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Gruesome new research from historian Jens Kolata has uncovered cases of the “voluntary emasculation” (i.e., castration) of gay men in West Germany until the end of the 1960s. These castrations were conducted in a prison hospital in Baden-Württemberg, a German state about 140 miles south of Frankfurt.
Between 1945 and 1969, at least twelve men were castrated for their homosexuality at the Hohenasperg law enforcement hospital near Ludwigsburg (photo above). Recently, the newspaper Stuttgarter Zeitung reported on an “accidental discovery” by historian Jens Kolata who researches crimes during Germany’s national socialist period (aka the Nazi-era) at the Institute of Ethics and History in the University of Tübingen.
Until 1969, homosexuality in West Germany was completely punishable under the infamous Paragraph 175, a 1871 legal passage used by Nazis to send gays to World War II concentration camps; gay prisoners wore the pink triangle, a symbol which later became an icon for gay liberation. Paragraph 175 remained in place after the war, with less harsh punishments dealt out, and yet, gay people could still be sent to jail for up to five years for the punishment of so-called “unnatural fornication acts”.
The fact that castrations were made at the time—especially on sex offenders—is historically not a novelty (you may recall that British WWII codebreaker Alan Turing was also sentenced to chemical castration by his home country in 1952, something they only recently apologized for). But then, the researcher Kolata came across reports of psychologist Nikolaus Heim from 1980; “A random find,” Kolata told Stuttgart Zeitung.
12 cases of gay men castrated
These studies show 12 follow-up examinations of former prisoners all castrated between 1945 and the 1960s for the “crime” of homosexuality; all of these occurred in the Hohenasperg prison at Ludwigsburg. When interviewed by the press, the Justice of Land Ministry said that if the findings were confirmed true, it would be very regrettable. “We want to clarify this,” said spokesperson Steffen Tanneberger.
As early as 1996, an anonymous victim of Paragraph 175 stated on a live broadcast that he had been “castrated near Stuttgart” in 1968: “They threatened to free me only after I let myself be castrated,” said the man who called himself “Gustav” on the telephone.
According to queer.de, the search and reconnaissance project Der Liebe wegen—a group that promotes acceptance and equal rights in Baden-Württemberg—now wants to make the 12 randomly discovered cases of castration accessible to the wider public. Project leader Ralf Bogen called these findings “completely new insights.”
Martin Cüppers, a University of Stuttgart researcher coordinating a project on the persecution of sexual minorities, believes that the history of German gay persecution must be rewritten and that these findings could also have an impact on the current debate about the rehabilitation and compensation of victims persecuted under Paragraph 175.
Last October, the Federal Ministry of Justice of Heiko Maas (of the Social Democratic Party, or SPD, in Germany) presented the first draft of a bill for recompensating people sentenced for consensual homosexual acts after May 8, 1945. The bill is still in discussion.