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The Forgotten Gay Holocaust

As a New York Jew, the Holocaust was introduced into my life at quite an early stage. Although a full conceptual understanding would take years to develop, the concept of “70 years ago, Germany killed a bunch of Jews – just because they were Jews” was a staple in both my early religious and secular educations.

Growing up, this collective suffering served as a source of solidarity and unity in a reform Jewish community in which other political and social views – along with level of practice – were severely deviated. As I progressed academically and personally, my understanding of the Holocaust deepened.

Hitler didn’t just kill the Jews because they were Jews. He killed the Jews because he could cite them as the harbingers of German failure – largely due to the fact that we were already otherized. In both secular and religious academia, the Holocaust is portrayed as a largely Jewish genocide. Other communities, such as Soviet prisoners of war, ethnic Poles, Serbians, the disabled, and Romani people, are mentioned as secondary victims.

For the most part, this is exactly how the Holocaust should be taught – as a Jewish genocide in which others were also targeted. The issue, however, is the historical omission of a specific community; gay men. Homosexuals were not the direct focus of the Holocaust, but they were exterminated at rates higher that most, and treated worse than nearly every community.

Alongside with the Jews, Hitler and the Nazis saw “the Weimar Republic’s toleration of homosexuals as a sign of Germany’s decadence.”

In their posing as messengers of Christian morality, the Nazis intended to stamp out the “vice” of homosexuality. According to the Nazis, male homosexuals were weak, effeminate and could therefore not represent their pure German state. Male homosexuals also posed a specific risk, as they could not increase the German birthrate. The Nazis believed that inferior races produced more children than “Aryans,” meaning that any community that failed to increase the German birthrate posed a racial danger.

The Nazis therefore saw male homosexuals as immoral, weak, and as reproductive failures. To the Nazis, male homosexuals were the physical embodiment and cause of German degeneration. They believed male homosexuals to be a unique threat to Germany –and they persecuted them as such.

In the Nazi male-dominant society, “the presence of lesbians was not feared,” as Ted Phillips, director of exhibitions at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum puts it, adding “the sex of women was not important, except for being a mother and a wife.”

Between 1933 and 1945, nearly 100,000 men were arrested as homosexuals, while 50,000 of these men were officially sentenced. Nearly 15,000 of these men were sent to concentration camps. A study by leading scholar Rüdiger Lautmann asserts that the death rate of homosexuals may have been as high as 60% — one and a half times higher than that of political prisoners (41%) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (35%).

As the United States National Library of Medicine National Institutes has stated, male homosexuals “were subjected to the harshest conditions and treated as the lowest of the low in the camp hierarchy.”

Male homosexuals were constantly beaten, had their testicles boiled off by water, sodomized by broken broomsticks, and were often utilized by the S.S. as target practice; with these soldiers aiming their shots at the pink triangles gay men were forced to wear. The Nazis also repeatedly utilized gay men for cruel human experimentation.

Although gay men were “the lowest of the low” in the concentration camp hierarchy, this community is often omitted from all Holocaust literature and education. This modern exclusion is the natural evolution of historical revision across Europe.

Although Jews and other groups were given reparations and state pensions, gay men were excluded. In fact, gay men in Germany remained criminals, as the 1935 Nazi-legal change was on the books until 1969. Homosexual holocaust survivors were often re-imprisoned for these “repeat offenses,” even being kept on lists of “sex offenders.” Following the fall of the Nazi government, countless homosexuals were forced to serve further imprisonment, regardless of their time in concentration camps.

Due to global homophobia, the Nazis anti-gay policies were largely ignored by the allied powers, Holocaust historians, and educators up until the 1980s. The allied powers – the U.S., Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union – all had anti-gay, anti-sodomy laws on the books for years following the end of World War II. They therefore saw nothing wrong with Germany retaining such laws following the fall of the Nazi regime.

Since homosexuality was criminalized after the war throughout much of the world, very few gay victims came forward to tell their stories. It wasn’t until 2002 that the German government officially apologized to the gay community. The persecution of gays in the Holocaust is still not considered a genocide by the U.N., as its definition is limited to national, ethnic, racial or religious groups. As Slate puts it, “gay victims of the camps have long been neglected.”

History courses, taught both in my secular schools and in my religious school, failed to mention the persecution of male homosexuals. As a gay Jewish man, I quite literally would have been at the bottom of the Nazi totem pole.

The Holocaust was a Jewish-focused program of genocide, but others were victimized as well. Ignoring male homosexuals – “the lowest of the low” – is dangerous and allows for future persecution.

Concentration camp-style prisons for gay men have recently emerged in the Russian region of Chechnya. These camps are the most recent in a wave of anti-gay violence from Muslim nations across the region. The press secretary for Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, asserted that the report is a lie, claiming that are in no gays in Chechnya – and that if there were, they would be dealt with by their families.

“If there were such people in Chechnya, law-enforcement agencies wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning,” he said.

A gay Holocaust took place in the 1930s and 1940s. It is repeating in Chechnya as we speak. The post-Holocaust denial of homosexuality’s legitimacy and morality has allowed for a world in which countless states, including U.S. allies, have no issue detaining and murdering gays.

The Trump administration’s decision to remove LGBT people from the 2020 census allows for the existence of such a world. By denying our domestic existence, the Trump administration gives the world a green light to both demonize and persecute us without fear. As of writing, the Trump administration and Secretary of State Tillerson has yet to condemn the existence of these concentration camps created exclusively for gay men.

If that sentence doesn’t frighten you, it should. The Trump administration clearly has not learned from our nation’s post-WWII mistakes. In a week where Trump has attacked Syria because of the suffering of “beautiful babies,” his administration’s silence towards an orchestrated program of genocide against innocent gay men is deafening.

Gay men, just like after the Holocaust, are once again being omitted from the global consciousness. We were not considered legitimate victims of the Holocaust until the 1980s. The stories of gay men are still not included in the average Holocaust history class. When we fail to recognize the horrors of the past, we are bound to repeat them.

Chechnya’s concentration camps – the first in Europe since World War II — are a prime example. Gay men are literally being rounded up and sent to concentration camps; all while the western world, as lead by the Trump administration, continues to ignores our existence and turn a blind eye to our current suffering.


(c) 2017 The Huffington Post

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