentary material—we possessed about forty
thousand confessions and biographical letters—was the cause of the complete and utter destruction of the Institute for
Lenz's assertion certainly raises some interesting questions. For example, if the Institute did indeed keep tens of thousands of confessions and biographical letters, does it make sense to assume that they were all thrown into the fire? Is it not rather more likely that they were saved for use by the Gestapo? Indeed, is it not possible that the entire event was staged to deceive, and that the apparent destruction of the Institute was really a cover operation to retrieve Hirschfeld's case histories and other incriminating evidence against both prominent Nazis and their opponents? Was some of this evidence perhaps used one year later in the murder of Röhm and other SA-leaders?
In all probability, such questions can no longer be answered. In any case, we know what happened in further political developments. Already, in the fall of 1933 the first homosexuals were sent to the first concentration camps, and in the following summer Hitler eliminated his closest friend
Röhm and certain SA-leaders as potential rivals. The strictly political motivation of this ruthless power-play was initially too obvious to be entirely denied, but later it was conveniently obscured by charges of homosexual depravity. Still, one year later, in 1935, the infamous Paragraph 175, which had criminalized anal intercourse between males, was expanded to include all forms of male homosexual contact, and the courts subsequently broadened the application to a point where even a kiss or purely visual contact became punishable.
Hirschfeld did not survive long enough to learn of this strengthening of a law he had fought all his life. He died just a few weeks before the event in France. Neither did he learn of the subsequent enactment of another legal outrage, the so-called Nuremberg laws, which discriminated against Jews and made them, in fact, second-class citizens. Especially the "Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor" of Sept. 1935, which punished sexual intercourse between Jews and non-Jews as "race defilement," created an entirely new class of criminals who soon entered the ever-expanding concentration camps.
Of course, the Nazis did not stop at the mere sexual repression of the Jews and their friends, but soon passed ever more repressive measures. In the same year, 1935, Jewish physicians were forced to leave public hospitals; Jewish teachers and students were removed from German schools, since they could not provide proper role models for the new Aryan generation. Soon the local and individual harassment of Jews also became more intense. It was only during the Olympic Games of 1936 in Berlin that Hitler stagemanaged a brief, deceptive lull for the benefit of international observers. Still, at the same time the persecution of homosexuals was stepped up in massive bar raids, in order to present visiting athletes and journalists with a "morally clean" Germany. These raids greatly increased the number of homosexual concentration camp inmates. Curiously enough, there was also concern about possible diplomatic complications, and thus a special order was given by Himmler not to arrest homosexual foreigners.
Needless to say, once the Olympics were over, the antisemitic government policies were resumed with increasing force. In 1938, all Jewish physicians lost their license. Thus, even the heterosexual, conservative, "respectable" Albert Moll was finally silenced and deprived of his livelihood. Too late he discovered that, being a Jewish sexologist, his respectability could not save him, and that, for the Nazis, he was no better than
Hirschfeld—a despised, inferior enemy of the people whose work was fit only to be burned.
|Antisemitic attack on Hirschfeld in the Nazi paper "Der Angriff" (The Attack),
Nov. 19, 1928. The article calls Hirschfeld a "sick element", which should be eliminated from every healthy
population. The text ends by recalling a physical attack on Hirschfeld in Munich, 1920: "He almost died.
This is the only good news that can be reported about a character like Hirschfeld".
Moll died the following year, thus being spared many later legal indignities and eventual transportation to one of the death camps. Yet his fate is perhaps even more tragic than Hirschfeld's, who, as a "leftist" and homosexual, had never been under any illusion about the true character of Germany's new regime. At any rate, by the beginning of the Second World War, this character was no longer obscure to anyone The so-called Third Reich had no use for reason, compassion, or moderation Racism as well as political and sexual repression were loudly proclaimed and openly enacted programs.
