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May 15th, 2016

A Small Measure Of Justice

This came across my Facebook stream just now…

Germany To Pardon More Than 50,000 Men Convicted Of Homosexuality

The German government has announced it will overturn the convictions of tens of thousands of gay men jailed before homosexuality was decriminalized.

“The historic convictions are wrong. They are deeply hurtful to human dignity,” said Justice Minister Heiko Maas. “We cannot completely completely undo these outrages of the rule of law, but we want to rehabilitate the victims.”

More than 50,000 gay men were convicted between 1946 and 1969, when homosexuality was decriminalized in both East and West Germany. Those men “should no longer have to live with the stain of a criminal record,” says Maas.

Some years ago, shortly after it was dedicated, I went to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to sit in on a series of lectures spread out over three days concerning the history of the persecution of homosexuals during the Third Reich. By then I’d already learned some of that history via a few books I’d found at Deacon Maccubbin’s Lambda Rising bookstore, and various articles in the gay press, and already the size and scope of how our history had been suppressed was stunning me. The lectures at the USHMM added to my understanding of the events surrounding the pink triangles, and more importantly, gave me their context in the greater turmoil that gripped Germany then.

The presenter was a young German scholar who had been studying the persecution of gays during that period. He had shown us several video interviews he’d made of camp survivors who’d worn the pink triangle, and said that as they aged it was important to get as much on the record as soon as possible. But he said, many of the men were still too ashamed or too closeted and were very reluctant to talk. After the war they had not been freed, but made to serve out the prison terms imposed on them by the Fascists, who had themselves rewritten many of the Wiemar Republic laws to make them harsher. Those criminal records had followed them for the rest of their lives he said, making it difficult for them to find work and places to live. And Germany kept their sodomy laws on the books…East Germany until 1957, and West Germany until 1969. So had any of these men been arrested again during that time they would have been facing repeat offender penalties.

So during one of the question and answer periods I asked him if there was any effort being made back in Germany to erase their records so they wouldn’t have it hanging over them anymore.

He almost laughed and said it didn’t matter since they were so old now. The implication being the only reason for doing so would be to make it easier for them to have sex. Well that raised my hackles a tad and raising my voice I said it was a matter of simple human dignity to take the criminal record off them and especially so if you didn’t think the Nazis had any right doing that to them in the first place. He dismissed me in the way Germans do to Ausländer who obviously don’t understand How Things Are Done, saying that there was no such effort being made at that time and there are more importing issues to concern ourselves with.

So anyway…they’re finally getting around to it. At some point it might be nice for the United States to get around to apologizing too, for not doing the decent thing back then and just letting those survivors of the Holocaust go free, even if they did happen to be homosexual.

gay in 1930s germany

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