How the Nazis got away with persecuting gay men long after the Holocaust

Allowed to return to their legal careers, former Nazis enforcing §175 turned gay men into fair game once again

When World War Two ended, one of the prime concerns of the British, American and Russian forces was to liberate Germany and Austria of all traces of Nazism and the Third Reich.

But despite concentration camps being liberated and prisoners being freed, not all of them were really allowed to walk free.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, some of the men interned for their homosexuality were immediately sent to prison again, forced to serve the Nazi sentences.

It didn’t matter if they had, theoretically, already served their time in Hitler’s camps – they were still considered criminals, even by their liberators.

Those who had been spared more time in prison were forced to remain silent by the deep stigma surrounding homosexuality.

Many of the men spent decades without ever speaking about their experiences under the Nazi rule and its aftermath, instead living in fear of being discovered and sent back to prison.

Until the official declaration of the Federal Republic of Germany (better known as West Germany) in 1949, laws remained mostly the same as in the Reich – and it didn’t change in the provisional constitution, which should become German law when the country’s first chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, was elected.

Originally demanding all laws with a National Socialist content be abolished, the allied forces allowed Germany to decide whether to keep §175 or not; the courts ruled in favor, as ‘it would not have to be abolished in a free democratic state’.

The government decided to not just keep §175, the paragraph making homosexuality between men illegal, but use the version updated by the Nazis.

The law prohibited any form of sexual contact – which, at that time, included kissing and, if police were especially strict, even rubbing your knees or dancing together – between men.

Women, who had already suffered through a different ordeal than their male counterparts during the Holocaust, were exempt from the law, as they were seen as less aggressive and predatory than men.

But despite arresting and sentencing thousands of people directly and indirectly involved in Hitler’s atrocities, the regime’s influence remained.

Once those accused of taking part in Hitler’s war crimes received their denazification certificate, after former victims or opponents vouched for them, they were allowed to go back to society and make a career for themselves.

The certificates were called Persilschein, named after laundry detergent to express the ‘whitewashing’ of the prisoners’ former sins.

It is estimated that during the 50s around two thirds of employees working for the German Federal Criminal Police Office were former members of Hitler’s SS – not to mention the number of judges, lawyers and other members of the executive.

Many judges didn’t believe in sentencing men under §175, as a case from Hamburg shows: confronted with two men accused of homosexuality, the courts ordered them to pay three German Mark, a penalty serving as a slap on the wrist, if anything.

But some of their colleagues strongly supported not just banning homosexuality, but also the continued effort to ‘free’ Germany of homosexuality.

In the 1950s, persecution of homosexual men once again gained momentum, with trials held in the city of Frankfurt – today a major financial hub – often quoted as one of the driving forces.

Otto Blankenstein, an 18-year-old male prostitute, was arrested on 16 July; in interrogations, he named 70 of his customers, all of whom had their fingerprints and photographs taken at the police station which were then presented to other prostitutes.

The effort resulted in 173 investigations against 214 men, of which 42 were initially taken before the courts; by the end of that year, the number had risen to 75.

Led by Dr Kurt Romini and Dr Fritz Thiede, a judge and an attorney, the trials marked a change in the attitude towards homosexual men.

Once again, they had become fair game, and Romini and Thiede were out to make an example of their cases, starting the Federal Republic’s first anti-homosexuality campaign.

During Hitler’s reign, Romini had been a high-ranking attorney, known for his preference to crack down hard on anyone breaking the law.

There was no change in his work now that he’d become a judge, and with his reputation prevailing him, the prospect of facing him in court became too much for some of the arrested men.

Six of the men committed suicide while others fled the country.

A young man, aged just 19, took his own life by jumping from the Goetheturm, a viewing platform in the city’s north; a gay couple due to face the judge killed themselves with coal gas (also known as illumination gas).

Nearly all of the men faced social exclusion: they lost their jobs, struggled to find new employment and were treated like pariah by some of their friends and families.

When it emerged Romini had broken the law by not following the updated German code on court constitution, he was ‘forcefully promoted’ to serve at another court – in the city of Hanau, he continued his harsh punishments under §175.

In 1969, West Germany partly abolished §175, ruling sexual encounters between men could not be punished unless one of the partners was younger than 21.

At that point, police and the prosecution services had led more than 100,000 investigations against men accused of homosexuality, with more than 50,000 men sentenced – more than the Nazis officially sentenced under the same paragraph.

In 1994 Germany fully abolished §175 while also bringing the age of consent to 14 for all relationships, no matter if straight or gay.

Nearly 10 years later, in 2002, the German government decided to offer homosexual victims of the Holocaust rehabilitation, scratching all convictions for homosexuality under the Nazi rule.

Those sentenced between 1945 and 1969, under the same paragraph, have not received compensation or rehabilitation and still carry a conviction in their file.

‘There can’t be the impression of the justice system having made a mistake back then,’ the Ministry of Justice’s official statement on the matter reads.

After all, they only judged in accordance with the laws.

by Stefanie Gerde
Source – Gay Star News