Paragraph 175 - Lessons of the Silent Shame
The Pink Triangle - Emblem Of Shame
Paragraph 175 - Lost Human Dignity
Imagine the unimaginable. Your greatest fear has come to life. You have been arrested by the Nazis, herded with thousands of others into a cattle cars that would normally transport cattle to slaughter, you barely have room enough to breathe, and your destination is a German concentration camp. There are others crammed in there with you, friends, neighbors, most painful of all, your family. You arrive to all the horrors that our history books have shown us - the savage guard dogs baring their fangs with obvious desire to maim, the glaring and screaming, compassionless Nazi guards, the sounds of horrified children crying uncontrollably, the sight of people being beaten and shot for not moving fast enough. The nightmare is unfathomable, unending and indescribable, your mind becoming overcome with absolute stark terror. People move in uncontrollable bursts of anxiety, some driven to madness on the spot. You have watched helplessly as your wailing mother and your hysterical younger sister were taken to gas chambers, eliminated by Hitler’s campaign to exterminate the Jews. With no ability to hug them, or even say good-bye without so much as a parting touch, you saw your grandparents taken to the ovens where thousands of people met their deaths on a daily basis. You will walk on their ashes often, as the grounds are covered with the constant and never-ending rain of ash from those are cremated daily. You are one of the “lucky” ones, selected to work at hard labor, the only key to survival in the death camps, but you are barely fed, barely clothed, seldom warm and exposed to many illnesses and diseases. You watch with repressed emotions as your friends succumb to the mind-boggling atrocities, and you watch emotionless, lest you, yourself, are singled out for the same fate, as they are murdered by the Nazis in full view of the camp prisoners. Somehow, through whatever miracle, you survive to see the day when Allied troops liberate your concentration camp. These Allied soldiers are shocked and horrified at your appearance, because from all of the prolonged dehumanizing depravations, you have been reduced to nothing more than a walking skeleton. You watch as everyone is freed from this hell you have endured... and then it happens. You, yes you, are singled out, the only one, and you are placed back in prison...because of Paragraph 175...because of the pink triangle that you were forced to wear in shame the entire time you were in the concentration camp. Because you are homosexual, you will remain in prison.
Homosexuals Were Forced To Remain In Prison
Of all who were liberated and released from the infamous German concentration camps, only homosexuals were forced to remain in prison. Sadly, very sadly, life for them would never be the same again, and they lived their remaining lives in secret and shame. Decades later, a few broke their silence and came forward to denounce the sorrows inflicted upon them by the infamous Paragraph 175. Here are some of their memories.
A Rising Ominous Black Cloud
Under the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, we had a good life. People understood that sexual orientation was no cause for discrimination. Even though Paragraph 175, the German law against homosexuals written in the 19th century was still on the books, no one paid it any mind. After all, this was the Weimar Republic, and we were a great country, free from such things as anti-homosexual bigotry. The homosexual gathering places were everywhere, and some of the most famous clubs were attended by heterosexuals and homosexuals alike, such was our national unity, the equality afforded to all. But in the early thirties, there was political unrest in our country, and there was an ominous dark cloud on the horizon that many of us refused to believe could grow into the hurricane that it did—Hitler and the Nazis. Then, it all began to change rapidly, like a thunderclap announcing an impending storm. January 30, 1933, the very thing we all hoped would be prevented by the common sanity of our German people...happened! Adolph Hitler was made Chancellor of Germany by our President, Paul von Hindenberg. We had watched Hitler’s campaign, his rise to prominence, and ultimately, his amalgamation of power. The German people were extremely frustrated with dismal economic conditions, the wounds of having lost the Great War, and the still-painful wounds caused by the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler took advantage of this national mood. He was very charismatic, and he charmed his audiences everywhere he spoke. “Trust me,” he would say. “I will make Germany great again.” “I have the solutions,” he promised. But we never knew what those “solutions” were. We only heard his repeated promises of making Germany great again. Many people wanted to believe that he was the answer, they were so desperate, but the day would come when those who voted for him would greatly regret their decision. By then, however, it would be too late. In the election of July 1932, the Nazis won 230 governmental seats; together with the Communists, the next largest party, they made up over half of the Reichstag. Von Hindenburg had no choice. Now, Hitler began to consolidate his control over our country. What we had tried to prevent, by supporting the Weimar Republic, was now steamrolling over Germany.
