Editor's Note: Guest blogger Warren J. Blumenfeld is a professor in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Tel Aviv, Israel this week joined an ever-growing list of cities and towns throughout the world that have erected and dedicated a memorial in tribute and remembrance of the thousands of perceived and actual gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people spied upon, tracked, censored, arrested, incarcerated, tortured, and murdered under the auspices of the Nazi regime.
Nazi portrayals and understandings of sex, sexuality, gender, and gender expression included a divisive and brutal program that was anti-feminist, anti-women's equality, anti-women's reproductive freedoms (anti-family planning, anti-contraception, anti-abortion for so-called "Aryans"), anti-homosexual, anti-gender nonconforming, and anti-sexuality education in schools.
The Nazis ruthlessly enforced and eventually extended Paragraph 175, the section of the German Penal Code dating back to the 1871 unification of Germany:
"Unnatural vice committed by two persons of the male sex or by people with animals is to be punished by imprisonment; the verdict may also include the loss of civil rights."
Nazi ideology rested on the belief that homosexual males lowered the German birth rate; that they endangered, recruited, enticed, and corrupted youth; that a possible homosexual epidemic could spread; that homosexuals are "potential oppositionists" and enemies of respectable society; and that sexual relations between people of the same sex impairs their "sense of shame" and undermines morality, which inevitably will bring about the "decline of social community."
Even before taking power, the Nazi party argued against homosexuality in the 14 May 1928 edition of their daily newspaper, Völkischer Beobachter:
"Anyone who thinks of homosexual love is our enemy. We reject anything which emasculates our people and makes it a plaything for our enemies, for we know that life is a fight, and it is madness to think that men will ever embrace fraternally. Natural history teaches us the opposite. Might makes right. The strong will always win over the weak. Let us see to it that we once again become the strong. But this we can achieve only in one way -- the German people must once again learn how to exercise discipline.
"We, therefore, reject any sexual deviation, particularly between man and man, because it robs us of the last possibility of freeing our people from the slave-chains in which it is now forced to toil."
While Nazi ideology and practice rejected lesbianism as well, they did not criminalize same-sex sexual activity between women, as Paragraph 175 did for men, because they believed that so-called "Aryan" lesbians could at least birth children for the "New Germany."
On the other hand, Heinrich Himmler, Gestapo head and chief architect of the Reich's anti-homosexual campaign, justified his actions by arguing that male homosexuals were "like women" and therefore could not fight in any German war effort. Subsequently, he conducted surveillance operations on an estimated 90,000 suspected homosexuals, arrested approximately 50,000, and transported somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 to a number of concentration camps throughout the Nazi dominion. Very few survived.
Upon coming to power in 1933, under their Youth Leader, Baldur von Shirach, the Nazis took over all youth groups and converted them into Hitler Youth groups. One action taken following consolidation was to eliminate all signs of "homosexual corrosion," because it allegedly posed a threat to state control by "fostering political conspiracies." Nazi leaders purged all boys suspected of "homosexual tendencies."
They tried and convicted an estimated 6,000 youth under Paragraph 175 between 1933 and 1943.
Hitler also proposed eliminating all sexuality education from the German school system and encouraged parents to take on the primary responsibilities for sexuality instruction within the home.
While the Catholic Church spoke out then and today against same-sex sexuality, their own policies actually boomeranged and hit them in their own faces. Used primarily to silence any potential resistance from the Church, the Nazis conducted their so-called "Cloister Trials," where they dissolved Catholic youth fraternities and arrested large numbers of priests, religious brothers, and Catholic laity.
They incarcerated them in prisons and concentration camps, accusing them of being "threats to the state" on fabricated charges of homosexuality. One notable fatality that resulted from the "Cloister Trials" was Fr. Alois Abdritzki, who was murdered by prison guards at Dachau concentration camp. But his death was just one of many.
The intensely patriarchal Nazi German society also clamped down tightly on women and sexuality in general. Details, after the jump.