1945: Upon liberation of Nazi concentration camps by Allied forces, some interned for homosexuality are not freed, but required to serve out the full term of their sentences under Paragraph 175. Click here to see the full image.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day honors the victims of the Nazi era, including the estimated 5,000 to 60,000 sent to concentration camps or imprisoned for homosexuality.
The United Nations set the date for International Holocaust Remembrance Day as January 27—the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.
Established in 2005, International Holocaust Remembrance Day recalls the state-sponsored extermination of 6 million Jews and 11 million others deemed inferior by the Nazis, including 2.5 million Poles and other Slavic peoples, Soviet prisoners of war, Gypsies and others not of the “Aryan race,” the mentally ill, the disabled, LGBT people, and religious dissidents such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Catholics. Holocaust Remembrance Day aims to help prevent future genocides.
In the image at the top of this post, the persecution of LGBT people during the Holocaust is juxtaposed with Jesus falling under the weight of his cross. This is Station 3 from “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button. The painting features headshots of men who were arrested for homosexuality under Paragraph 175 of the German criminal code and sent to concentration camps between 1933 and 1945.
Using bold colors and collage, Button puts Jesus’ suffering into a queer context by matching scenes from his journey to Golgotha with milestones from the last 100 years of LGBT history. For an overview of all 15 paintings in the LGBT Stations series, see my article LGBT Stations of the Cross shows struggle for equality.
The Nazis also denounced and attacked lesbians, but usually less severely and systematically than they persecuted male homosexuals. Their history is told online in the article Lesbians and the Third Reich at the US Holocaust Museum. Some lesbians claim the black triangle as their symbol.
The Nazis imposed the black triangle on people who were sent to concentration camps for being “anti-social,” and they used the pink triangle to identify male prisoners sent to concentration camps for homosexuality.
Originally intended as a badge of shame, the pink triangle has become a symbol of pride for the LGBT rights movement. A new painting on the theme is “Pink Triangle” by John Bittinger Klomp, a gay artist based in Florida. The painting is part of his “Gay Dictionary Series” on words and symbols related to being gay.
Klomp explains: “The Pink Triangle was part of the system of triangles used by the Nazis during World War II to denote various peoples they deemed undesirable, and included Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals.”
The pink triangle appears in a variety of monuments that have been built around the world to commemorate LBGT victims of the Nazi regime.
Since 1984, more than 20 gay Holocaust memorials have been established in places ranging from San Francisco to Sydney, from Germany to Uruguay. Some are in the actual concentration camp sites, such as the plaque for gay victims in Dachau.
Visit this website to see powerful photos of all the queer Holocaust memorials and read the stories behind them.
One of those who wore the pink triangle was an anonymous 60-year-old gay priest, brutally beaten to death because he refused to stop praying at the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen, Germany. Eyewitness Heinz Heger reported that the murder was so brutal that “I felt I was witnessing the crucifixion of Christ in modern guise.”
Here is the beginning of his tragic story, as told by Heger in his book The Men With the Pink Triangle:
Toward the end of February, 1940, a priest arrived in our block, a man some 60 years of age, tall and with distinguished features. We later discovered that he came from Sudetenland, from an aristocratic German family.
He found the torment of the arrival procedure especially trying, particularly the long wait naked and barefoot outside the block. When his tonsure was discovered after the shower, the SS corporal in charge took up a razor and said “I’ll go to work on this one myself, and extend his tonsure a bit.” And he saved the priest’s head with the razor, taking little trouble to avoid cutting the scalp. quite the contrary.
The priest returned to the day-room of our lock with his head cut open and blood streaming down. His face was ashen and his eyes stared uncomprehendingly into the distance. He sat down on a bench, folded his hands in his lap and said softly, more to himself than to anyone else: “And yet man is good, he is a creature of God!”
The book goes on to recount in heartbreaking detail how the Nazis tortured the priest, hurling anti-gay slurs and beating him to death. More excerpts are available at the Queering the Church Blog in a post titled “The Priest With the Pink Triangle.”
The award-winning 1979 play Bent by Martin Sherman helped increase awareness of Nazi persecution of gays, leading to more historical research and education.
A film version of Bent was made in 1997 with an all-star British cast including Clive Owen, Mick Jagger and Jude Law. Its title comes from the European slang word “bent,” used as a slur for homosexuals.
In recent years new memoirs of gay Holocaust survivors have been published and queer theory has brought new understanding of the Gay Holocaust as not just atrocities, but also a system of social control. New books include:
- I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual: A Memoir of Nazi Terror by Pierre Seel (2011)
- Lost Intimacies: Rethinking Homosexuality under National Socialism by William J. Spurlin (2008)
- An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin by Gad Beck (2000)
- The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals by Richard Plant (1988) — first comprehensive book on the subject
International Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed here with the prayer “We All Wear the Triangle” by Steve Carson. It appears in the book Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies, and Celebrations. Carson was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches and served congregations in New York, Boston and San Francisco.
One: We are in many ways a culture without memory. The Holocaust, a series of events that occurred just over a generation ago, changed the world forever. Yet by some the Holocaust is forgotten, or seen as irrelevant, or even viewed as something that never happened.
All: As people of faith, we refuse to forget. We refuse to participate in the erasing of history. As a community of faith, we decide to remember, as we hear the historical record from Europe a generation ago and reflect upon events in our own time. We dare to listen to the voices of the past, even as they echo today.
One: In this moment, we are all Jews wearing the yellow Star of David.
All: We are all homosexuals wearing the pink triangle.
One: We are all political activists wearing the red triangle.
All: We are all criminals wearing the green triangle.
One: We are all antisocials wearing the black triangle.
All: We are all Jehovah’s Witnesses wearing the purple triangle.
One: We are all emigrants wearing the blue triangle.
All: We are all gypsies wearing the brown triangle.
One: We are all undesirable, all extendable by the state.
…Leader: To God of both memory and hope, we pledge ourselves to be a people of resistance to the powers of death wherever they may appear, to honor the living and the dead, and to make with them our promise: Never again!