Before the rise of the Nazis, LGBT life in German was thriving and Berlin in particular was probably the most liberal city in Europe with a growing number of support organisations, bars, cafes, publications and cultural events taking place.
Paragraph 175 of the German Penal code, which criminalised homosexual acts, was being less rigorously applied and the lobbying work of Hirschfeld’s Scientific Humanitarian Committee was successfully gaining support in government for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
All those gains were abruptly halted when Hitler became chancellor. On May 6th 1933 the Institute for Sexual Science was looted and closed. Paragraph 175 was toughened and courts were encouraged to apply severe penalties.
Over the course of the next 12 years thousands of LGBT people fled from Germany including Hirschfeld himself. More than 100,000 gay men and trans women were arrested for the crime of homosexuality. At least 50,000 received jail sentences, many in severe conditions. And estimated 15,000 were sent to concentration camps where they were required to wear a pink triangle to mark them as homosexual.
There they were subjected to extensive medical experimentation and many were castrated or drugged and subjected to electric shock treatments ina search for a cure for homosexuality. Gay men were seen as disposable subjects for wide ranging medical experiments. In one camp SS troops used the pink triangle worn on their shirts as a target for shooting practice.
Near the end of the war, Hitler’s need for troops was so great that many of the surviving gay men were released into the army where they were mostly sent to the Russian front in Siberia. There the conditions were very difficult and survival rates were even lower than in the prison and concentration camps.
In 1945 when liberation came, less than 4000 gay men and trans women had survived, but there was to be no reprieve. Homosexuality was illegal in both the UK and USA and the Allies and the new West German state made no efforts to change the Nazi anti-gay laws which remained on the statute books until 1968. Many of the gay survivors were re-imprisoned to complete their sentences, they were shunned by families for shaming them, and were never acknowledged as victims of the holocaust so neither they nor their families were entitled to the compensation other victims were granted.
It was not until 2002 that the German Government apologised for the crimes of the Nazis against LGBT People and erected a memorial in 2008. In the past decade have these victims have begun to be properly recognised. You can find more information about the shameful way Gay and Trans people were treated by both the Nazis and the Allies at the HOMOCAUST site where I read this
In the 1945 Nuremberg war crime trials that followed the liberation no mention was ever made of crimes against homosexuals. No SS official was ever tried for specific atrocities against pink triangle prisoners. Many of the known SS Doctors, who had performed operations on homosexuals, were never brought to account for their actions. One of the most notorious SS doctors was Carl Peter Vaernet who performed numerous experiments on pink triangle inmates at the Buchenwald and Neuengamme camps. He was never tried for his crimes and escaped to South America where he died a free man in 1965.
Today the Pink Triangle, originally intended as a badge of shame has been reclaimed as an international symbol of Gay Pride and the Gay Rights Movement, a movement that owes a great deal to a Gay Jewish doctor, Magnus Hirschfeld.
January 27th is Holocaust Memorial Day – this year 2014 being the 69th anniversary of the liberation and this year Tel Aviv joins Berlin, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Sydney and San Francisco in publicly recognising Gay victims of the holocaust.