Ernst Röhm And His Sturmabteilung - Storm Troopers
Hitler outlawed all homosexual and lesbian organizations and meeting places, and the raids by brown-shirted Nazis began. Over the years, I had seen more and more of my friends disappear...Jewish friends, homosexual friends. I and my other friends became more and more frightened. We were so afraid of drawing attention to our very existence, that, in order not to mutually incriminate ourselves, we decided to pretend that we did not know each other. We would completely ignore each other in the streets when passing by. If we met at all, it was in private. It was now too dangerous to meet in public. Raids on homosexual clubs and bars were becoming more frequent. The Nazis would raid the club, and everyone would be rounded up and taken away, never to be seen or heard from again. The horror was growing with each passing day. Our hope was that politically savvy homosexuals would succeed in getting our country to resume common sense, to return us to the normalcy of the years prior to this growing nightmare. After all, Hitler’s right-hand man, Ernst Röhm, co-founder of the Sturmabteilung, the SA, or Brown Shirts as we called them, was himself homosexual, and we felt that such a powerful figure would never allow this nightmare to grow any further than it already had. Surely Ernst Röhm would come to our rescue. He had Hitler’s trust, he had Hitler’s ear, and he was Hitler’s good friend. We knew that he would eventually put a stop to all this.
Night Of The Long Knives
Hitler began to do away with politics and replace it with a supposedly unified state. The Nazi party would be the only system, and Hitler then began to order a rapid expansion of the state police, called the Gestapo. The Gestapo, under the direction of Hermann Goering, worked relentlessly to stamp out any resistance to Hitler and his ideals. May 6, 1933, Nazi student groups and sympathizers in Berlin raided Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science, ransacking and destroying everything. Four days later, they publicly burned his books. Dr. Hirschfeld was Jewish and homosexual. Fortunately, he was out of the country at the time and never returned, but this event sent more ominous chills down our spines. We could sense that more was coming. And it did. June 29, 1934, “Nacht der langen Messer,” “Night of the Long Knives,” fearing that Ernst Röhm was going to betray him, Hitler had him murdered along with many of his fellow SA officers. Our “savior at the top” was gone. No one would stop Hitler now from killing all of us. Hitler then ordered that all homosexuals were to be expelled from the military.
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
In 1935, Hitler had Paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code revised so that all homosexuals would be guilty of crimes against the state and worthy of prison. Where only a few years earlier, we were treated as fellow citizens with equal respect, now, because we were homosexuals, we were being hunted like dogs, enemies in our own land, people without a country, without a soul, without an identity. We were forced to deny who we were in every way possible. We could not show our love for our partners, lest someone see us and turn us in. No touching hands, no momentary loving caresses, no kiss good-bye...we could not even stare at one another for too long lest someone suspect that we were more than just friends. And if someone who was heterosexual made a pass at one of us, our partners had to endure and look away, as if nothing was amiss. Broken hearts had to be silent. I survived by completely disappearing. I became so good at denying who I was, that I no longer had meaning and value. I took a job as a servant and faded away. In 1933, Hitler had built the first of the concentration camps at Dachau, and the first homosexuals to be arrested were sent there. Homosexuals charged under Paragraph 175 were held in “schutzhaft, “protective custody,” in prisons, but there was nothing “protective” about their treatment at all. Being taken away by the SA and sent to any of these concentration camps was a one-way ticket to hell. In 1936, Hitler had Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp built, and this camp would eventually house more than 200,000 prisoners. A moment’s betrayal of the truth could mean the death camps. I continued to hide, yet, with all of that effort to disappear, to blend in, to simply survive until all of this passed, the nightmare finally came for me, too. I was arrested and sent to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp!
