GERMAN PRESIDENT
GERMAN PRESIDENT

German President Is Seeking Forgiveness for Persecution of Gays Under Nazi Rule

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier asked forgiveness for his country’s persecution of gay men, not only under Nazi rule but also in the years after 1945. The German president made these remarks while speaking at a ceremony in Berlin marking the 10th anniversary of a monument commemorated to gays persecuted by the Nazis.

Steinmeier said mistreatment of gays continued after the war in both East and West Germany. “The German state has inflicted heavy suffering on all these people, particularly under the Nazis, but also after that, in East Germany and also under the Basic Law,” the German president said.

Early attacks included a crackdown on Berlin’s thriving queer community, triggering an initial flight of homosexual Germans in the early 1930s. In 1933, Nazi Youth invaded and destroyed a sex research institute while party officials delivered speeches to thousands of onlookers.

RELATED | Here’s What Life Under the Nazis Was Like for Queer People

Within a few months, Hitler arranged to have many of his subordinates, including a high-ranking queer official, murdered. The party became dedicated to the extermination of homosexuality, an impossible feat given that it homosexuality an innate characteristic of human nature that cannot be wiped out.

Steinmeier said that the commemoration was for “the many tens of thousands of people whose private spheres, lives, love and dignity were infringed upon, denied and violated.” He honored the more than 50,000 men persecuted by the Nazis, who were “tortured, sent to prisons and to concentration camps.”

german president
Prisoners are marched outdoors by Nazi guards at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany on Dec. 19, 1938.

Even after the war ended, German officials preserved the Nazi campaign to destroy the lives of gay men. Laws allowing the abduction and abuse of queer people remained in force until the mid-’90s, with many victims re-imprisoned.

Paragraph 175 remained a provision of the German Criminal Code from 1871 to 1994. It made homosexual acts between males a crime, and in early revisions the provision also criminalized bestiality as well as forms of prostitution and underage sexual abuse. Around 140,000 men were convicted under the law. Nazis broadened the law in 1935, increasing the maximum penalty and widening the scope to include even non-sexual indications of homosexuality.

In the Federal Republic, Paragraph 175 (which affected only men) was abandoned in 1969 but wasn’t officially abolished until 1994. An estimated 50,000 men were sentenced to prison until 1969. After that year, another 3,500 men were imprisoned. Even so, it took until June 2017 for Germany to pass a law pardoning and compensating the gay men convicted under it.

“For this reason, I am asking for forgiveness today — for all the suffering and injustice and for the long silence that followed,” Steinmeier said Saturday.

Steinmeier’s speech also contained a pledge to today’s LGBTQI community in Germany. He said, “I call to all gays, lesbians, bisexuals, all queers, transsexuals and intersexuals in our country: Your sexual orientation and your sexual identity enjoy the protection of our state without question. Your dignity is also as inviolable as it should have been right from the start.”

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