On September 1, 1935, not long after taking power, the Nazi regime enacted an amended version of Paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code, originally framed in 1871, that defined in more specific terms and punished more harshly “lewd and lascivious” behavior among men. Under this revised law and with the creation of the Reich Special Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion, the number of prosecutions increased sharply, peaking in the years 1937-1939. All total, the Nazis arrested approximately 100,000 gay men and imprisoned about half of those, incarcerating between 5,000 and 15,000 in concentration camps.
Despite these large numbers, known survivors of this ordeal are few, but in the film, Paragraph 175, researcher Klaus Muller, along with film directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, help us hear the voices of a half dozen of these men, along with one lesbian, who together give us a sense of the pain and terror that filled the lives of homosexuals living under the Nazis. Their stories take us from the nearly idyllic community of 1920s Berlin through the rise of Hitler, the vicious and indiscriminate enforcement of Paragraph 175, and the special tortures reserved for those in the camps who wore the pink triangle.
Framed by discreet narration and interspersed with historical footage and photographs, this history is revealed through the survivors' own words ... as well as their silences. For all of those in this film, revisiting these times does not come easily. Until the late 1960s homosexuality remained illegal in Germany, and those imprisoned were not seen as victims of Nazism, but as criminals. Understandably then, these victims' stories remained well-hidden for decades, but even now, Muller's questions could not always dislodge the walls built up around these memories.
For Heinz F. these walls were constructed early, as he returned home after over eight years in and out of camps to find his mother unwilling to acknowledge where he had been. Now over 90, he struggles through tears and deep anguish to reveal his past for the first time.
Pierre Seel, though already the author of his memoirs by the time of this film, remains reluctant to describe the humiliation and torture he endured, but the stories he does tell chill the viewer to the bone.
Karl Gorath shares a photo album with most images removed. “Bad memories,” he offers, as he waves away the camera.
And really, that statement is true of so much of what we learn from Heinz F., Pierre Seel, Gad Beck, Albrecht Becker, Heinz Dormer, and Annette Eick. The Nazi persecution of homosexuals, though not as systematic or comprehensive as that of Jews and Sinti, destroyed the lives of thousands of men. This film attempts, at least, to restore their voices.
Paragraph 175 has won awards from the Sundance, Turin, and Berlin International Film Festivals, as well as numerous gay and lesbian film festivals around the world. A shorter, 54-minute version of the film is available for classroom use under the title, Pink Triangle.
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