Closing The Clubs & Bars
Meeting Places Are Raided
A few days before I was arrested, I remember walking past the entrance to the subway tunnel of the Hamburg S-Bahn between Dammtor station and the main station, and someone had written on the wall there, “Street of the Lost.” I had so often enjoyed the company of my fellow homosexuals there at the joyous bars and restaurants that catered to our crowd. All gone! All silent! Death and fear were in the air. Like a warning finger from some fatalist witch, we were indeed becoming “the Lost.” Those words haunted me now, as I was standing there in that cold and extremely cramped cattle car on the terribly long train ride to Sachsenhausen. Indeed, I was lost. I may as well have been dead. I have never felt such fear and dread. No one with compassion, no one with a kind word, no one to tell me that I would be alright...and there would be no waking up to find that this was all just a bad dream. It was real, and the horrors were just beginning. I learned that my good friend, Gustav, had been caught by the Nazis, and they had beaten him to near death so that he would give up names. My name was among five others that they forced out of him. His torture was so indescribably severe, and I stood there wondering if it had been me, would I have chosen death rather than this. I had no answers. These raids on the apartments and homes of homosexuals meant that even address books were used to round up people. Without a trial, without a chance to defend yourself, without ever seeing your family to say good-bye, you were taken away to a fate that was worse than death, and in many cases, to a death that was already waiting for you.
The Tracks To Hell
Homosexuals Were Castrated
I spoke with one other man on the train with me, my only conversation, if you could call it that, such was my horror and deepening sorrow. At times we would just stare ahead, but sometimes, we would find the need to talk, as if this talking would numb the pain of isolation that was engulfing our hearts. He told me that he had heard of the offer from SS doctor Heinrich Himmler that all homosexual men who would volunteer to undergo castration to free themselves from their “degenerate sex drives” would be set free. He, like so many others, out of horrific fear and over-whelming desperation, had gone to be castrated only to find that this was some cruel and sadistic joke on the part of Himmler, who still had them arrested and sent off to the concentration camps.
The Cattle Cars
A Horror To Never Forget
I will not prolong the horrible memories of my time in Sachsenhausen by recalling everything I endured during the years that I was a prisoner there. We were forced to wear a large “rosa winkel,” “pink triangle,” so that everyone would know that we were homosexuals. We were treated as the lowest of the lowest. While other prisoners had to wear similar types of emblems to identify their “crimes,” our pink triangles were made larger than the other symbols, because the Nazis wanted to make sure that no one could miss our crime—being homosexual. We were called queers constantly, and no one wanted to associate with us, lest they bring greater pain and suffering on themselves. This shameful ostracizing, in itself, only deepened our sense of isolation and sorrow, caused us to lose all self-respect and any remaining sense of self-worth. One winter day, I was forced to stand outside the barracks in the snow, completely naked, while the Nazi guards poured cold water over my body repeatedly. I had seen others die from this, and I knew I was going to go, too, but the guards miraculously became involved with a crisis in the camp, and they forgot to come back. On the verge of passing out, I was so cold, I was barely able to crawl back into my barracks where I fell into a deep sleep that, for that all too brief moment, took me away from all of that misery. Later, I was tortured and humiliated by having broken rulers shoved into my anus while the Nazis called me “arschficker,” leaving me with medical problems that never left me. But, of all the horrors, I think the worst memory was when my dear friend Heinrik arrived. We were both so young then, and he and I had been lovers back when we were in school together. Though the persecution of the Nazis had caused us to separate and never see each other again, I never forgot my love for this handsome man, and I often wondered if he ever thought of me that way, too. Thus, it was shocking to see my beloved Heinrik being dragged before our assembled group of prisoners. I was torn with so many tortuous thoughts, so much emotion that was screaming to be revealed, and suffocating in the fear that my face would break and cause me to be shot immediately. When had he arrived? Had he been here all along? How had I missed the man I had always loved? I never got to tell him how much I still loved him. We were often forced to watch as the Nazis would drag some poor individual before us and execute him on the spot as a way to remind us that we could be next. Any display of emotion would result in your being pulled out and dealt the same fate. Not a word could be spoken, not even a sigh. Nothing! You watched in silent horror at all times. These executions were always torturing to watch, but nothing prepared me for this sight. This was Heinrik! This was my lover from my school days and beyond, the man I would have lived with for the rest of my days, and here he was, young Heinrik, bound and naked, trembling with indescribable fear. Adding indignity, the guards placed a tin bucket over his head so that his screams would be amplified. Then, they unleashed their savage dogs on him. These wild animals tore at him mercilessly and without ceasing. I watched and prayed silently that Heinrik would faint, pass out, and not feel the indescribable pain that these ferocious dogs were inflicting. Tears rolled down my face, despite the fear that showing even that emotion would have me dragged out there and put through the same agonizing death. My soul ached to run to his side and die with him, yet, a shame that I will never outlive, the rest of my body was frozen in horror and unable to move. I was frozen in terror, and Heinrik was eaten by these dogs! All these many years later, I still have nightmares of this event that cause me to wake up screaming at those dogs to stop!
