These pages are devoted to a theme that until very recently was removed from the history books, the collective memory and the official iconography of the concentration camp world: the persecution by the Nazis of tens of thousands of individuals because of their only sexual orientation.
In Nazi Germany, on March 8, 1933, the first concentration camps opened their doors. Berlin, which was considered the capital of homosexual freedom, becomes the theater of active repression: nightclubs, meeting places, cafes and gay bars are closed, and the men who frequent them are arrested, incarcerated or deported. The Nazis undertook to purify Germany of what they consider to be social gangrene.
Homosexuals arrested for violating paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code, which punishes “unnatural” relations between men, are either imprisoned or transferred to concentration camps. Many of them are detained following an administrative and non-judicial decision. Later, once the regime is installed, some homosexuals discovered in the army, the administration or other elite Nazi corps will be executed without any other form of trial.
The objective of the Nazis is not, as in the case of other minorities, to exterminate homosexuals. It is essentially a question of modifying, by blackmail, the constraint and the force if necessary the behavior of asocials incapable of procreating and likely, because fundamentally corrupt, to divert the youth of the Reich from its “historical” mission: war and the conquest of a vital space in the East. To achieve this end, science itself is put to use. Many “medical” experiments, including implantations of synthetic glands, will be performed on homosexual deportees in order to bring them back to normality. In 1939, the Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, the main architect of the “invertis” hunt, allowed camp commanders to practice castrations on homosexual detainees. Many will die as a result of these interventions.
In Nazi camps, homosexual deportees must wear a pink triangle, pointing downward, which identifies them as such. The concentration camp hierarchy places them at the bottom of the social ladder of the camps, which does not allow them to maintain mutual relations with other deportees and thus improve their chances of survival. Expiatory victims all designated because already ostracized from the non-prison society, homosexuals are, like the Gypsies, forced to the hardest and most degrading works. In fact, statistically, the death rate of these deportees is among the highest of the camps.
At the end of 1944, the first camps were liberated by the Allies. The extreme confusion that reigns in Europe and the amalgam around the phenomenon of concentration suggest the difficulties that homosexual deportees will face to admit their status as victims of Nazism. For many of them, in fact, the return to freedom is accompanied by self-censorship justified by hostile legislation still in force (sometimes inherited from totalitarian regimes just deceased, as in France) and the social difficulty, family or professional to disclose the exact reason for their deportation.
a question “that does not exist”
After the war, the vast majority of homosexual deportees disappeared anonymously. The lack of official recognition of this specific deportation, the absence until the seventies of a constituted homosexual militancy, the silence of the intellectuals and the little interest of the researchers and the historians for a question “which n ‘ do not exist “have long obscured a reality that has gradually faded into the collective memory.
In France, in 1982, Pierre Seel, confronted once again with the homophobia of the institutions, decides to “break the silence” and to testify of his painful experiment of deported homosexual. Thirty years later, under the pseudonym of Heinz Heger, an Austrian had also described “the reverse of the legend of the camps” in a book that questioned the traditional view of deportation.
A few months earlier, “Bent”, a piece written by Martin Sherman, a Jew and a homosexual, had for the first time on the stage of a London theater dealt with the tortures inflicted on these two minorities. Played on Broadway and in Paris, the play shows a reality hitherto removed from the official iconography of the deportee camps.
So what memory do we maintain today?