Queer Genocide


As I discussed in my last post, there were a very rough estimate of 15,000 gay men who were sent to concentration camps, marked with Pink Triangles, who received some of the most cruel and terrible treatment of any non-Jewish group. This doesn’t account for the numerous lesbian women who were also sent to concentration camps, but were considered ‘asocials’ along with prostitutes and mentally ill people. Further, unlike other groups, once the Pink Triangles were freed from the camps, they were often tossed back into jail, since homosexuality was still illegal in Germany and most of the Allied nations.  This post dives deeper into what happened to the Holocaust survivors after the war, and how this was a crucial turning point that humanity only part way followed through with, as well as theorizing how our world could have been different.
After World War 2 ended, the word “Genocide” was officially coined to describe the atrocities against the Jews in the Holocaust. Prior to that, the word did not exist, though there were events that could be classified as genocide prior to World War 2. In 1948, the newly formed United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) to ensure such atrocities would never occur again in our world. The convention defined Genocide as follows:

“Article II:  In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group; 

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; 

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; 

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; 
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The convention went further to define and clarify which actions are punishable. It is important to note that, while actually committing mass-murder genocide is obviously punishable, any sort of conspiracy to commit genocide, attempts to incite genocide, or even being complacent to allow genocide were all punishable. Some examples include creating laws and policies to push the concept of genocide, restricting marriage, or separating and isolating certain groups of people. The following quote comes from Article 3  of the convention:

It is a crime to plan or incite genocide, even before killing starts, and to aid or abet genocide: Criminal acts include conspiracy, direct and public incitement, attempts to commit genocide, and complicity in genocide.

Article 3 goes on to expand on each point of Article 2. I think their explanation of “(d) Prevention of births” is very poignant:   

Prevention of births includes involuntary sterilization, forced abortion, prohibition of marriage, and long-term separation of men and women intended to prevent procreation.
It is important to stress that, according to the UN, the action of mass murder is incredibly heinous, but the intention of eliminating a group extends further than just physical death  Isolating a group, classifying them as lesser and deserving of lesser rights (causing mental harm), banning marriages, or forcing sterilization are all qualities of a culture leading to genocide. The parallels to the current day oppression of LGBT individuals are obvious. Many politicians still call us unnatural, disgusting, prevent us from being married, prevent us from adopting, and block anti-discrimination policies. Anti-gay camps still conduct medical experiments on humans to try and eliminate the gay gene or pray away the gay. Much has changed, but much more still needs to be done.
Unfortunately, the CPPCG specified only four protected groups as protected internationally from genocide; each a group that was targeted for genocide by the Nazis in the Holocaust:  national groups, ethnic groups,  racial groups. religious groups. It would be a logical extension to include LGBT individuals in this list, since they were also a group specifically targeted in the Holocaust, but due to the politics and the overwhelming homophobia, the plight of the Pink Triangles was brushed under the table. This can be seen as an extension of the Nuremberg War Trials, where the queer Holocaust victims was entirely ignored, where doctors who conducted inhumane experiments on living queer people were never prosecuted, and the world at that time and for decades after knew nothing about queer people being targeted. While it is not surprising that queer victims were silenced and ignored, given the rampant homophobia at that time, it is still a crucial moment where we could have, as a united group of humanity, decided that torture of any of our brothers and sisters was wrong, we instead decided to qualify that only some sorts of hate were not acceptable. At that time, we as a world society decided that trying to outright eliminate certain groups was unacceptable, but other groups might be okay to be washed away. It makes me wonder what would have happened, had the CPPCG not qualified only certain groups, or used more broad qualifications, where would we be now? It was not just queer groups who were left out; numerous social and political groups were discluded, which drew significant criticism to the CPPCG. 