Therefore, the once celebrated academic freedom of German universities quickly came to an end. By the same token, any scientific or scholarly investigation of sexual questions now appeared dangerous. Sexology and related critical efforts, such as psychoanalysis, were denounced as "Jewish science," an epithet which was meant to convey the idea of "degenerate" folly, but which, ironically and unintentionally, contained a kernel of truth. As a science, sexology was indeed Jewish in the sense that its pioneers had largely been German and Austrian Jews. This, in the eyes of the Nazis, tainted the whole enterprise and made its eradication at the more urgent. All sexologists, Jewish or not, came under attack. Thus, once their books had been burned, and once Hirschfeld, Hodann, and Lenz had been joined in exile by Wilhelm Reich, Max Marcuse, and Sigmund Freud, German sexology was effectively dead.
We have to remember that Sexualwissenschaft, or the science of sex had, from its inception, served a critical function, i.e., its original impetus had been the critique of prevailing sexual attitudes and traditional assumptions about sex. After all, in the preceding century many other supposedly natural forces, such as the economy, political power, and social organization, had come under critical scrutiny by the new sciences economics and sociology. These described what they studied as manmade phenomena—arbitrary, often unreasonable, but controllable and subject to modification. Indeed, whether they knew it or not, economists and sociologists soon provided the intellectual tools for change, perhaps even radical change. By the same token, sexology, according to its first proponents and organizers Bloch, Hirschfeld, Eulenburg, Krauss, Körber, and Rohleder, demystified the alleged unchangeable "natural" force of sex and tried to bring it under some sort of rational control.8 Through their research, they hoped to provide the means for reforming the sexual
life of their time. This, more than anything else, was the reason for the hostility they encountered. Yet, there was no honest way of avoiding the clash. Even cautious, conservative sex researchers like Moll found themselves drawn to the cause of reform, however reluctantly. In fact, Moll, with all his personal distaste for Hirschfeld's perennial crusading, had no moral or intellectual choice but to support it in principle, and thus both of them, each in his own way, fought for homosexual rights. In short, sexology as understood by its founders, was a new critical science with obvious social, legal, and political implications.
Any such science had to be more than unwelcome to Hitler and the Nazis. Through all the years of his struggle for power he had appealed to popular prejudices and resentments. Democratic government, labor unions, ethnic and religious tolerance, scrupulous legal procedure, the women's movement, modern art, sexual emancipation—these and many other progressive achievements had always provoked his fury. His contempt for all intellectuals was outspoken. In spite of his talent for using modern technology, his general world view was that of a half-educated l9th-century petty bourgeois. His sexual views in particular were rigid, narrow, and patriarchal. Thus, Nazi policies toward women were always openly reactionary. As Alfred Rosenberg, the chief ideologue of Nazism, had made clear even before 1933:
The emancipation of women from the women's emancipation movement is the first demand of a female generation trying to rescue nation
and race, the eternally unconscious, the foundation of all civilization, from decline.... A woman should have every opportunity to realize
her potential, but one thing must be made clear: Only a man must be and remain judge, soldier and
And once power had been won, another Nazi propagandist became even more specific:
In the ideology of National Socialism there is no room for the political woman.... (Our) movement places woman in her natural sphere
of the family and stresses her duties as wife and mother. The political woman, that post-war creature, who rarely "cut a good
figure" in parliamentary debates, represents the denigration of women. The German uprising is a male
In accordance with this philosophy, the Nazi state embarked on a program of redefining the role of women along traditional lines. Massive
propaganda efforts through Nazi organizations for women and teenage girls cultivated an ideal image of old-fashioned German womanhood. Mothers with many children received a government medal, the "German Mother's Cross of Honor," as a reward for their efforts on behalf of a rising birth rate. This policy reflected both a desire to outbreed the European "inferior races" and to provide soldiers for future Nazi conquests. The already mentioned law against "race defilement" served the same purpose of promoting "Aryan" superiority. Indeed, eventually "Aryan" maternity homes (Lebensborn or Spring of Life) were set up, which welcomed both married and unmarried pregnant women, and a European kidnapping program collected "racially desirable" children from newly subjugated countries in the East.