Prisoners Wearing The Pink Triangle
The Memories, The Tattoo
In the days, weeks, months and years that followed, I saw friends and loved ones sent to be gassed, told that they would be taking a shower only to find that they had been lied to and were going to their horrifying deaths. My lesbian friend, Henny Schermann, and her lover, Mary Punjer, were arrested in the raid of a lesbian bar in 1940 and taken to Ravensbruck. In 1942, they were gassed to death in the Bernburg Nursing Home near Dessau, this facility having been converted into a death facility by that time, such was the need by Hitler to speed up the Final Solution. I saw friends taken to the crematories when they could no longer endure the slave-like conditions. I witnessed thousands of people being cremated daily, the smoke from the chimneys leaving ash so deep on the grounds that it would stick to your feet when it rained. I could describe more horrors than you can imagine, but I, myself, cannot stand to recall them anymore. The nightmares are still with me in my nightly dreams. I only have to look at the serial number tattooed on my forearm to remember where I was and what I went through. That tattoo will always be there, and so will the ghastly memories.
Lesbian Henny Schermann - Gassed In Bernbau
Reduced To Walking Skeletons
The Long Journey Home
In 1944, the long nightmare of the Nazi concentration camps began to end as the Liberation swept across Europe, and the Allies brought an end to the Nazi machine. Eventually, all of the camps were seized by the Allies and shut down, the prisoners were freed...at least those who could still walk. Thousands were so weak that they continued to die, even as the Allies tried desperately to rescue them with medical attention. What many do NOT know is that of all the people who were incarcerated in these concentration camps, the only ones NOT released were us, the homosexuals. Because of Paragraph 175, all who had been placed in these camps had to serve out the sentence that this barbaric penal code had inflicted upon them. And the disgrace did not end there. Once we were finally freed from prison, many of us could not find work, because we were so stigmatized by our ordeal that we were ostracized by the public. Our pensions were reduced by having the time that we were in prison taken from what we would have otherwise been paid. And after the war, while others who had been imprisoned were being assisted to rebuild their lives, just the opposite happened to those of us who had been imprisoned for being homosexual. Many homosexuals tried to escape the stigma by becoming anonymous, by trying painfully to blend in, even to marry to hide their true identities. Some joined the army as the only way to escape, the only way to make a living. I found a job at a bank, but after a year, someone found out about my time in the concentration camps for being homosexual, and I was fired with great fanfare. For all of us homosexuals, life became an even greater hell, because even our own families wanted nothing to do with us, the ultimate betrayal. They felt that we had shamed them. What irony! To add to the indignities, in the Nuremburg war crime trials of 1945, while all these Nazis were being tried for crimes against Jews and others, there was never one word of contempt for what they did to us, the homosexuals. Our lives did not matter. Even the notorious SS doctor, Carl Peter Vaernet, who conducted gruesome experiments on homosexuals at Buchenwald and Neuengamme, was never tried. While I struggled to find a life again, to be able to feed, shelter and clothe myself again, he lived the life of luxury and died a free man in South America in 1965! I would never be free again. Though I was no longer in prison, Paragraph 175 had made a prison of our society, poisoning the minds of everyone. The world of peace, love and unity that I had known as a young man was never to be again...a least not for me.
