Dallas Holocaust Museum invites the LGBT community to International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration
DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
The United Nations declared Jan. 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day to mark the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. And while Jews comprised the largest portion of those incarcerated and murdered by the Nazis, lesbians and gays were victims, too.
During the Holocaust, gay men and, to a lesser extent, lesbians were arrested in Nazi Germany along
with Jews, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses and a variety of other groups including priests and political opponents.
But after the war, gay men were treated much differently than other victims.
Dallas Holocaust Museum spokeswoman Nanette Fodell drew a parallel between the Holocaust and recent events affecting the LGBT community. She said that the Holocaust began with the bullying of Jewish children in schools.
“Bullying turned into genocide,” she said.
The law that criminalized homosexuality in Germany, known as Paragraph 175, was written in 1871. The law was rarely used during the Weimar Republic, and Berlin became one of the gayest cities in the world.
However, after the rise of the Third Reich, Paragraph 175 was enforced. Even after World War II, it remained on the books and continued to be used against gay men.
Tens of thousands of gays were arrested in Germany and, after they were occupied by the Nazis, the countries of Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland put similar laws into effect. Estimates by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., of the number of gay men arrested range up to 100,000.
The Nazis distinguished between those with “learned” behavior and “incorrigibles.” While those named incorrigibles were sent to concentration camps, many with s
o-called learned behavior were sent into the military. That group was put on the front lines and sent on suicide missions.
Those sent to camps had a short life expectancy as well. They died from overwork, starvation, physical brutality or murder.
That and other information about the plight of gays during this period has been gathered into a traveling exhibition entitled Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945. Fodell said the Dallas Holocaust Museum hopes to bring that exhibit here soon.
While Jewish prisoners wore a yellow triangle, gay men wore a pink triangle. Asocial individuals, the group that included lesbians, wore a black triangle.
Those with a pink triangle later reported miserable treatment by other prisoners as well as by their captors.
Gays were among those killed in an SS-sponsored “extermination through work” program that began in 1943.
Many of those who were liberated from the camps were rearrested after the war to serve out their terms of imprisonment. The punishment for homosexuality under Paragraph 175 was two years in prison, but time spent in a concentration camp did not count toward their sentence.
After the war, the West German government began paying reparations to those who had spent time in the camps. But in 1956, the government declared that those imprisoned for homosexuality did not qualify for compensation.
Homosexuality was finally decriminalized in East Germany in 1968 and in West Germany in 1969. But in the same way that the Texas sodomy law — Section 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code — remains on the books seven years after The U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional, Paragraph 175 was not expunged from the books until 1994. And not until 2002 did the German government grant a full pardon those who served time in prison for homosexuality.
The Holocaust museum in Washington presents a broad and encyclopedic view of the event. But the Dallas museum’s focus is tighter, with no extensive information yet on the lesbian and gay victims of the Holocaust
Fodell described the focused experience presented at the Dallas museum, located in a small, temporary space in the West End with plans to build a larger building nearby.
“We’re looking for our visitors to learn to make better decisions than were made during the Holocaust,” Fodell said. “Are you going to be an upstander or a bystander?”
The permanent exhibit focuses on three events that happened during one particular day. Much of the story is told through the personal effects and photos of survivors who moved to Dallas after the war and coverage in the local Dallas and Fort Worth newspapers.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is the first event covered in the exhibit.
The second is the story of the 20th deportation train from Belgium.
“This is the only time someone tried to stop a death train and freed about 230 people,” Fodell said.
The third event that occurred that day was the Bermuda Conference. World leaders met that day in Bermuda to discuss the Holocaust but decided to do nothing. Instead they played golf.
Few monuments exist to honor gay victims of the Holocaust. The Homomonument, the first, was built in Amsterdam in 1987. Since then, memorials to gay victims have been built in Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne and at the site of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
However, Dallas museum officials wanted to include the LGBT community in its Holocaust Remembrance Day event.
In July 2010, members of Westboro Baptist Church picketed both the museum and Congregation Beth El Binah, the primarily LGBT synogogue in Dallas. Fodell said the two groups formed a strong bond the day of that event.
To mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the museum will hold a candlelight ceremony at 6 p.m. The memorial will begin at the museum and proceed two blocks away to the site of the planned new building.
Participants are asked to bring a Yahrtzeit candle, a traditional memorial candle lit to remember the dead.
Candlelight Ceremony commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance, 211 North Record St. Jan 27 at 6-7 p.m. The museum is located at West End Station on the Red, Green, Blue and Orange lines.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 21, 2011.