Paragraph 175: The Nazi persecution of gays
After the heady freedom of the Weimar republic for the LGBT community, the Nazi regime went after the gays with a vengeance using Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code.
Under Paragraph 175, around 8,000 gays were convicted a year during the Nazi rule. After World War Two, reports indicate 100,000 homosexual men were arrested and 50,000 were sent to prison.
Between 5,000 and 15,000 were sent to concentration camps.
Paragraph 175 was so insidious, this law actually came into being long before the Nazis came to power– and was still being used until the 1990s in Germany to prosecute homosexuality.
What is the dreaded Paragraph 175?
Germany considered homosexuality a crime even as early as the Middle Ages but the national prohibition of Paragraph 175 was only added to the German Criminal Code (or the Reich Penal Code) in 1871.
This section considered any sex act “between persons of male sex” as unnatural, while likewise equating it with bestiality. Both sex acts were punishable by imprisonment and the loss of civil rights.
With the death of Adolph Hitler’s openly-homosexual ally in the Sturmabteilung (SA), Ernest Roem, and at least 100 of his men in 1935, Paragraph 175 was made even encompassing to include “any unnatural sexual act.”
But prior to this, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels already instituted the party’s policy on homosexuals in 1933 by declaring: “We must exterminate these people root and branch; the homosexual must be eliminated.”
Sadly, despite the fall of the Nazi regime in the aftermath of the war, Paragraph 175 stayed in the German criminal code even as the succeeding government remained anti-homosexual. The law was only fully removed in 1994.
The gay victims of Paragraph 175
Gays found guilty of Paragraph 175 or even suspected of being homosexuals were brought to concentration camps for ‘reeducation.’
There, they were first tagged with ‘Paragraph 175’ on their jackets before this was later replaced with the infamous pink triangle.
In the camps, majority of the gays were sent to the gas chambers. German homosexuals were turned into slave labor, castrated, or became subjects in inhumane experiments.
“The windows had a centimeter of ice on them. Anyone found with his underclothes on in bed, or his hand under his blanket– there were checks almost every night– was taken outside and had several bowls of water poured over him before being left standing outside for a good hour,” said Heinz Heger, one of the survivors of the camps.
“Only a few people survived this treatment. The least result was bronchitis, and it was rare for any gay person taken into the sick-bay to come out alive. We who wore the pink triangle were prioritised for medical experiments, and these generally ended in death. For my part, therefore, I took every care I could not to offend against the regulations,” Heger said.
After the war, gays still suffered under Paragraph 175. Between 1945 to 1969, about 100,000 were indicted while 50,000 were sent to prison under this law.
Lesbians affected by Paragraph 175
Though lesbians didn’t suffer the brunt of the Nazi regime’s purging of gays because lesbianism wasn’t considered ‘aggressive’ and ‘predatory’ (unlike homosexuality), they were still made victims of Paragraph 175.
They also had to undergo compulsory registration after being denounced by authorities. They were routinely rounded up by the police and other organizations like the Race Policy Bureau.
In one instance among five documented cases, 26-year old Elli S– who was recorded as not being a Jew– was detained among political prisoners. Her crime for being detained? Being a lesbian.