Saturday, November 14, 2009

Homosexuals and the Holocaust

A review essay by William Percy and Warren Johannsen on Homosexuals and the Holocaust provides a lot of useful information and insight into oppression of homosexuals by the Nazi regime and subsequent responses to the same.

The inherent vulnerability of the same-sex oriented—growing up in families and milieus where the overwhelming majority are other-sex oriented—has made them historically very easy targets. That same vulnerability played out in the death camps:
Professor Rüdiger Lautmann of the Univer­sity of Bremen demonstrated that in eleven camps on German soil, homosexuals, ostracized and without support groups, died sooner and in greater proportions than did political prisoners and Jehovah's Witnesses.
Vulnerable minorities have had historically common experiences:
Homosexuals and Jews, along with such "heretical" sects as Quakers, Unitarians, and Jehovah's Witnesses, have suffered (or enjoyed toleration) at the same times and places and at the hands of the same people ever since Christian fanatics began their persecution of sodomites not long after the Emperor Constantine in 323 made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.
The pattern of the Nazi persecutions, and the Holocaust, replicating past patterns has been noted for Jews, less so for others (and rarely at all for the same-sex active):
In his history of the Holocaust, Raul Hilberg noted that "for many centuries, and in many countries, the Jews have been the victims of destructive action.... The Nazi destruction process did not come out of a void; it was the culmination of a cyclical trend."* In his opening chapter he showed that everything that the Nazis did to the Jews had been done to them earlier by Christian governments during the Middle Ages or early modern times. What was new and unexpected in Nazism, besides the aim of total destruction, was the use of the administrative machinery and the technology of the modern state to effect the goals which the Christian Church had long pursued in regard to Jews. He should have said the same about gypsies and homosexuals.
Read More... One of the reasons the 1950s saw the growth of homophile movements in the US in particular is that a period of comparative loosening in the early C20th had been followed by a period of increased repression. This pattern had occurred previously in Germany:
This extension of the law, this regression to late medieval, Reformation, and early modern intolerance, produced in response the first efforts at homosexual emancipation in the 1860s on the part of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and Károly Mária Kertbeny, the latter even coining the term "homosexual" in 1869. … Germany was the first country in which such a movement became public. It flourished as never before under the Weimar Republic — and hence once the Nazi came to power, clericalism and other reactionary forces joined the Nazis in their efforts to destroy it.
Since the same-sex attracted fall outside their notion of the proper form of the human—indeed, of accepted frameworks for thinking about people, love and desire—those anathematizing them can often not “get their story straight” (so to speak):
Furthermore, the Nazi leaders — like other right-wing nationalists — were preoccupied with birth rates, in part because they foresaw extensive German coloniza­tion of Eastern European areas that they intended to annex. The most frequent theme in their official statements on homosexuality echoes one of the paradoxes of the "sodomy delusion," namely that homosexual practices are limited to a vanishing handful of degenerates, but so contagious and able to "spread like wildfire" among all strata of the population that if firm measures are not taken to halt the growing evil, the end result will be race suicide. Some of them even cherished this belief to the point of wishing to encourage homosexuality among inferior races as a way of promoting their biological death.
The pronounced homophobia of certain Nazi leaders may have stemmed from the reaction of the small-town petit bourgeois German or Austrian to the homosexual subculture of the large cities.
Philo of Alexandria expresses this urban antipathy at the time of Christ:
Moreover, another evil, much greater than that which we have already mentioned, has made its way among and been let loose upon cities, namely, the love of boys, which formerly was accounted a great infamy even to be spoken of, but which sin is a subject of boasting not only to those who practise it, but even to those who suffer it, and who, being accustomed to bearing the affliction of being treated like women, waste away as to both their souls and bodies, not bearing about them a single spark of a manly character to be kindled into a flame, but having even the hair of their heads conspicuously curled and adorned, and having their faces smeared with vermilion, and paint, and things of that kind, and having their eyes pencilled beneath, and having their skins anointed with fragrant perfumes (for in such persons as these a sweet smell is a most seductive quality), and being well appointed in everything that tends to beauty or elegance, are not ashamed to devote their constant study and endeavours to the task of changing their manly character into an effeminate one.
Returning to the review essay, the marriage of Philo’s homicidal antipathy, expressing monotheism’s typical virulent anathematization of same-sex activity, with natural law thinking, spread such attitudes far and wide:
German military courts imposed less severe sentences upon homosexual offenses during World War II than did American ones, less sophisticated and more confused as to what measures they should adopt.
The initial response to the revelations about the death camps had its own grim elements:
…[homosexuals] marginality during the early years of the Federal Republic when, with the earlier movement crushed and forgotten, they could not defend themselves against the continuing repression of the governing Christian Democratic regime in Bonn.
Similar denials occurred even for Jews. Stalin’s regime refused to acknowledge the centrality of the killing of Jews in death camps. As Francois Furet noted, The Passing of an Illusion:
… so the Jews lost everything, even their misfortune.
with the horror that had happened to them as yet lacking even a name.

