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Gays and the Holocaust

Wednesday, 27 November 2002 12:00 AM

Ted Phillips is the curator of the exhibit. The promotional brochures about the exhibit state that in 1871, homosexual sex was prohibited in Germany by a law referred to as Paragraph 175. Penalties under that law were made harsher by the Nazis, and included castration and interment in concentration camps. The brochure information also states that from 1935 to 1939, “78,000 men were arrested for violating Paragraph 175.” A significant number of those arrested were sent to concentration camps, where they were forced to wear pink triangles making them easily identifiable, and were “often subjected to physical and sexual abuse by camp guards and fellow inmates.”

Homosexuals, along with Jews, Gypsies, Soviet POWs, the mentally and physically handicapped and Jehovah's Witnesses, were marked for annihilation. Of those murdered by Nazis in and out of concentration camps, six million were Jews. The other groups totaled five million.

Persecution of homosexuals in Germany did not cease after the end of the war. The Jewish paper, Forward, makes the shocking revelation that “homosexuals who were found in 1945 by allied forces in concentration camps and detention facilities were transferred to German prisons to complete their sentences.”

According to the exhibit’s descriptive material, in 1969, West Germany “decriminalized homosexual relations between men over age 21.” But it wasn't until May of 1985 that West German president Richard von Weizaker publicly acknowledged the Nazi murder of homosexuals. In 1994, West Germany abolished Paragraph 175 and in 2002, the German Parliament pardoned homosexuals convicted by the Nazis under Paragraph 175.

Interestingly, the current Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, is openly gay, as is the Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe. Both were elected with public knowledge of their sexual orientation.

In 1996, New York City’s Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust announced that it was planning to include in its exhibits some of the measures taken by the Nazis to exterminate German and Austrian homosexuals. The announcement was met with denunciation by several individuals, including Dr. Howard Hurwitz, who objected to the inclusion of homosexuals as victims of the Nazis. I wrote to Dr. Hurwitz, “Your efforts and those of Yitzchak ben Chaim of the Council for Authentic Judaism to deny history puts you, in my opinion, in the same category as the Holocaust revisionists who state that the Nazis didn’t kill the Jews -- there was no ‘final solution.’”

To its credit, the Museum of Jewish Heritage went ahead with its plans. I am suggesting to the Museum’s current director, David Marwell, that he arrange to borrow the D.C. Holocaust Museum’s far larger and detailed exhibit for display in New York when the D.C. exhibit closes in March of 2003.

I am proud of the fact that by executive order of January 1978, I banned government discrimination in employment and housing against individuals because of their sexual orientation. I am also proud that in 1986, at my initiative, legislation was introduced in the City Council to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment and housing in the private sector. That law was fiercely opposed by many who, years later, concurred that it was a good piece of legislation.

During the recent gubernatorial campaign, Governor George Pataki, Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver, and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno made public commitments that before the end of this year, a vote would be held in both houses on a law that would protect those living in New York State from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Such legislation passed the Assembly many years ago and many times since, but was never brought to the floor of the Senate. The first bill on the subject in the New York State Senate was introduced in 1993 by former State Senator Roy Goodman.

In 1962, when I ran for the Assembly (and lost), I included in my platform a repeal of New York's sodomy laws, which criminalized homosexuality between consenting adults. Those laws were later ruled by the courts to be unenforceable. Not so in some states, where they still exist today.

Prejudice dies hard and many lose heart in the constant fight to achieve a fair and tolerant society. Victories in changing attitudes do not come easy. And when they come, we should remember that the struggle must continue in all matters of conscience, no matter the obstacles, so that the enormous sacrifices of those who came before us were not in vain.

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Ted Phillips is the curator of the exhibit.The promotional brochures about the exhibit state that in 1871, homosexual sex was prohibited in Germany by a law referred to as Paragraph 175.Penalties under that law were made harsher by the Nazis, and included castration and...
Wednesday, 27 November 2002 12:00 AM
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