Love, compassion, honor, human dignity...all of these took time to work together. In 1994, Germany finally abolished Paragraph 175. In 1995, eight homosexual survivors broke their silence and came together to issue a collective declaration demanding judicial and moral recognition of their persecution. January 1999, at the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Germany held it's first ever official memorial service for the homosexual victims of the Nazis. In December of 2000, the German government issued an apology for the prosecution of homosexuals in Germany after 1949 and agreed to recognize gays as victims of the Third Reich. Survivors were encouraged to come forward (before end of 2001) and claim compensation for their treatment during the Holocaust. May 17, 2002, German justice minister, Hertha Daeubler-Gmelin, announced an official pardon.
Shame Drove The Unending Silence
Closing thoughts. Someone wisely said that those who forget history are prone to repeat its mistakes. There are many who think that the atrocities of the German Nazi era are exaggerated, and there are even those who deny any of it took place at all, such is the lunacy, such is the paucity of education, of this world. It all happened, all of it, and we as human beings can make this a better world by never forgetting, by forever educating...or we can do it all over again. Such is human nature when it is allowed to sink to lower levels, as opposed to being encouraged to higher. Years ago, I saw the debut of the incredibly moving documentary, “Paragraph 175.” At that time, I felt that such events could never happen again, because Germany had changed, the world had learned from the mistakes of Germany’s atrocities, and we were in a more enlightened age. But, of late, I have begun to wonder. I see the conditions of pre-Nazi Germany arising in the world again, the unemployment, the control of wealth by the few, the unrest of youth looking for Pied Pipers and false dreams of greatness without inclusion of others, the willingness of those who seek power to scapegoat innocent people for their own political goals. There is a confluence of hate happening that all can see, and like flood waters to a dam, if the dam that is love and peace does not hold back the onslaught, great sorrow will engulf us once again. Just here in the United States, remarks and actions that would be worthy of Adolph Hitler are not getting the backlash they deserve. Here are a few of them to remind you that we are not safe from the ghosts of Paragraph 175.
Recently, leading Republican presidential candidates, Senator Ted Cruz, Governor Mike Huckabee, Governor Bobby Jindal and Dr. Ben Carson, were scheduled to speak at a religious-right conference in Iowa whose organizer, “Reverend” Kevin Swanson, says the government should put gays to death. Religious fanatic Kevin Swanson has a long history of espousing violence towards gays, and his audience is growing. All of these politicians, with the exception of Dr. Carson, showed up for the conference which was attended by nearly 2,000 people.
Rick Wiles, host of the End Time program “Trunews,” suggested that California’s drought was because of homosexuals. He also said that the ruling in favor of gay marriage would bring pain and suffering in this country at a level we’ve never seen, that there would be riots, or looting, or war on American soil.
Regarding the recent deadly Amtrak crash, American Family Radio host, Sandy Rios, who serves as the American Family Association’s governmental affairs director, said that homosexuality may have been a factor, because, as she imagined, the engineer may have been having a breakdown as he experienced some confusion related to his homosexuality.
American Family Radio host, Bryan Fischer, said that the recent flooding in Texas was God’s judgment for homosexuality.
Senator Ted Cruz, who is running for President as this is being written, said that the ruling in favor of gay marriage rights was fundamentally illegitimate and akin to Nazi decrees. I think he has his metaphors backwards.
Pat Robertson of the 700 Club said in September that gay marriage would trigger a perilous financial crisis that would rupture the entire financial framework of our world. He went on to praise countries like Kenya that criminalize homosexuality. It should be noted that Kenya and Uganda have given gays the death penalty.
Alan Keyes called the gay marriage ruling a just cause for war, that it would usher in the murder of the masses. He said, “We’ve got to fight to our deaths to save this great country.” From homosexuals, of course.
The words of evil continue, and sadly many of them from people who profess to be followers of the greatest name for peace and love, Jesus Christ. I can only say this: watch the movie “Paragraph 175,” then stand up and be counted. Every candle for peace and love is a light in an otherwise ever darkening world.