Germany to overturn convictions of gay men prosecuted after war

Men who are still alive will get compensation for what they suffered under Paragraph 175 against homosexuality

Germany’s cabinet has approved a bill to overturn the convictions of thousands of gay men who were prosecuted after the second world war.

Gay men convicted between 1949 and 1969 who are still alive are expected to be given financial compensation for the suffering they endured under the legislation, known as Paragraph 175, which forbade sexual relations between men.

The law was first introduced in the 19th century, before being made stricter in 1935 during the Nazi era and subsequently kept on the statute books by West Germany, whose authorities avidly implemented it.

Although homosexuality was decriminalised in East Germany in 1968 and in West Germany in 1969, the legislation was not discarded completely until 1994.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet of conservatives and Social Democrats approved the bill on Wednesday morning. It paves the way for compensation payments of €3,000 (£2,600) for each conviction, as well as €1,500 (£1,300) for every year started in prison by convicted men.

Rehabilitation will also apply to men convicted in communist East Germany, which had a milder version of Paragraph 175.

The bill sets out a collective fund of €500,000 a year paid to the Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation, which was named after a prominent German sex researcher and gay rights campaigner. The foundation is in the process of gathering the life stories of men who were convicted under the law.

“The rehabilitation of men who ended up in court simply because of their homosexuality is long overdue,” said the justice minister, Heiko Maas, who spearheaded the legislation. “They were persecuted, punished and ostracised by the German state just because of their love for men, because of their sexual identity.”

Maas said the fund would give recognition to the suffering many gay men endured, living in the knowledge they could be prosecuted at any time, and the stigma they faced over many years.

A spokesperson for the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany said it welcomed the fact that “after long decades of ignorance, legal consequences are being drawn from the serious mass human rights violations that were committed against homosexual people by the democratic state”.

Convicted under Paragraph 175 as a teenager in 1957, Fritz Schmehling, 74, said time was running out for victims to see justice. “I don’t want to die with a criminal record,” he told the AFP news agency in a recent interview at his Berlin apartment.

“I’ve had cancer twice and was operated on, but maybe I will still get to enjoy the moment my name is cleared. As sad as it is, in the time it takes, many of the older ones among us are going to die.”

The justice ministry said it believes about 68,300 people were convicted under various forms of Paragraph 175 in both German states before it was scrapped in 1994.

Excluded from rehabilitation are men who were convicted for homosexual acts with children, or for violent or threatening behaviour.

Other countries including New Zealand and Canada also have plans to overturn convictions of those prosecuted under laws against gay sex that have been taken off the statute books.

In Britain, thousands of men convicted under such laws are due to receive posthumous pardons, the British government announced in October, while those still alive will be able to have their criminal records erased.

by Kate Connolly in Berlin
Source – The Guardian