In the Fall of 1933, the first transport of homosexuals arrived at Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp in Hamburg, Germany, a small Nazi camp that has an estimated 500 victims. Over the course of the war about 5,000-10,000 homosexuals were killed in concentration camps and an estimated 100,000 were arrested. The basis for sending thousands of innocent people to concentration camps was Article 175 which stated, “An unnatural sex act committed between persons of male sex -- is punishable by imprisonment; the loss of civil rights might also be imposed.” This would later be extended in a way that made the definition of an unnatural sex act vague and up to interpretation by the SS and Gestapo.
The number of charges made for violating Article 175 rose from 853 in 1933 to 8,562 in 1938. Article 175 was never extended to include lesbian relationships as Heinrich Himmler, commander of the SS, didn’t see women as a threat to his ideals. This does not mean that there were no lesbians in the concentration camps, just that there were much fewer. Article 175 remained in the DDR until 1967, and in West Germany until 1969. After the war, homosexuals were not recognized as victims of Nazi persecution. Some American and British lawyers even demanded that homosexuals convicted under Article 175 serve out their full sentences after being released from concentration camps and many were forced to do so. Because of this, people were scared to speak out about what had happened to them. This, in turn, led to very few direct testimonies by homosexuals about their experiences during the Holocaust. It wasn’t until 2002 that the German government issues an official apology to the LGBT community.
Fast forward to 2017 and there are only nine LGBT holocaust memorials around the world in Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt (Germany), Sydney (Australia), San Francisco (California), Tel Aviv (Israel) Amsterdam (Netherlands), Barcelona, and Catalonia (Spain). The first was in Amsterdam in 1987 and the most recent in Tel Aviv in 2014. The Homomonument in Amsterdam is, like many of the monuments, shaped like a large pink triangle with the points leading to other places to visit such as the Anne Frank house. The monument in Tel Aviv, is also in the shape of a pink triangle with an inscription on the side that reads,” In memory of those persecuted by the Nazi regime for their sexual orientation and gender identity,” in English, German, and Hebrew. It is the first in Israel to include both Jewish and non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
In Berlin, the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism sits across the street from the well-known Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It looks ordinary, boring even, at first glance but get closer and look inside. You’ll see a video on loop 24 hours a day 7 days a week, of people kissing. When talking about the decision to make it a video, the artists explained that as long as people are repulsed by gay people kissing something is missing, and that is the basis for video within the monument.
Finally, closer to home in San Francisco is the Pink Triangle Memorial and Park. In the little park on the hillside stands fifteen granite pylons in remembrance of the estimated 15,000 LGBT victims who were persecuted, imprisoned and murdered during and after the Holocaust. Each of the fifteen makeup their own triangle along with the one in the gravel pathway through the small park.
New York itself has a few LGBT monuments and landmarks such as the Stonewall Inn, the Gay Liberation monument, and recently a newly commissioned monument to be installed at Hudson River Park. However, there aren’t any related to the Holocaust. The question that follows is, should there be something in NYC dedicated to LGBT Holocaust victims like there is in San Francisco?
Blog by Kaitlyn McKnight, Class of 2018