A Common Thread
The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes
- Mark Twain
On June 28, 1935, the Ministry of Justice revised Paragraph 175, separating the previous law into three distinct portions, which dealt with: lewdness, severe lewdness, and bestiality. Under the original law only sodomy was punishable. However, under the new wording, the grounds for arrest and conviction were greatly broadened to include even the offense of thinking of homosexual acts. This extreme change in the law led to the subsequent arrest of over 100,000 men, and anywhere between 5,000 and 15,000 deportations to concentration camps.8
Once at these camps, men charged with the crime of homosexuality were forced to wear pink triangles, denoting them as sexual perverts and deviants. However, this pink patch did more than separate them in the eyes of the camp personnel; the pink also ostracized them from their fellow inmates. For instance, Heinz Heger said, "Our block senior and his aides were 'greens,' i.e. criminals. They look[ed] it, and behaved like it too. Brutal and merciless towards us 'queers', and concerned only with their own privelege and advantage, they were as much feared by us as the SS.”2 Clearly the brutality faced by homosexual convicts came from both those in charge as well as their fellow inmates and completely deteriorated any hopes of a support system within the concentration camp.
After the liberation of concentration camp inmates, many of the groups that had been victimized by the “Final Solution” were able to procure restitution for the brutality they had undergone. However, homosexuals were not among those able to seek reparations.1 Under the German penal code, homosexuality was not decriminalized until 1969.7 Furthermore, it was not until 1996 that class action suits against the German government for reparations included homosexuals as a victimized group.4
I never knew any of this until recently. Every year since 6th grade, I had been studying the Holocaust, and every year the class discussed the systematic destruction of Jews throughout Europe. The political prisoners had been brought up once or twice, the Gypsies fleetingly mentioned, but never homosexuals. Due to the fact that homosexuality is so stigmatized in our society, many teachers have passed over it. They have managed to gloss over more than 10,000 people. It is only through my own private study that I have become aware of another facet of Hitler’s terror. And while I would hope that everyone would seek out such information, so as to be well informed, I am most definitely in the minority. This ignorance to an entire group of Holocaust victims is unacceptable and it is our duty to bring to light this virtually unknown part of the Holocaust. As time moves on, we become more removed. We are touched only by the awing unfamiliarity and lack of personal connection. The ghostly faces of camp inmates and the terrible stories of starvation and abuse become little more than primary sources for a history lesson. Holocaust remembrance must not be a weeklong event; it must travel within us as we live everyday. It is only through active memory and awareness that we are able to truly learn the lessons of the Shoah.
Many would argue that we are doing all we can to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. Unfortunately, there is a plethora of examples clearly indicating that humanity has not done all it can to prevent future genocides, violations of human rights, and irrational prejudice. From 1975 to1979, the Khmer Rouge murdered 1.7 million Cambodians, nearly 21% of Cambodia’s population. In 1994, 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus were murdered in less than 100 days.3 Brian Williamson, a proponent of gay rights in Jamaica and founder of J-FLAG, was stabbed to death with a machete in June of 2004.6 On July 19th, 2005, Ayaz Marhoni and Mahmoud Asgari were hung in the city of Mashhad, Iran after being charged with homosexual activities.5 Today there are groups such as Aryan Nations, the KKK, National Alliance, and White Aryan Resistance.
As students, we are the future and it is up to us to vigorously strive toward preventing more instances of discrimination and intolerance. We can avoid derogatory comments and call out others who use them. Awareness groups can be started that focus on spreading information and express solidarity in diversity. We can write to our congress people about issues of civil discrimination. Whatever the medium, the goal must always be awareness. After all, you can’t fight something if you aren’t aware it exists.
And so, in an attempt to make others aware, I stitched a pink triangle onto my book bag. It is the heritage of thousands of men in a few thousand threads; a heritage I carry with me. But, it is not only on my bag. It is in my soul, in everything that I am and all that I strive to be. It is a legacy that transcends time, race, creed, and gender, and requires me to be a voice against hate.
The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by
the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the
Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.