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The Forgotten Victims of the Holocaust

Olivia Marshall

Monday, 17 June 2024

With the arrival of Pride Month, Olivia reflects on those throughout history who have suffered due to their sexual orientation. Gay men living under National Socialism are often forgotten when remembering those who were persecuted by the Nazis.

CW: mentions of the Holocaust and homophobia

The gay scene flourished in the Weimar Republic in the late 1800s, despite the introduction of Paragraph 175 into German law in 1871 to prohibit sexual acts between men. The government almost repealed the law and ordered the police not to enforce it, meaning that Berlin had over 100 gay bars and until 1933, Germany was the country with the largest public gay population in the world.


Under National Socialism (1933-1945), Paragraph 175 was made stricter, and the most severe prison sentence was increased to 10 years. The Nazis shut down gay bars and meeting spots, and in 1936, a Reich Office was founded to combat homosexuality. The Nazis saw homosexuality in men as a disease and believed that it was a threat to Germany’s birth rate. On the other hand, they believed that lesbians could easily be persuaded or forced to bear children and thus carry on the German race. Male homosexuality went against the ideals of virility and masculinity that were at the heart of the Nazi regime, but that didn’t apply to lesbians, meaning they weren’t considered to be such a threat.


During National Socialism, over 100,000 gay men were arrested, around 50,000 of whom were sentenced to prison. In some cases, detained men could be released early if they agreed to be castrated. During this period, prosecutions increased tenfold.


Between 5,000 and 15,000 gay men were sent to concentration camps. In the camps, the Nazis used different coloured triangles on prisoners’ uniforms to easily identify why they were imprisoned. Gay men were given a pink triangle, which has since been reclaimed as a symbol of the LGBT liberation movement. It is said that gay prisoners were treated more harshly than any other group and they were often beaten by other prisoners because of their pink triangle. They worked longer hours than other prisoners and were subjected to more physical labour. This is because the Nazis believed that hard work would make them heterosexual. The Nazis also experimented on the gay men imprisoned in the camps to attempt to ‘turn’ them heterosexual. These experiments included testosterone injections, castration, and forced visits to prostitutes. Two thirds of gay men sent to concentration camps died – a far higher figure than the average mortality rate in the camps.


After being released from the camps, most men did not talk about their experiences. As Paragraph 175 had not been changed, they were still considered criminals, and many even had to serve prison sentences immediately after their release from concentration camps. Paragraph 175 was not relaxed until 1968 in East Germany and 1969 in West Germany and was not fully repealed until 1994. Germany did not recognise gay prisoners as victims of the Nazis, and they were therefore not entitled to reparations like other victims were. The victims could not speak out for fear of being arrested again up until the point where homosexuality was legalised, but even then, they feared being judged due to public opinion. Many survivors died before homosexuality became more accepted in society and so didn’t have a chance to share their stories.


With changing perceptions around being gay, these victims are being commemorated more, and a memorial dedicated to them opened in Berlin in 2008. However, they are still not as known about and talked about as other groups of Holocaust victims. During Pride Month, it is important to reflect upon those who were and still are oppressed for their sexuality, and to remember the gay men who were persecuted and imprisoned under National Socialism.

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The Forgotten Victims of the Holocaust

Olivia Marshall

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Barbara Dawson

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Lovely tasty dish. Try it you won’t be disappointed.

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Aunty Liz

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Very tasty and cheap. I often have this for tea!

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BETTS

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Being a bilingual family (French mother and British father,) living in France I thought your article was extremely interesting . Have you research on bilingualism ? It seems that when the mother is British and the father French and they both live in France their children seem to be more bilingual than when the mother is French and the father is British . This is what we called mother tongue , isn't it ?

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Niamh

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Such an interesting article!

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