Telling the stories of persecution

Curator calls the exhibit in Dallas the most personal of all the Holocaust stories he’s told

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Of all the exhibits Ted Phillips has worked on in his 17 years as director of exhibitions and resources at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945 is “nearest and dearest to my heart,” he said in a a recent interview.

The traveling show is currently on display at the Dallas Holocaust Museum. On a visit to Dallas for the opening of the exhibit, the curator said he spent two years of his life researching the topic.

“My friends thought I was doing it 24/7,” he said. “It was all I talked about.”

Phillips said that at times he had to stop looking at the pictures of men who were so similar to him — gay and around his age — who were tortured to death by the Nazis. Sometimes he had to put the pictures aside to write the script, he said.

Phillips was an unlikely candidate for his current position. With no museum experience, he said that if he applied for the job today, he would never be considered for it.

“I fell into it,” Phillips said.

With a Ph.D. in Russian history, he had been teaching at the University of Maryland. In 1994, the museum was still looking for staff and a colleague suggested, “How about a nice historian.”

Phillips, who has been with the museum for 17 years, has been part of every exhibit the museum has created since then. That includes the one currently on display at the Dallas Holocaust Museum.

“When the museum [in Washington] was putting itself together in the late ’80s, early ’90s, they wanted to tell more than the core story of the persecution and murder of six million Jews,” he said.

He said that after the museum was up and running, ideas that were originally brochures, such as the treatment of gay men, were developed into full-blown exhibits.

The museum opened to the public the same weekend that the 1993 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights took place. Many people who were in town for the LGBT rights demonstration visited the museum.

“So we knew we had strong audience interest in the subject from the beginning,” Phillips said.

But work on the show now in Dallas didn’t begin until about 10 years later.

While assembling the exhibit, Phillips made two trips to Germany to work with the Schwule (Gay) Museum in Berlin. A contract researcher in the city also sent information back.

“So much of what we were working with were police files,” Phillips said.

He said that drawers of files and documents in German back up the story as told in the exhibit. However, little personal testimony exists.

Phillips speculates that since Nazi-era laws regarding homosexuality remained on the books until 1969 in West Germany, few gay people came forward to talk about the persecution they suffered. Some who sought reparations in the 1970s were rebuffed and told that gays were not persecuted and not entitled to compensation, Phillips said.

In East Germany, the Nazi version of Paragraph 175, the anti-homosexuality law, reverted to that of the Weimar Republic, he said. That law had fewer generalities under which so many men were arrested.

But discrimination continued and East German gays had other reasons to not tell their stories.

Phillips said that he worries about the first section of his exhibit. That portion details how it was possible to go from acceptance of gays in Berlin to thousands of people put in concentration camps.

But while most people who visit the Holocaust Museum are horrified by the inhumanity, Phillips said he wonders what some people have gotten from the exhibits.

“Obama is Hitler,” he said, is one comment that he sees visitors enter in the guest book, and he calls that utter ignorance of history. But that is why he worries about the introductory panels in Nazi Treatment of Homosexuals.

“Is the beginning a how-to?” he asked.

During his study of the subject, Phillips learned about the difference between the Nazis’ ultimate goal with Jews and with gays.

The objective was to rid society of Jews so Jews from every place under Nazi control were sent to concentration camps and death camps.

But the goal with gays was to change their behavior so they would help build the Aryan population. Gays — other than those who were also Jewish — were still considered Aryans. With hard work, they could be changed to produce more Aryan children.

So only German gays were arrested.

“Being forced to work hard would correct their behavior,” Phillips said of the Nazi mentality about gays.

Except for about 2 percent who were considered incorrigible, Nazis considered gays’ behavior something that could be unlearned. Generally the sentences given were relatively short — about 18 months. But gays were often assigned to punishment battalions.

“They got the hardest work, longest hours, least food and quickest death,” Phillips said. “The mortality rate was extraordinary, but they weren’t sent to the gas chambers.”

Lesbians were generally not arrested because they could still produce children. Those who were detained were often taken for political reasons or for being “asocial.”

Phillips said there was, oddly, no record of gay Jews. The pink triangle with an overlaid yellow triangle (pink indicating gay and yellow Jewish) was listed in a Nazi chart of prisoner markings. But the usually meticulous record keepers did not chronicle any examples of its use that Phillips could find.

“So it was established, but there’s no evidence that it was put into use,” he said.

Phillips said he used the term “homosexual” in the title of the exhibit because it reflected the connection and importance of sex and reproduction to the reason for the arrests.

He said that “gay” as known it today is something quite different.

The exhibit remains in Dallas through Sept. 5.

Dallas Holocaust Museum, 211 Record Street at West End Station. Mon.-Fri. 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. $8. 214-741-7500.

—  John Wright

LGBT synagogue helps bring exhibit on Nazi persecution of gays to Dallas Holocaust Museum

Prisoners at forced labor in the Mauthausen concentration camp. Beginning in 1943, homosexuals were among those in concentration camps who were killed in an SS-sponsored “extermination through work” program. (Courtesy of Nederlands Instituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie, courtesy U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)

“Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933 – 1945,” a traveling exhibit from the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., will be at the Dallas Holocaust Museum June 3-Sept. 5, museum president and CEO Alice Murray announced today.

Congregation Beth El Binah, an LGBT Reform Jewish congregation, is working with the museum to secure funding to bring the exhibit to Dallas and develop programming around the exhibition.

Museum spokeswoman Nanette Fodell said, “We’re thrilled and looking forward to welcoming the LGBT community to the museum.”

When Hitler came to power in 1933, he banned all gay and lesbian organizations and the 1871 law known as Paragraph 175 was enforced:

A male who commits lewd and lascivious acts with another male or permits himself to be so abused for lewd and lascivious acts, shall be punished by imprisonment. In a case of a participant under 21 years of age at the time of the commission of the act, the court may, in especially slight cases, refrain from punishment.

In 1935, it was amended to include this “Confinement in a penitentiary not to exceed ten years.”

After World War II, gays who survived concentration camps were imprisoned to finish their sentences. Time served in a concentration camp did not count toward their sentences.

Paragraph 175 was repealed in 1993.

The partnership between Beth El Binah and the museum began last summer when Westboro Baptist Church picketed both the synagogue and the museum. That day, a fundraising record was hit for a Phelps protest when $11,000 was raised for Resource Center Dallas.

Congregation President Diane Litke said, “Our friendship with the museum and bringing this exhibit to Dallas is just more good that came from Fred Phelps visit.”

The Dallas Holocaust Museum Center for Education and Tolerance, 211 N. Record St. is located in Downtown Dallas at West End Station. Mon.–Fri. 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 11 a.m.–5 p.m.

—  David Taffet

Pink triangle: Even after World War II, gay victims of Nazis continued to be persecuted

German police file photo of a man arrested in October 1937 for suspicion of violating Paragraph 175. (Courtesy of Landesarchiv, Berlin)

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

WATCH VIDEO OF GAY CONCENTRATION CAMP SURVIVOR

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

Prisoners at forced labor in the Mauthausen concentration camp. Beginning in 1943, homosexuals were among those in concentration camps who were killed in an SS-sponsored “extermination through work” program. (Courtesy of Nederlands Instituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie, courtesy U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)

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.

Commemoration

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.

—  John Wright