8. PERSECUTION AND THE WAR

Hitler's intention to acquire "living space" in lands adjacent to Germany set the nation on the path to war. Before World War II began with the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, more than two million men—including thousands of homosexuals—were called to military service. During the war years, when an estimated 20,000 civilians were convicted under Paragraph 175, more than 7,000 servicemen were also convicted, sentenced to prison, then forced to return to the front.

With the reintroduction in 1935 of conscription for all men ages 18 to 45, Germany's homosexual men became liable for service in the armed forces, the Wehrmacht. The German military code did not bar homosexuals, even convicted homosexuals, from serving in the armed forces. As a result, thousands of homosexual men were drafted to serve a regime that persecuted them as civilians.

Homosexual activity in the military was regulated by §175 and §175a. As huge numbers of men were called up, convictions rose, but the long–held fear that homosexuality would spread as an epidemic through the often–isolated all–male military proved to be unfounded. Still, arrested soldiers faced brutal punishments. Individuals convicted as "incorrigibly homosexual" or for abuse of authority under §175a were discharged, imprisoned, then dispatched to a concentration camp. Those sentenced for having "erred by seduction" served terms in prison and returned to service.

As an option to enduring the notoriously wretched military prisons, men convicted for any but the worst crimes under §175 could petition to join the "cannon-fodder" battalions. Commanders mercilessly used such troops in battles that in most cases were suicide missions.

The war helped to conceal the Nazis' radicalized persecution at home. Eliminating "undesirables" began with selectively murdering the disabled, among whom were individuals institutionalized for their homosexuality. In summer 1940, SS chief Himmler ordered convicted homosexual men "who have seduced more than one partner" sent to concentration camps after completing their prison sentence. Such "preventive detention" could be shortened if the individual underwent castration, either voluntarily or, after 1942, at the order of a camp commandant. A September 1942 agreement between Himmler and the German Minister of Justice led to the transfer of "habitual criminals," including repeat offenders under Paragraph 175, from ministry prisons and penitentiaries to the SS camps.

Himmler's wartime directives sent thousands of homosexuals to forced labor camps. There, in an explicit campaign of "extermination through work," homosexuals and other so–called security suspects were assigned to grueling work in ceaselessly dangerous conditions, often with fatal consequences.


The operating room in the sick-bay building at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. A secret SS decree in November 1942 gave concentration camp commandants the right to order castrations of prisoners in unspecified "special cases," thus authorizing the compulsory castration of incarcerated homosexuals.

Prisoners at forced labor in the "Wiener Graben" quarry at Mauthausen, Austria.

The brickworks near the Sachsenhausen concentration camp outside Berlin. At least 1,000 homosexual men are known to have been held at Sachsenhausen between its opening in 1936 and the end of the war. Many perished from the exertions of grueling labor in the brickworks.

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