The reverse side of this policy was, of course, the systematic murder of mental patients, the handicapped, and the elderly in hospitals and nursing homes, although, in this case, public resistance finally imposed some restraint. However, once the war had begun, the massive executions of "subhumans" in Poland and Russia and the so-called "final solution of the Jewish problem" could proceed without interference by anyone. All of this is so well known and well documented in so many widely accessible sources, that it does not require additional comment here. Instead, as the present context suggests, it may be more useful to concentrate on another, and hitherto rather neglected, aspect of Nazi sexual policies—the persecution of homosexuals.
The attitude toward homosexual behavior often provides a reliable clue as to the rigidity of all other sexual attitudes in a particular society. After all, where the obsession with sexual deviance is strong, the conforming majority usually can be assumed to strain under its self-imposed sexual restrictions: The greater the need to persecute others, the greater the need to control oneself, to resist the temptations of sexual freedom. We have already mentioned how one such temptation, the rational study of sex, had been eliminated from the nation's life; now we may perhaps turn to a concrete example and discuss the fate of a specific group of people who were defined as sexually deviant. In other words, we may ask: What would have happened to Magnus Hirschfeld if, instead of remaining abroad, he had actually dared to return to Germany? Would he, as a Jew, like Moll, have been left alone before the "final solution"? Or would he, as a homosexual, have been killed even before the time of his natural death in 1935?
In order to answer these questions, it is necessary to know concrete details about the Nazi policies toward homosexuals, but this
subject has long been grossly neglected by researchers. Immediately after the end of the Nazi regime, it was obvious even to those outside
Germany that homosexuals had been a special category of inmates in the concentration camps. Indeed, the first great study of the camps,
Eugen Kogon's Der SS-Staat, included a moving discussion of their fate in the total record of
horror11. This book, written by a survivor and former political prisoner, soon became somewhat of a classic. It was also translated into English, and thus became the major source of information for non-German students of the camps. However, Kogon's aim had been a general description, and thus the homosexual prisoners remained marginal figures. The precise information he gave about them was scanty. Nevertheless, apart from a few personal memoirs of German homosexuals which attracted no serious attention, nothing more was published on the matter for decades. Indeed, the whole subject proved distasteful to both the Germans and the Allies. After all, male homosexual behavior remained a crime in both East and West Germany as well as in Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Thus, the homosexual inmates of Nazi concentration camps were not considered to have been unjustly imprisoned, and therefore, they also remained uncompensated for their suffering. Not only that: For more than another twenty years they were subject to potential reimprisonment in their newly divided country. It was only in the late 60's that the two Germanies reformed their old sodomy paragraph 175 and decriminalized all sexual contact between consenting male adults.
Soon thereafter, an emerging "gay rights" movement, especially in the U.S., discovered the Nazi persecution of homosexuals.
Unfortunately, because of the paucity of information and the complete absence of solid research, misconceptions and exaggerations were
common. "Underground papers" and "gay freedom rallies," even a Broadway play, and then some of its reviews painted a
lurid, and all too often inaccurate, historical picture12. Finally, and very appropriately, a team of German
researchers shouldered the task of ascertaining some basic facts. Rüdiger Lautmann, a sociologist at the University of Bremen,
together with some collaborators, examined original camp records and published the findings in a major study dealing with a whole variety
of societal responses to homosexuality13. The following observations are based mainly on this recent
It is often assumed by casual students of Nazism that Hitler and many Nazi leaders were originally quite tolerant of homosexuality, that the
entire SA-leadership, for example, was homosexual, and that the intolerance set in only after the murder of Röhm and his friends in 1934. However, all these assumptions are false. While it is true that Röhm and some of his cronies were, in some situations, rather open about their homosexuality, the S.A. as such was by no means affected, even in most of its leadership. Furthermore, although Hitler protected Röhm as long as he needed him, he never approved of his sexual orientation which he considered a weakness. Most Nazi leaders themselves fought against "moral degeneracy," a concept which included homosexual conduct, and, long before their rise to power, actually went on record condemning it. When, during an early election campaign, a homosexual rights organization requested a formal statement on homosexuality from all political parties, Hitler's National Socialist Party gave the following official response:
Suprema lex salus populi!