Had the queer victims of the Holocaust been freed and acknowledged like all the other groups of victims, what would that have changed? If “homosexuality” was included as a group protected by the CPPCG, what would be different? There would obviously have been greater justice, peace, and healing for the queer Holocaust survivors. But beyond that, governments around the world would have had to re-evaluate their anti-sodomy laws and other homophobic policies. Theoretically, there could not be any laws on the books that explicitly banned gay marriage, nor adoption of children, and there could be no restriction on gathering of homosexuals, if a nation was to abide by the UN’s guidelines preventing genocide. This would have put LGBT rights decades ahead of where they are now. Had this happened in the 40’s, LGBT rights may not be a controversial topic today. Of course, this is all theoretical, and even if the queer people were protected by the CPPCG’s definition of genocide, there would have been ways around the new standards and laws. Take for instance the plight of the African American community in the early 50s. 
In the early 50s, it became apparent to numerous African American rights groups that the standards set by the CPPCG preventing even the intention of genocide were actually not being met here at home. Jim Crow laws cruelly separated African Americans, inter-racial marriage bans put a limit on reproduction, politicians frequently debased and devalued the “Negros”. The parallels between what the CPPCG defined as pre-indicators of mass-murder genocide were often met in America under Jim Crow. In 1951, a petition entitled “We Charge Genocide” was presented by  the Civil Rights Congress, a pro-African American rights group, considered by some to be an extreme fringe group. They claimed that Jim Crow laws, lynching, and other forms of assault all qualified as punishable precursors to genocide, according to the CPPCG’s standards.  Their tactic, in part, was to publicly embarrass the USA on a global stage in efforts to force change at home – how could the USA claim genocide was atrocious while committing those same actions at home? While this petition was never adopted by the CPPCG, likely due to the UN’s relatively limited power at the time and the importance of keeping America as part of the UN, this tactic was later used by numerous civil rights groups. Pointing out the hypocrisy of fighting for freedom while stealing freedom from certain citizens proved to be an effective strategy to put pressure on politicians, and while this petition was dismissed, it still brought the issue to an international and very public stage in a way it had never been before. A similar strategy was used in the 60s to bring more pressure for equal rights for African Americans, and played a part in the legislative changes which came later.
Overall, it is hard to say what exactly would have happened had the LGBT victims of the Holocaust been recognized at the Nuremberg War Trials, and further as part of the definition of genocide and thus having the protection of the UN. However, we would be much further along than we are now. The world recoiled from the extremism of the Nazi Holocaust and made a decision at that point we would never allow such a heinous tragedy to occur again. Even if the movements were largely symbolic, a decision was made then that we would as a human race would grow past that and never again try to utterly exterminate any group of our brothers or sisters. However, we only went part of the way to that ideal. Because it was too difficult, only some groups were considered worthy of being protected. In many ways, it seems like a missed opportunity. While it was a monumental and historic occasion for the human race, we backed away because it was too hard. Perhaps its time to revisit the definition of genocide?
Some may say this has no relevance today, but queer genocide is a real thing that is really happening in our recent history, especially the intention to commit genocide, though actual mass-murder of queer people has occurred quite recently as well. Darfur and Uganda are two examples of modern mass-murder ‘genocide’ (though neither met the technical criteria issued by the CPPCG). Russia’s new anti-LGBT laws will throw people in jail (isolating them) solely for supporting queer rights. The justification used in Russia is the exact same as Nazi Germany, “homosexuals jeopardize the moral purity of Russia”. 
To a lesser extent the same genocidal intentions are present here in the USA. Conservative American politicians push the exact same dialog as the Nazis and the Russians to justify their positions; LGBT rights are immoral and acknowledging them lessens the value of the straight majority. The sort of dialog pumped out by these conservatives meets numerous of the criteria for genocidal intention. The sodomy laws and explicit bans on gay marriage violate the CPPCG’s standards. LGBT rights have come a very long way in the past few years, but we still have a long way to go, if the treatment queer people receive in US in 2014 could still be classified as precursors of genocide. 

