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The stories behind the pink triangle

On International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia we reflect on the untold testimonies from the persecuted LGBTIQ community during the Holocaust.

As early as 1871 in Germany, homosexual acts between men were rendered as criminal acts in the infamous Paragraph 175. From 1933, Hitler’s Racial State sought to “purify” Germany of homosexuals.

It is important here to note that lesbianism was not a crime and the Nazis did not have a definitive policy to persecute homosexual women. Despite this, we do know that a number of homosexual women were denounced, arrested and sent to concentration camps as “a-social” prisoners.

The persecution of homosexuals by the Nazis led to the arresting of approximately 100,000 gay men, although this number is debated. Repeat offenders were arrested by the Gestapo and incarcerated in concentration camps. Historians do not have an accurate estimate as to how many homosexual prisoners were murdered.

Homosexual concentration camp prisoners were marked with a pink triangle, and were systematically ostracised and subjected to harsh labour. Some were castrated or used as guinea pigs in barbaric ‘medical’ experiments. Others were murdered within the so-called “Euthanasia ”program; the state sanctioned killing of people with disabilities. However, there is little survivor testimony from men who were forced to wear the pink triangle.

The Gay and Lesbian Holocaust Memorial in Darlinghurst, Sydney

The Gay and Lesbian Holocaust Memorial in Darlinghurst, Sydney

One reason for this was the residual prejudice towards the LGBTIQ community after WWII. Homosexual acts were classed as criminal in Germany until 1994. As such, homosexual survivors did not receive any restitution payments, nor did they feel the need in telling their stories of suffering and survival under Nazi rule. They felt that their stories about their treatment and fate would be to a society that did not care.

It was not until the 90s that these stories started to be heard in full and by 2000, there was just a handful of survivors alive. Of the 55,000 testimonies held by the USC Shoah Foundation (the recording and archiving body for witness and survivor testimony from the Holocaust, established by Steven Spielberg), only 6 are those of homosexual survivors.

A monument of the ‘pink triangle’, the Gay and Lesbian Holocaust Memorial, stands in Sydney’s Green Park, across the road from the Sydney Jewish Museum. This monument was opened in 2001 to acknowledge and commemorate the suffering of homosexual men and women during the Holocaust. In fact, it was not until 2008 that the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism was erected in Berlin.

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