Communal welfare before personal welfare!
Those who are considering love between men or between women are our enemies. Anything that emasculates our people and that makes us
fair game for our enemies we reject, because we know that life is a struggle and that it is insanity to believe that all human beings
will one day embrace each other as brothers. Natural history teaches us a different lesson. Might makes right. And the stronger will
always prevail against the weaker. Today we are the weaker. Let us make sure that we will become the stronger again! This we can do only
if we exercise moral restraint. Therefore we reject all immorality, especially love between men, because it deprives us of our last chance
to free our people from the chains of slavery which are keeping it fettered today14.
Coincidentally, this declaration was issued on May 14, 1928, Magnus Hirschfeld's 60th birthday.
As the text shows, there could be no doubt about the Nazi position on homosexuality, even before 1933. Its association with weakness, the claim that it "emasculates" the people, and its equation with immorality show quite clearly that the Nazis catered to the sexual fears of the uninformed. Moreover, the proclamation that "might makes right" and that homosexuals are "enemies" accurately foreshadows the already contemplated later Nazi policies, In fact, the very first year of Hitler's rule saw the establishment of the first concentration camps and the imprisonment of the first homosexuals in them. Together with transvestites and pimps, they represented the "sexual degenerates" (later to be joined by the "race
defilers") who remained a part of the inmate population as long as the camps existed.
This is not the place to give a history and description of Nazi concentration camps. They are easily accessible
elsewhere15. In the present context it is sufficient to remember that being sent to these camps was called "Protective Custody," and that they stood outside the traditional legal system. Eventually, they came to be run entirely by Himmler's SS and, especially after the outbreak of the war, they expanded considerably, providing, among other things, slave labor for certain industries. In their final phase, some of them were used as extermination camps, i.e., places for mass executions, although, as in the case of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the two functions of extermination and using slave labor were often combined in the same camp or general area.
People became concentration camp inmates for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways. As far as the homosexual inmates were
concerned, they might simply be arrested and brought in by the Gestapo, especially if they were also politically suspect, or they might
be sent in after having been convicted of homosexual conduct in an ordinary court. Eventually, the government even created a special
office, the "ReichsCenter for the Fight against Homosexuality and Abortion" in the headquarters of the criminal police, a fact
illustrating both the extent of Nazi homophobia and its connection with the ideology of reproduction at all
costs16. However, the various persecuting bodies and agencies, whether they were legal, semi-legal, or
illegal, often cooperated in such a way that many individuals found themselves in double jeopardy. On the other hand, by no means all
men convicted of homosexual behavior in a regular court and sent to a regular prison also ended up in a concentration camp. Moreover, some
homosexuals in prominent positions, certain artists and show business personalities, etc. remained altogether
All of this has to be kept in mind when one considers the fate of those who had the misfortune of finding themselves in the camps.
Their total number has long been a subject of speculation, and occasionally some estimates have been offered that were very wide off the
mark. Today, thanks to the research of Lautmann and his collaborators, we can assume that the actual figure lies somewhere between 5,000
and 15,000, with ca. 10,000 as the most defensible guess18. In any case, the horror lies not so much in the
numbers as in the pattern of persecution which mirrored, in some nightmarish and exaggerated way, the "normal" harassment
homosexuals had suffered before the Nazi regime, and which they still suffer in many countries today.
