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The persecution of homosexual men in Berlin 1933-1945

26. March 2000 – 30. July 2000

The years of the Weimar Republic brought a greater social acceptance of homosexuals. lt seemed only a matter of time before decriminalization would be a fact. These hopes were crushed. Two exhibitions, presented simultaneously in Sachsenhausen and Berlin, will shed a light on the persecution of gay men in Berlin and their specific situation in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

The life stories of homosexual men under the Nazi regime are told through moving, very personal documents and objects. Many of these are shown for the first time: drawings from the camp, family mementoes as weIl as archival material.

§ 175, the penal code section on homosexual acts was tightened in 1935 and used to step up measures against homosexual men. In 1936 Himmler appointed a special authority, the ‘Reich administration to combat homosexuality and abortion’. Court sentences reached new heights. In 1934, almost 1000 gay men throughout the German Reich were sentenced according to the old § 175. By 1938 their number had increased eightfold. A flood of new edicts followed. Even worse than a jail sentence was imprisonment in penitentiaries and the camps in the northern swamp areas of Germany (Emsland). After the outbreak of war, these men were usually sent either to a concentration camp or to the front. From then on hardly anyone was released from a camp or prison.

Never before has the life of gay men in the concentration camp been shown in such detail. The Sachsenhausen camp files were either destroyed by the SS or disappeared into Moscow archives. Occasional copies landed in the Sachsenhausen memorial. Interviews with eyewitnesses and research in Moscow, Sachsenhausen, Potsdam and Berlin have now enabled us to trace the names of 700 individuals affected.

After 1945, the Nazi version of §175 remained valid. Most attempts to be officially recognized as a victim were smothered, as were the attempts to obtain state “compensation”. Gay victims of the Nazi regime are still awaiting their social and juridical rehabilitation.

Curator: Andreas Sternweiler