Monday, April 4, 2011

Seattle Times: Traveling Exhibit Detailed Nazi Persecution of Gays

Nazi persecution of homosexuals
By Melissa Allison

Seattle Times staff reporter

Anyone who missed the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's traveling exhibit at McCaw Hall can access an online exhibit at

It is well-known that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust, but the plight of 5 million other victims — including people with disabilities, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war and gays — are rarely detailed.

A traveling exhibit by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum sheds light on the Nazi persecution of gay Germans. Though the Nazis never intended to murder all gays, as they intended to eliminate all Jews, they nevertheless sent thousands of them to concentration camps and destroyed the lives of tens of thousands others.

The free exhibit, which ended a five-day run Sunday at McCaw Hall in Seattle, attracted roughly 2,000 people, said Dee Simon, co-executive director of the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center.

With help from sponsors, the center presented the exhibit as a complement to the Seattle Men's Chorus' "Falling in Love Again" concerts over the weekend. The concerts also shed light on the Nazi persecution of gays.

Some attendees had no idea before hearing about the exhibit that Nazis targeted gays, Simon said. "With what's happening today, especially with the bullying of homosexuals in schools, people said they wanted to have a perspective of what it looked like during the Nazi era."

Within a month of taking power in 1933, the Nazis closed gay and lesbian publications and gathering places. Their aim was to terrorize gays into sexual and social conformity, according to the exhibit and a lecture Simon gave Sunday.

Nazis targeted gays partly because of Germany's declining birthrate; 2 million German men had died in World War I. They thought gays endangered public morality and they considered homosexuality an infection that could become an epidemic, particularly among youth.

In forwarding their hateful agenda, the Nazis often cited "traditional family values," Simon said.

Germany "can only maintain its masculinity if it exercises discipline, especially in love," the Nazi party wrote in 1928. It was responding to activists' efforts to eliminate or at least change a law from the 1800s that outlawed "indecency" between men.

The law did not include lesbians, even after the Nazis expanded it to include "simply looking" or "simply touching" as grounds for arrest and conviction. All women were considered vessels for childbirth; mothers who bore at least eight children were given gold crosses to wear in public.

Under Nazi rule, more than 100,000 gay men were arrested; 50,000 were imprisoned. Thousands went to concentration camps.

To avoid that fate, many gay men married, killed themselves or even castrated themselves, believing it would help them avoid prison, Simon said.

When the war ended, the law was not revoked, and some gay men who had suffered in concentration camps were rearrested. When Germany began reparations to Nazi victims in 1956, it did not include people sent to concentration camps because they were gay.

Only in 1990 did Germany fully abolish the law that made it possible to arrest gays, and in 2002 it pardoned men who had been convicted under that law during the Nazi regime.

Simon said 76 countries today criminalize sexual acts between people of the same sex; in seven countries, it is punishable by death.

Read article online

Anyone who missed the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's traveling exhibit at McCaw Hall can access an online exhibit at

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