University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


  • Genocide of Homosexuals

    Genocide of Homosexuals

    Porter - Homosexuals, Genocide of in the Holocaust
    October 10, 1998

    Homosexuals, Genocide of in the Holocaust

    There were many kinds of victims in the Nazi camps. Different groups wore different triangles, and different triangles denoted different "crimes." Jews wore yellow stars but also red triangles  political triangles. One of the biggest groups consisted of Germans who were made to wear black triangles, meaning saboteurs. Green triangles were worn by murderers. There were other triangles or strips for Jehovah's Witnesses, vagrants, emigrants, Gypsies, "race defiler (male)," "race defiler (female)," escape suspects, special inmates, repeaters (those who were incarcerated more than once), and members of armed forces. A bewildering array of stigmatization.

    Holocaust research in general is difficult, but for research on homosexuals the problems multiply. First, the data that exist are often unreliable, and primary data are scant and inadequate. Many records were lost or destroyed. Complete reports are hard to find. Even after the war, "homosexual" was still a dirty word; paragraphs 175 and 175a of the 1935 Nazi revision of the longexisting German law proscribing homosexual acts remained in force until June 1969 when much of paragraph 175 and all of 175a were abolished. Gay men (and women) were thus stigmatized for many years after the war. Unlike Jews and other victims, they could not receive wiedergutmachung (restitution) payments, since West German courts decreed that gays had been criminals under the Nazis and thus not eligible for such payments. Furthermore, under the Nuremberg Laws in which genocide was defined after the war, the killing of homosexuals was not considered a crime against humanity or a war crime. In addition, gay men and women who wished to emigrate from Europe afer World War 11 had to keep their sexual identity secret because many nations, including the United States, enforced laws that forbade homosexuals from immigrating or even visiting those countries. For all these reasons, it was very difficult to find and interview gay survivors of the Holocaust. Some scholars have also been homophobic on the subject, either overlooking homosexuals or simply dismissing them.

    In the 1930's, there began in Germany a persecution of male homosexuals that was, like that of Jews, the worst in their respective histories. Lesbians, since they could contine to breed children, presented no practical reproductive problems to the Nazi state.

    The Nazis' murder of some homosexuals started earlier than that of the Jews with the murders of Ernest Roehm and other brown shirts in his paramilitary group known as the SA, although the major reason for these murders was to eliminate a potentially rival force to the SS. Roehm was a major Nazi leader, second only to Hitler as they rose to power in the 20's and early 30's. He and his cadre of "brownshirts" were homosexuals, which was not a problem at the beginning for Hitler, but later did prove an embarrassment and a threat. Roehm and other SA leaders were murdered without warning in a famous blood purge which was led by Himmler and other SS officers at the instigation of Hitler and began on June 30, 1934, which has been called "The Night of Long Knives."

    In writing about the Holocaust, the "gay genocide" has often been either a taboo subject too delicate to touch upon, a topic obscured by other issues, or simply omitted. However there are wellresearched books  for example, John Lauritsen and David Thorstad, The Early Homosexual Rights Movement: 18641935 [New York: Times Change Press, 19741; Heinz Heger, The Men with the Pink Triangle [Boston: Alyson Publications, 19801. Richard Plant's, The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals is one of the most outstanding, clearly and eloquently written.

    Controversy surrounds every aspect of this genocide, even the label "genocide." Since gays could "pass" (unlike Jews or Gypsies), most survived the war. If they remained celibate or "in the closet," they could elude the Nazis and survive. Because they were difficult to detect, a considerable number were never rounded up. Thus, there are strong arguments not to call this a genocide.

    On the other hand, there are strong arguments for this to be seen as a genocide: first, the stigmatization of homosexuals as "vermin," "plague," "cancerous ulcer," and "a tumor' is racist and the kind of dehumanization that enables genocide to occur. Under Himmler's direction, the ferocity of attack gained impetus to seek out and destroy or sterilize every homosexual the Nazis could find. By the United Nations definition, these acts of sterilization fall under the category of limiting births, thus genocide. It is not an easy decision, but overall I personally adopt a nongenocide label, though it could fall under the rubric of what I would call genocidal acts. As for a planned, systematic genocide, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that there was none. Gays were victims of the Third Reich and therefore belong in any Holocaust museum, but I would conclude that gays were victims of a genocidal mentality, and not of outright genocide. [See DEFINITION OF GENOCIDE for more on controversies in defining genocide, including the differing opinion of the editor of the EncyclopediaEd.]

    Overall, we can estimate the number of males convicted of homosexuality from 19331944 at between 50,000 to 63,000. The number of homosexuals incarcerated in the Nazi concentration camps is not known, much less the number who died there. Rudiger Lautmann in his Gesellschaft und Homosexualitat: Seminar [Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 19771, whose figures are used by Plant and other writers, estimates that somewhere between 5,000 to 15,000 homosexuals perished behind the barbedwire fences. These were victims who were labeled and processed as homosexuals. A figure of about 10,000 homosexuals is the one accepted by most scholars (although figures are thrown about wildly and estimates run as high as Jean Boisson's one million dead.) Gay leaders and writers insist on higher figures in order to legitimate their claim of special pleading. Yet, why indeed are 10,000 killed less tragic than one million? In the aftermath of the Holocaust, numbers themselves seem to lose their significance. In any case, the major Holocaust institution in the USA, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, recognizes the "gay genocide."

    Did Hitler despise homosexuals? Was he ashamed of his own homosexual or asexual identity? These are areas of psychohistory that are beyond known knowledge. My own feelings are that Hitler was asexual in the traditional sense and had bizarre sexual fetishes. All these things were of course kept highly secret from the German people. But there were other political considerations. Perhaps Hans Peter Bleuel [Sex and Society in Nazi Germany, New York: Lippincott, 19731 summarizes the issue best: "Hitler's misgivings about homosexuality stemmed primarily from selfinterest. His objection to it as a vice or symptom of effeminacy was only secondary. The main danger, as he saw it, was that it would infiltrate the political leadership and constitute itself a secret Order of the Third Sex. He was also concerned at the thought that population growth might be curbed by the heterosexual abstinence of those affected."

    The Nazi purge of homosexuals from their own ranks was only the beginning. On June 23, 1935, the first anniversary of the Roehm killings, the Nazis began a legal campaign against homosexuals by adding to paragraph 175 another law, 175a, which created ten new criminal offenses including kisses between men, embraces, even homosexual fantasies. The Gestapo and the SS, under the notoriously antihomosexual leadership of Heinrich Himmler, became involved in a steppedup campaign to work gays to death in the camps. Himmler is quoted as follows: "Just as we today have gone back to the ancient Germanic view of the question of marriage mixing different races, so too in our judgment of homosexuality  a symptom of degeneracy that could destroy our race  we must return to the guiding Nordic principle: extermination." Reich Legal Director, Hans Frank, commented on the new penal code: "Particular attention should be addressed to homosexuality, which is clearly expressive of a disposition opposed to the normal national community ... Homosexual behavior, in particular, merits no mercy."

    Jack Nusan Porter


    Lautmann, Ruediger (1990). Gay Prisoners in concentration camps as compared with Jehovah's Witnesses and Political Prisoners. In Berenbaum, Michael (Ed.), A Mosaic of Victims: NonJews Persecuted and Murdered by the Nazis. New York: New York University Press, pp. 200206

    Plant, Richard (11986). The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals. New York: Henry Holt.

    Porter, Jack Nusan (1998). Sexual Politics in Nazi Germany: The Persecution of the Homosexuals during the Holocaust. Newton, MA: The Spencer Press.

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