Except for outright murder on the spot, the most severe form of Nazi persecution was indeed imprisonment in a concentration camp. The
study of Lautmann and his colleagues provides a great deal of insight into the details of this imprisonment, as far as the homosexuals are
concerned. It is not necessary to repeat these details here, but the following conclusions can briefly be listed: The homosexuals were
usually near the bottom of the prisoner hierarchy; they were often singled out for special tortures and dangerous work, and their
mortality rate was very high19. The whole horrible story is a subject for special research, and in the
present context it seems sufficient to make a few general points: (a) The SS soon developed special categories of camp inmates and gave
them different external markings; (b) At the same time, care was taken to keep the different groups
together inside the same camp, in order to degrade all of them, facilitate their control, and to pit them against each other; (c) Inmates
were used in various administrative and supervisonal positions to assist in the actual running of the camps. This created a sort of
prisoner class system with different privileges, opportunities, and chances of survival.
While individual cunning, initiative, or luck could make a difference in the life of some prisoners, their fate in general was determined by the category to which they had been assigned. In this respect, the homosexuals as a group fared very badly. At first, they had been marked with a yellow stripe or bar inscribed with the capital letter "A" (usually interpreted in camp jargon as "Arschficker," an obscene reference to anal intercourse), or with a big black dot and the number 175 painted on their uniforms (a reference to the paragraph number of the sodomy law). Eventually, however, the SS developed an elaborate color coding system for their prisoners, and since it has often been a source of confusion for later discussions of the camps, a brief explanation may be in order. The best and briefest summary is found in Kogon's classic study:
Who belonged in a concentration camp, according to the Gestapo? Above all four groups of people: political adversaries, members of "inferior races" and "inferiors from the standpoint of race-biology", criminals, and "asocials."
. . .
All groups of prisoners in the concentration camp had to wear external markings which were sewn on their clothing, namely a number and a triangle of a certain color on the left side of the chest as well as the right trouser leg.
Red was the color of the political prisoners.... The other colors and designations were as follows: Green for criminals . . . violet for Jehovah's witnesses, black for asocials, pink for homosexuals, at times brown for gypsies.... Jews wore an inverted yellow triangle underneath their red, green, black, or other markings, forming a star with six points. The so-called race defilers, Jews or non-Jews, . . . received an inverted black triangular outline over their yellow or green triangles . ..
In the case of foreigners, the first letter of their nationality was printed on the triangle: "T" for Tchech, "F" for French . . . and so on.
Members of penal companies had a black, dollar-sized dot between the lower point of the triangle and the number. Those suspected of escape attempts had red-and-white targets painted on both chest and back . . .
Colors, markings, and special designations—in this respect the whole concentration camp was a crazy farm. Occasionally, there were veritable rainbow constellations: For example, there once was a Jewish Jehovah's witness as a race defiler with penal colony dot and escape target!
It must be emphasized that the markings were no absolute guarantee that the prisoner truly belonged to the category.... Indeed,
occasionally it happened that, rightly or wrongly, markings were changed20.
Of the various prisoner categories, only two were clearly based on sexual considerations: the homosexuals and the "race defilers." For them the markings became concrete, outwardly visible "stigmata of degeneration," and their treatment proceeded accordingly. They were usually despised even by their fellow inmates. As Kogon points out:
Inside the concentration camp, mere suspicion was enough to label a prisoner as homosexual and thus to expose him to denigration,
general suspicion, and special dangers. On this occasion it must be stated that the homosexual practice was widespread in the camps.
However, the prisoners only Bostracized those who had been marked by the SS with a pink triangle21.
Thus, the antihomosexual prejudice, so carefully nurtured in Western civilization over so many centuries, proved its strength even among the condemned, and the hypocrisy, which is inevitably part of it, triumphed even in this modern, man-made hell.
Of course, the Nazis knew and used all forms and shades of stigmatization in the fight against their perceived enemies. From verbal and symbolic denigration to legal procedure and direct assault, an official and deliberate stigmatization process prepared Nazi victims for their role as expendable "subhumans." The Jews, for example, even in private life on the "outside," were first required to adopt the additional first names "Israel" (for males) and "Sara" (for females) as a means of calling
attention to their outcast state (Law of Aug. 17, 1938). For the same reason, their passports were stamped with a big "J," which was intended to make their acceptance in other countries more difficult. Finally, in 1941, they were forced to wear a yellow star on their civilian clothing (this has sometimes been confused in the literature with the earlier triangular markings on camp uniforms), and, in 1942, even their apartment doors had to display the star. Similarly, as we have seen, in the camps Jews were marked by a combination of two triangles of different color, and thus they always bore a double stigma.
