Germany's homosexuals felt the impact of the new regime within weeks of Adolf Hitler's appointment as chancellor. In February 1933 police and Storm Troopers began enforcing February orders to shut same–sex bars and clubs and to stop the sale of all publications with sexual content. During the next several months, most gathering places for homosexual men and women closed, fundamentally disrupting their public lives.

Collage on the closing of gay and lesbian bars in Berlin, from Vienna newspaper Der Notschrei (The Cry for Help), March 4, 1933.

On May 6, 1933, Nazi student groups and sympathizers ransacked Magnus Hirschfeld's Institute for Sexual Science, Berlin's most visible symbol of sexual reform. Four days later, much of the institute's unique library was destroyed as part of a public book burning to destroy the "un–German spirit." Hirschfeld, then in Paris at the end of a three–year world tour, became an exile. His Scientific–Humanitarian Committee and other sexual rights organizations stopped their work in Germany.

Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935), a Jewish homosexual physician and internationally known sexologist, co-founded the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee in 1897 to advocate civil rights for Germany's homosexuals. For more than 30 years, Hirschfeld wrote articles, published journals, and gave public lectures in an effort to explain homosexuality and eliminate Paragraph 175. Berlin, 1928.

At Berlin's Opernplatz, the burning of books and other printed materials considered "un-German" by members of the SA and students from universities and colleges in Berlin. Germany, May 10, 1933.

Books on a truck before the May 10, 1933, book burning (note photo of Magnus Hirschfeld, center left).

The state's initial steps to restore law and order focused on professional criminals and "habitual sex offenders." The second category included not only men with two convictions under Paragraph 175, but also men expected "with a high degree of probability" to violate that law. Regulations issued in February 1934 ordered police surveillance of these individuals and authorized restrictions on their activities.

Police observation photograph of the Cascade Bar, Berlin, May 1938, from the files of the Gestapo's Special Section that handled homosexuality matters.

In October 1934, the Gestapo moved to gather information about homosexual men. Telegrams to all local police departments ordered that new or existing lists of men suspected of being homosexually active in their districts be forwarded to Gestapo Special Section II–1 in Berlin. A subsequent telegram requested that the lists indicate political affiliation, particularly membership in the Nazi Party.

The Berlin Gestapo radio-telegram for lists of suspected active homosexuals, as transcribed by the Police Radio Service for the chief of police in Dortmund, October 24, 1934. A week later, the Gestapo sought each suspect's date and place of birth; place of residence; occupation; membership in the Nazi Party or in a Nazi organization, including date joined and level of service; and "whether the person has been convicted by a court of homosexual activity or whether there have only been incidents."

The increasing police interest in the lives of homosexual men drove a few to emigrate where they could. The vast majority, however, began to conceal their homosexuality; many married. Others committed suicide.

Among the personal responses to the growing police attention to individual homosexual's lives was the "protective marriage" to give the appearance of conformity. Paul Otto (left) married the woman behind him with her full knowledge that his long-time partner was Harry (right). Berlin, 1937.


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