The Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals

The Nazis persecuted a wide range of people during their years in power, from terrorising, arresting, beating and imprisoning people at the start of the regime to sending them to death camps near the end. One group who suffered were homosexuals, but for several years there was a delay in recognising that the Nazis persecuted them, because in the aftermath of the Second World War Germany didn’t initially class anti-gay activities as Nazi crimes, and Nazi laws relating to homosexuals remained in some form in West Germany till 1969.

Gay men were the main focus, but while gay women were less persecuted they could still end up in camps.

Why Homosexuals?

Hitler’s Germany was aiming to create a racial state of united and pure Aryans, which was why Gypsies, Slavs and Jews were targeted for extermination. Homosexuals could, of course, come from any racial, or pseudo-racial group, and were targeted for slightly different reasons: they were seen as racially inferior, damaged, verminous people who didn’t match up to the Aryan ideals of virile heterosexuality. The Nazis didn’t attack gays because they were latent homosexuals themselves, but because the Nazis were simply the latest group to buy into an age old homophobia, and they were aided by this being widespread among the European population well before Hitler arrived, as with anti-Semitism. But as Hans-Georg Stümp makes clear in his chapter of Gregor’s ‘Nazism: A Reader’, this hatred had a problem.

Jews could, in their theory, be entirely wiped out by killing them all, but homosexuals had a habit of being born to even perfect heterosexual Aryan parents. For Stümp this prevented Hitler ordering a full scale Final Solution of gays because it wouldn’t have worked. What there was, instead, was an ever increasing level of persecution and death.

The Nazis against the Homosexuals

In 1934 the Gestapo began to investigate homosexuals within Germany as an enemy of the nation, and in 1936 a ‘Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion’ was created (Himmler used Rohm’s fall to begin an attack). As the title reveals, homosexuality was seen as a medical issue, akin to the persecution of the mentally and physically ill, rather than the racial attacks on others. Weimar already had a law against homosexuality, but the Nazis broadened it and applied it. Homosexuals were logged by the Gestapo and then monitored, with a substantial number of these being charge and convicted of being homosexual. The SS had argued for the death penalty for gays early on in the Nazi regime (and was given the power to execute any gay SS members in 1941), but the practical result was the death penalty anyway: gays were put in conventional prisons and then often moved to concentration camps, or just sent to camps to start with, where they had to wear a pink triangle. ‘Protective custody’ was one way to simply make people disappear. There was a theory you could be cured through punishment.  

In a camp full of the persecuted homosexuals were considered bottom of the ladder and given particular attention by the SS guards.

Gays were frequently beaten to death in higher proportions than other prisoners, or else worked to death. There is evidence for homosexuals in most of the camps, and clues to their treatment from the accounts of prisoner witnesses. 5 – 15,000 went to camps, and others were castrated. For the majority of homosexuals, their life and love was pushed underground, and they were forced to hide their feelings from the repression.

More on the Nazi persecutions.