In the case of the homosexuals, the color pink was, of course, meant to signal weakness and effeminacy in accordance with the earlier mentioned Nazi perception of their character. On the other hand, there was also at least one attempt to alter this character "scientifically" by the administration of chemically distilled "maleness." As Kogon reports:
In the fall of 1944 ... the Danish SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Vaernet ... appeared in the Buchenwald concentration camp. With
permission by Himmler . .. Vaernet started a series of experiments aimed at the elimination of homosexuality. The
implantation of synthetic hormones into the right lower abdomen was meant to lead to a sex drive reversal. Of the total of 15 test
subjects (including two previously castrated males) ... two died, undoubtedly as a result of the operation.... The others died a few weeks
later as a result of general weakness. The human guinea pigs in this experiment were not otherwise mistreated. However, there was no
positive result either22.
The verbal denigration of homosexuals, their stigmatization, imprisonment, and finally, forced "cures" for their alleged
medical condition—in all these respects the Nazis merely continued and intensified what had long been general practice and what, in
various forms, still continues in many societies, including our own. In this sense, the fate of homosexuals under Nazism is not past
history that can safely be left to historians. In fact, as already mentioned, the historians have, so far, failed in this area, and it was
the sociologist Lautmann who finally shouldered the task in the context of an ongoing discussion of homosexual rights. For historians, the
persecution of homosexuals has, since Edward Gibbon's report on Justinian's antisodomy crusade, remained a subject they "touch with
reluctance and despatch with impatience." Thus, it remains for sexologists to write the history of sexual
oppression23. Indeed, before Hitler, it had been sexologists like Hirschfeld who had done most to illuminate this history for the benefit and enlightenment of their contemporaries.
Unfortunately, in the end all of this work proved of little avail against the deliberate neo-barbarism of the Nazi regime.
Returning now to the earlier question of what would have happened to Hirschfeld, if he had dared to return to Germany, there can be no doubt that he would indeed have paid with his life. As a Jew, he might have been spared until the beginning of the war, but as a well-known homosexual and spokesman for homosexual causes, he would have been arrested in 1934 at the latest. He would have been sent to a concentration camp where, because of his age and poor health, he could not have survived more than a few days or weeks.
Of course, Hirschfeld knew very well that he could no longer live in Germany, and thus he settled in France, where he was warmly received and even began to build another Institute, before he suddenly died on his 67th birthday. Thus he was spared the experience of Hitler's war and the sexually repressive atmosphere of the subsequent "cold war" between the Soviet Union and the United States. While France was not greatly affected by this atmosphere, the other countries of the Western alliance went through a period of antihomosexual paranoia. Fortunately, as already mentioned, Hirschfeld had not even hinted at his private life in his autobiographical sketch for American readers, and his friend Max Hodann, in his English book, had also been silent on this point. Both of them knew that complete openness would not gain Hirschfeld's cause any sympathy.
As it turned out, this discretion was well advised. If Hirschfeld had survived long enough to flee to America, for example, he could
eventually have experienced serious difficulties. He had visited the United States twice, in 1893 and 1931, and actually had a brother
living in Milwaukee and later in Chicago. However, as a homosexual, he would have found the climate of the so-called McCarthy era more
than chilling. Indeed, if Hirschfeld had survived in Europe to the age of 84, he would no longer even have been admitted to the United
States or would have become subject to deportation. In 1952 the U.S. Congress passed a new law aimed at preventing homosexuals from
entering the country, defining them as "afflicted with a psychopathic personality"24. If they were
found out after having entered, they were to be deported, a practice upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in
196725. Undoubtedly, a man like Hirschfeld whose homosexuality was well known, and who had spent his life fighting for homosexual rights, would have been an unavoidable target for the new law, especially since he was also known to have "leftist," i.e., socialist,
leanings. Thus, it is clear that the Nazi persecution of homosexuals in general and Hirschfeld's fate in particular did not constitute isolated and otherwise incomprehensible events. Instead, when seen in the context of still prevailing social attitudes and government policies in many countries, they are merely sobering examples of excess. Their underlying causes are still waiting to be removed.
