BACKGROUND AND TIMELINE
Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945
Between 1933 and 1945, Germany’s National Socialist (Nazi) government under Adolf Hitler used its monopoly of authority to attempt to rid German territory of people who did not fit its vision of a “master Aryan race.” Foremost among the so-called racial enemies, according to the Nazis’ antisemitic ideology, were the Jews. The regime undertook the systematic annihilation of European Jewry, and by the end of the war approximately 6 million Jews had been murdered. Other groups were targeted for destruction or persecution, including Poles, Roma (Gypsies), Soviet POWs, the mentally and physically handicapped, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals. Approximately 5 million of these peoples were also murdered by the Nazis.
Paragraph 175 and Concentration Camps
Paragraph 175 was the German statute prohibiting homosexuality between men. Enacted in 1871 following the unification of the German Empire, its enforcement was sporadic prior to 1933, particularly in urban areas. In 1935, Nazi jurists undertook an extensive overhaul of the German criminal code. Paragraph 175 was re-written to broaden the law’s scope of “indecencies between men” from a narrow interpretation of an intercourse-like act, to include virtually any contact between men deemed to have sexual intent, even “simple looking” or “simple touching.”
The revised law took effect on September 1, 1935. Heinrich Himmler appointed chief of German police the following year pursued it with vigor. Between 1936 and September 1, 1939, the outbreak of World War II, nearly 78,000 men were arrested for violating Paragraph 175. As homosexuality in some cases was deemed a mental illness, some men were institutionalized. Others were forced to choose between “voluntary” castration and imprisonment. Hundreds more were interned in concentration camps outside the legal process.
The severity of the persecution of homosexuals increased after the war’s outbreak. In July 1940, Himmler directed that any convicted homosexual who “seduced more than one partner” be sent to a concentration camp after completing his prison sentence to prevent the homosexual “contagion” from spreading. After 1942, the SS embarked on an explicit program of “extermination through work” to destroy Germany’s “habitual criminals.” Some 15,000 prisoners, including homosexuals, were sent from prisons to concentration camps, where nearly all perished within months.
Those “175ers” sent to concentration camps were often subjected to physical and sexual abuse by camp guards and fellow inmates. Most camps employed a prisoner identification system based on colored patches, often triangles. Those incarcerated under Paragraph 175 wore pink triangles, making them easily identifiable by other inmates. Fearing guilt-by-association, already prejudiced fellow prisoners shunned them, leaving them isolated and powerless within the prisoner hierarchy.
After World War II
Following Germany’s defeat, most Nazi-era laws were revoked, but the revisions to Paragraph 175 remained in effect. Under Allied occupation, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment regardless of time served in concentration camps. Homosexuals were specifically denied compensation as victims of National Socialism. Paragraph 175 was not revised again until 1969 when the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) decriminalized homosexual relations between men over age 21. In 1994, Germany abolished Paragraph 175 and recently pardoned those convicted under the statute during the Nazi era.
The following timeline outlines the history of Paragraph 175 and the Nazis’ policy toward homosexuals.
• 1871 – Germany, under Kaiser Wilhelm I, outlaws acts of “unnatural indecency” between men illegal under criminal law section 175, commonly referred to as “Paragraph 175” (§ 175).
• 1877 – German Supreme Court of Justice narrowly defines “unnatural indecency” as an “intercourse-like act,” making arrests and convictions of homosexuals relatively difficult.
• 1932 – Berlin city leaders enforce public morality laws to close bars and clubs catering to homosexual audiences.
• January 1933 – Adolf Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany. Within a few months, the Nazi party controls the country.
• May 6, 1933 – Nazi student groups and sympathizers ransack Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science, Berlin’s most visible symbol of sexual reform. Hirshfeld, a Jewish homosexual physician, was one of Germany’s leading advocates of civil rights for homosexuals. Four days later, much of his institute’s library was destroyed in a public book burning.
• June 8, 1933 and November 1934 – The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee and the Human Rights League, both homosexual rights organizations, are dissolved.
• June 30, 1934 – “The Night of Long Knives.” Ernst Röhm, leader of the Nazi Storm Troopers (SA) since 1930, is falsely charged with plotting to overthrow Hitler, along with other Nazis and political opponents. Röhm’s homosexuality is publicly linked to his alleged treasonous politics, and he is executed.
• October 1934 – The Gestapo, headed by Heinrich Himmler, instructs all police departments to gather information about homosexual men and forward it to Gestapo headquarters. After 1935, men convicted under §175 can “voluntarily” undergo castration to “free themselves” from their “degenerate sex drive.”
• June 28, 1935 – Nazi authorities publish their revised §175. Subsequent judicial interpretations expand the range of punishable “indecencies between men.”
• October 10, 1936 – By secret decree Himmler establishes within his criminal police bureau the Reich Central Office for Combating Homosexuality and Abortion.
• September 1, 1939 – Germany invades Poland. World War II begins.
• July 1940 – Himmler directs officers of the Criminal Police that homosexuals convicted under §175 who are known to have had more than one partner are to be sent directly to a concentration camp after their release from prison.
• November 1942 – Secret SS decree gives concentration camp commandants the right to order the castration of incarcerated homosexuals.
• 1943 – Beginning in 1943 the SS, in agreement with the Ministry of Justice, embark upon an explicit program of “extermination through work” to destroy Germany’s “habitual criminals” in concentration camps, including homosexuals.
• May 7, 1945 – Nazi Germany surrenders to Allied forces.
• Post 1945 – Paragraph 175 remains in effect and some homosexuals liberated from concentration camps are transferred to German prisons to serve the remainder of their sentences.
• June 1956 – The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) Reparation Law for Victims of National Socialism declares that internment in a concentration camp for homosexuality disqualified an individual from receiving compensation.
• 1969 – In West Germany, Paragraph 175 is revised to decriminalize homosexual relations between men over the age of 21.
• May 8, 1985 – Homosexuals murdered by the Nazis receive their first public acknowledgement in a speech by West German President Richard von Weizsäcker.
• 1994 – Germany abolishes §175.
• 2002 – German Parliament pardons homosexuals convicted by the Nazis under §175.