It is striking how anti-gay activists and commentators never consider homosexuals as people: indeed, often actively resent being confronted with evidence of their ordinary humanity:
It is a hallmark of the homophobic mentality that homosexuals exist only as objects of hatred and aversion, with no feelings that the Church or society need respect in any way.
This is another way in which homosexuality is the crimen nefandum or peccatum mutum “silent sin”. But it is the essence of bigotry that it attacks and denies or degrades the humanity of its contempt objects.

Several of the leading figures in the early homophile movements were Jewish. But if one is subject to more than one type of bigotry, one is likely to be more sensitive and perceptive about its dynamics:
Erwin J. Haeberle's "Swastika, Pink Triangle, and Yellow Star" correctly relates the persecution of sexology and of the homosexual rights movement to the Jewish ancestry of many of the leading figures in both.
The sad irony is that Jews were on both sides: those who stressed a common humanity and those who denied it. (This is, of course, still true.)

Repressive systems are often alike:
… what was actually inflicted on them in the Soviet Union following the adoption of the law of 7 March 1934 — symbolically on the first anniversary of the Nazi seizure of power in Germany — which prescribed a maximum penalty of five years in a forced labor camp for male homosexuality but ignored lesbianism. …
Lauritsen and Thorstad describe vividly the fate of the homosexuals in the Soviet Union:
In January 1934, mass arrests of gays were carried out in Moscow, Leningrad, Kharkov, and Odessa. Among those arrested were a great many actors, musicians, and other artists. They were accused of engaging in "homosexual orgies," and sentenced to several years of imprisonment or exile to Siberia. The mass arrests produced a panic among Soviet gays, and were followed by numerous suicides in the Red Army itself.
The vulnerability of the same-sex oriented manifested across the vilenesses of the Nazi regime:
Incarcerated homosexuals were among the first executed by Nazi doctors practicing euthanasia, as a document supplied by Henry Friedlander proves. In camps that tried to "reform" homosexuals through work and exposure to female prostitutes, if the inmates could perform — as many bisexual hustlers did — they were then released. Many died there of abuse and others who failed to perform with women were executed.
Since the notion underlying the bigotry iis that the same-sex active were an “improper” version of the human, had “betrayed” their humanity, even nature itself, has been so entrenched for so long, this made the same-sex active isolated victims even inside the camps themselves:
Even within the extermination camps other inmates shunned and ostracized the homosexual prisoners, as Boisson poignantly relates. They had the shortest life expectancies and highest death rates, because they belonged to a "scapegoat group" and because they were unable to form a strong support network. Lautmann contrasted them with matching control groups: political prisoners and Jehovah's Witnesses, finding that the death rate for homosexual prisoners (60 percent) was half again as high as for political prisoners (41 percent) and Jehovah's Witnesses (35 percent) and that correspondingly, upon liberation the political prisoners and Jehovah's Witnesses remaining in the camps (41 percent and 57 percent respectively) showed a higher survival rate than the homosexual prisoners.
As has been analysed in the case of Jewish survival rates in Occupied Germany, the attitude of the surrounding society made a difference:
… it must be remembered that only Germany, Austria and the Netherlands had organized homosexual emancipation movements before 1933, hence there was nothing for clerical and collaborationist governments to suppress. But everywhere inside and outside of the Reich, the protection and lassitude, or zeal and prejudice of local authorities were the main determinants of the fate of homosexuals.
But, as Rictor Norton points out that is also a long-term pattern in prosecutions of the same-sex active.

The sad thing is how a great inhumanity was built on attitudes that have been reflected even in reactions to that great horror:
The real scandal is that a world which was horrified by the crimes against humanity of the Third Reich remained indifferent to its treatment of homosexuals, denied compensa­tion to such survivors, and refused to inscribe the pink triangle on monuments to the victims. This silence is often the omission of the same historians and commentators who insult and defame the German people for their unwillingness to resist Hitler's policies, even though they were living in a country where everyone was at the mercy of the Gestapo and the rest of the Nazi terror apparatus.
The whole issue really comes down to notions of “proper” and “improper” versions of the human. If one rejects the entire notion of “improper” versions of the human, that the same-sex active are just folk, then they are just folk who are entitled to the equal protection of the law. They are just folk, who just have relationships which are entitled to the equal protection of the law.

It is the notion that they are not proper versions of the human, who do not have proper relationships, which justifies them not having equal protection of the law. It is precisely that attitude which led to the death camps—with the same-sex active particularly being the focus that maintained the notion of virtuous extermination—and continues to affect reactions to the horror of the death camps. The divide is between those who can see that the pink triangles of the death camps tell exactly the same lessons as the yellow stars and those who fail to do so.

No comments:

Post a Comment