The Invisible Queer Victims of the Holocaust

A few weeks ago, I went up to Cedar Crest College to speak on the last day of a week-long series of events focusing on the Holocaust, hosted by a very good friend of mine. At first, I had some hesitation over agreeing to the topic. While I knew queer people suffered during the Holocaust, I wasn’t sure how I was an appropriate person for such a presentation, but after preparing for my speech, I learned so much more about how the queer Holocaust victims received the worst treatment of any non-Jewish group, and unlike any other group in the Holocaust, even after being freed from concentration camps, the hatred faced by queer Holocaust victims continued for decades. I learned that while the Nazi Holocaust is long past, the genocides in Uganda and Darfur, as well as Russia’s new anti-gay laws show we may not be as far from repeating these mistakes as we would like to think. I wanted to share some of the story of what happened to gay people in Germany during this period in time, and highlight how many things have not changed in the past 80 years.
As a sidenote for some historical context, Transgender as a term did not even exist until the 90s. A transgender person living in the 1930’s and 1940’s would likely be considered to be gay, at this time. Even the label gay doesn’t quite fit, as it has a specific definition present day that doesn’t always match up with how people may have thought throughout history. As gender roles and cultural norms shift, behavior that we might think is “gay” may have been considered perfectly normal for a straight man at a certain time in history to do. That being said, “homosexual sex” is usually the big issue, and often focuses on male + male penetrational sex (often defined as sodomy, though technically the term refers to any non-procreational sex) being the truly heinous offense.
Prior to World War 2, things were relatively good for gay people in Germany compared to other European countries. While there were sodomy laws that made male + male penetrational sex illegal, the standard for conviction was very high, so it required a great deal of evidence to convict anyone of that crime. Gay social groups were allowed to exist so long as they did not actually admit to having sex. As the Nazis took power in the early 1930’s, that radically changed. Hitler and his regime practiced a strict policy of homophobia. In 1935, “Paragraph 175” of the Germany Criminal code, which up till then banned sexual deviants such as pedophilia and beastiality, was ammended to make male gay sex a punishable offense of up to 10 years in jail, lowered the standard of conviction significantly, and later gave judges the power to order compulsory or voluntary castration (which many were coerced to undergo anyways). While lesbian sex was not considered illegal under Paragraph 175, lesbians were considered asocials, since they did not meet the “German standards of womanhood” such as being a good wife and mother, bearing kids for your husband, etc. Other asocials included prostitutes, chronically unemployed, mentally ill, handicapped people, and more.
In February 1937, Henrich Himmler, head of Hitler’s SS, gave a speech in which he declared that <b>homosexuality threatened the moral purity of Germany</b> as well as the racial purity of the Aryan race. He also announced that, under his authority, any homosexuals convicted under Paragraph 175 would be sent to concentration camps once the court had finished with them. Informant networks sprung up, with kids informing on teachers suspected of being gay, gay groups being raided, having their membership lists used to identify more homosexuals, and all books relating to sexuality were publicly burnt. The program to send homosexuals to concentration had a slogan of “Extermination Through Work.”Men convicted under Paragraph 175 and sent to concentration camps were marked with a downward-pointing pink triangle (just as Jews were branded with a yellow Star of David). Lesbian women were branded with black triangles, marking them as asocials.
Life in the camps for the Pink Triangles was more awful than any other non-Jewish groups. They were strictly monitored 24/7 to ensure no men had sex. They were completely isolated in their own block, immediately killed if they so much as talked to a prisoner from another block. The Nazis were terrified the Pink Triangles would seduce the other prisoners, which was ironic, since homosexual sex was much more prominent in any other block which was not as strictly monitored. Not only did the Pink Triangles experience abuse from their Nazi jailors, but they experienced the same discrimination and hatred from other prisoners due to widespread homophobia; gay prisoners were even beaten to death by other homophobic prisoners. For every other group, the camps were made up of two groups, the Prisoners VS the Nazis, which gave all of the prisoners a sense of commrodery which helped many make it through the terrible period. This was not true for the Pink Triangles, they had no support, no group, no safety at all. Everyone was likely to want them dead. This complete isolation, even by other prisoners, had a terrible affect on the Pink Triangles’ psyche.
Pink Triangles were considered the lowest of lows, below the criminals, often not allowed to hold any sort of position of responsibility. If a homosexual man went to the sick bay, they were not likely to ever return. The Pink Triangles were the first to be taken for experimentation. This was especially true for numerous doctors who tried to <b>discover and destroy the gay gene</b> and <b>cure the gay disease</b>. Pink Triangles were forced to undergo 10-13 hours in grueling, backbreaking, pointless work meant to break their spirit and crush their hope. An example of this would be taking the first half of the day to move snow from one side of the road to the other using their bare hands, then spend the second half of the day moving it back to the original side of the road. Death rates of Pink Triangles was susptected to be 3-4 times higher than any other non-Jewish category of prisoner.
The torture for gay Holocaust victims did not stop after World War 2. As the Allied forces liberated the concentration camps one after another, most people were freed and sent home, many eventually given some monetary compensation or pension by the government for their suffering. Pink Triangles, however, were often taken out of concentration camp only to be returned immediately to German jails, since homosexuality was still illegal under Paragraph 175. Their time in concentration camps was sometimes counted as time served. Further, many other European countries (and America) still had laws banning sodomy, so even the liberators of the camps considered the Pink Triangles lower than criminals. The targetted torture of the LGBT people was not recognized at all in the Nuremberg War Crimes, which took place after the war ended to hold key Nazi officials responsible for the atrocities they commited during the war. Many of the doctors who committed atrocious experiments on humans to try to cure the gay gene lived and died as free men after the war. It wasn’t until 30+ years later that the German government officially repealed the part of Paragraph 175 banning gay sex in 1969. Even then, it was not until 2002 that the German government offered an official apology to the gay community. The last known gay Holocaust survivor died in 2008. Because of all the homophobia that was rampant throughout the area and the techniques used to silence gay Holocaust victims, nobody really knows how many gay people were in the concentration camps. Most reports range from 5,000 to 15,000 Pink Triangles in the concentration camps. Other reports site over 100,000 gay people being arrested and taken away. Over 60% of the people wearing Pink Triangles died after they arrived in the concentration camps.
Historically, this is a very sad story and a part of our story as LGBT individuals in a world full of hate and homophobia. But the ramifications of this event in our past are still only now being understood. For so long, gay victims of the Holocaust were invisible, it has only been in the past 30 years they have even been acknowledged, and only in the past 10 they have been officially recognized as victims of the Holocaust. I believe it is important for us as queer people to claim this part of our history. This is the end result of the homophobic speeches given by numerous conservative leaders to incite the masses against their queer brothers and sisters. This is where policies like those in Russia, where they are rapidly identifying and isolating any homosexuals, this is where those policies lead. Queer rights aren’t some new special thing, but the exact same rights conservative governments have tried to take from us for centuries. We are not some new movement that came from nowhere, we are a culmination of centuries of pointless hate, and we won’t take it anymore. Claiming our history is, in my opinion, a big step for advancing our identity as queer people, and an amazingly powerful driving force to make us not only crave equality and justice, but to know we deserve it.
Had the queer victims of the Holocaust been recognized immediately after the war ended, had they be part of the Nuremberg Trials after the war, I believe we would be living in a radically different and much more equal world. I will get into why I believe that in my next post, but I wanted to first explore some of the historical facts about the Holocaust.
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