Note: All quotes, except those from Hirschfeld, Hodann, and Lenz, were translated from the German for this paper by the author.
1. MAGNUS HIRSCHFELD, "Autobiographical Sketch" Encyclopaedia Sexualis, ed. Victor Robinson (New York: 1936) pp. 317-321.
2. MAX HODANN, History of Modern Morals (London: 1937) pp. 49 f
3. HIRSCHFELD, loc. cit.
4. ALBERT MOLL, "Der 'reaktionäre' Kongress für Sexualforschung" in Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft, XIII, 10 (Jan. 1927), pp. 322 f
5. Moll published these comments in his Reminiscences of 1936. See John Money and Herman Musaph, eds. Handbook of Sexology (New York: 1977) pp. 24-27.
6. HIRSCHFELD, loc. cit.
7. LUDWIG L. LENZ, The Memoirs of a Sexologist (New York: 1954) pp. 429 ff
8. IWAN BLOCH first proposed the concept of Sexualwissenschaft or sexology in his book The Sexual Life of Our Time (1907). Hirschfeld, Rohleder, and Krauss edited the first sexological journal, the Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft (1908). Hirschfeld, Bloch, Eulenburg, and Körber founded the first sexological society, the Arztliche Gesellschaft für Sexualwissenschaft (1913).
9. ALFRED ROSENBERG, Der Mythos des XX. Jahrhunderts (München: 1930) p. 512.
10. ENGELBERT HUBER, Das ist Nationalsozialismus (Stuttgart: 1933) pp. 121 f
11. EUGEN KOGON, Der SS-Staat (Frankfurt/M.: 1946). Engl. transl. The Theory and Practice of Hell (New York: 1950).
12. MARTIN SHERMAN, Bent (New York: 1979). First performance at O'Neill Theater Center, Waterford, Conn. 1977.
13. RUDIGER LAUTMANN, ed. Seminar: Gesellschaft und Homosexualität (Frankfurt/M.: 1977).
14. reprinted in RUDOLF KLARE, Homosexualität und Strafrecht (Hamburg: 1937) p. 149.
15. See for example Kogon, op. cit. and Martin Broszat, "Nationalsozialistische Konzentrationslager 1933-1945" in Buchheim Hans et al., Anatomie des SS-Staates (Olten: 1965) II.
16. The records of this agency, which was established on Oct. 10, 1936, are now in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and, so &r, have not been available to researchers.
17. On Oct. 29, 1937, Himmler gave a special order not to bother homosexual artists and actors, unless caught in flagranti. Otherwise special permission for an arrest was required. See also Lautmann, op. cit. p. 330.
18. LAUTMANN, op. cit. p. 333.
19. See Kogon, op. cit. p. 50 and Lautmann, op. cit. pp. 325-365.
20. KOGON, op. cit. p. 46 and pp. 50 f. 21. 22. 23.
21. KOGON, op. cit. p. 263.
22. KOGON, op cit. p. 264
23. The one importart exception is the work of the historian Vern L. Bullough, Sexual
Variance in Society and History (New York: 1976).
24. Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, per. 212 (a) (4), 8 U.S.C., per. 1182 (a) (4), 1964, popularly known as the McCarran Act.
25. Boutilier u. Immigration and Naturalization Service, 387 U.S. 118, 1967. Boutilier, a Canadian national, who had lived in the United States for twelve years, an whose mother, stepfather, and three sisters also lived in the United States, was deme citizenship and deported solely because of his homosexuality, although he had never been convicted of illegal homosexual behavior.
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