LGBTQ+ History and the Holocaust

LGBTQ+ History and the Holocaust

Associate Professor in History Paul Jackson blogs on LGBTQ+ victims of the Holocaust

Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code was established in 1871, and essentially banned male homosexuality. Despite this, by the 1920s Berlin in particular had developed a reputation as a city that turned a blind eye to gay culture, and was progressive by the limited standards of the era. Before coming to power, even Adolf Hitler did not seem overly concerned by homosexual men joining his organisation, though he would later use the issue opportunistically.

After 1933, the Nazi regime’s national revolution sought to overturn any deviation from ‘traditional’ gender identities, and Heinrich Himmler in particular directed much of the persecution of gay men. Lesbianism, meanwhile, was not seen as a major concern, and records suggest few women were arrested for homosexuality. Male sexuality was policed, and before the Second World War around 90,000 men were detained. Persecution increased during the war. Many homosexual men were killed, more involuntary castrated, in concentration camps.

After the war ended, repression did not end as these survivors were still seen as criminals. Paragraph 175 of the criminal code was not abolished until 1994 in Germany. Gay victims of the Nazi genocide received scant academic attention, or public recognition.

Geoffrey J. Giles’s chapter ‘The Persecution of Gay Men and Lesbians During the Third Reich’ in The Routledge History of the Holocaust offers a solid historical overview.

Survivor accounts, such as Pierre Seel’s Liberation was for Others: Memoirs of a Gay Survivor of the Nazi Holocaust, available to borrow for free from the Internet Archive tell the story in uniquely powerful ways.

The full history of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and non-binary people in the Nazi era and after, across Europe, still remains to be told.  

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