Here’s What Life Under the Nazis Was Like for Queer People
It’s a chilling state of affairs. With the rise of a Republican administration, American Nazis have been emboldened to march through the streets, chanting racist slogans and waving racist flags. It’s high time that everyone in the country speak out against this surge in fascist violence — particularly queer people, who fared quite poorly under the Nazi regime.
As Hitler rose to power, Germany’s nascent queer liberation movement suffered severe persecution. For decades, organizers had been pushing for the decriminalization of homosexuality and a strong queer culture, and many German cities enjoyed a robust LGBT community.
Early Attacks on the LGBTQ Community
But that changed when the Nazi party began burning books and sending queer people to concentration camps to be killed. Tens of thousands of men were abducted by Nazis and trapped, with many dying in camps. And even after the war ended, most world leaders refused to acknowledge the atrocities against queer people, continuing the attacks pursued by Hitler and his followers.
Early attacks included a crackdown on Berlin’s thriving queer community, triggering an initial flight of homosexual Germans in the early 1930s. A sex research institute was invaded and destroyed by Nazi Youth, while party officials delivered speeches to thousands of onlookers.
Within a few months, Hitler arranged to have many of his subordinates, including a high-ranking queer official, murdered — a fact that may give gay Republicans pause today. The party became dedicated to the extermination of homosexuality, an impossible feat given that it is an innate characteristic of human nature that cannot be wiped out.
Queer Men Tortured in Nazi Camps
Many queer men were sent to camps; others were seized by Nazis who drugged them and forced them to become sterile. Officials generally dealt less harshly with lesbians, but still exerted pressure to force them to deny their true nature.
Nazis also modified the law to make it easier to kidnap queer men, making it illegal to kiss, touch or even write about affection.
Life for the Nazis’ queer victims was brutal, and their deaths were worse. Some had their fingernails pulled out. Others were beaten until their organs ruptured. One survivor recalled watching his 18-year-old lover stripped before he was eaten alive by dogs. In the camps, Nazis would boil men’s testicles until they separated from their bodies. They raped their victims with wooden planks and performed twisted medical experiments on them. Nazis also engaged in “conversion therapy” experiments continued by American religious groups to this day.
These are the atrocities that are echoed by Americans who now carry swastika flags.
Continuing the Attacks After the War
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.
Only in the 1980s did countries begin to acknowledge the suffering of queer victims, and it wasn’t until 2002 that Germany apologized and 2005 that the European Parliament mentioned the atrocities.
Given the prolonged suffering that nations exacted on queer men long after the war ended, it’s perhaps no surprise that Nazism would eventually resurface. Violent ideologies will continue to find a foothold in society until the decades of post-war persecution are recognized, repudiated and corrected at last.
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