The German parliament for the first time on Friday focused its annual Holocaust memorial commemorations on people persecuted and killed over their sexual or gender identity during World War II.
Campaigners in Germany have worked for decades to establish an official ceremony to commemorate the LGBTQ victims persecuted under the Nazi regime.
“Today’s hour of remembrances focuses on a group of victims which had to fight for a long time to achieve recognition: people who were persecuted by the National Socialists because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity,” Baerbel Bas, president of the Bundestag lower house, said while opening a ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation.
Section 175 of the German penal code had made sexual intercourse between men punishable by imprisonment. The section was dropped from the penal code in East Germany in 1968, whereas in West Germany it reverted to the pre-Nazi era version in 1969 and was only fully abolished in 1994.
“Kisses, touching – even glances became punishable by law. Tens of thousands were accused of homosexuality. This alone was often enough to ruin their social life and existence,” Bass said during the sombre commemoration.
“More than half of these men were convicted, usually to serve long prison sentences or forced labor. In some cases, men were forced to undergo sterilization. Many were driven to suicide,” she added.
The Bundestag president said that while mostly gay men were affected, “lesbian women were by no means safe from persecution. Neither were people who could not or did not want to live as the gender society demanded of them.”
“Those who did not conform to National Socialist norms, lived in fear and mistrust. The hardest hit were the many thousands of men and women who were deported to concentration camps because of their sexuality – usually under a pretext. Many were abused for medical experiments, most perished after only a short time or they were murdered,” she added.
‘Symbol of recognition’
Germany’s Lesbian and Gay Association rights group welcomed Friday’s ceremony, calling it an “important symbol of recognition” of “the suffering and the dignity of the imprisoned, tortured and murdered victims.”
Some members of Germany’s LGBTQ community attended the event in parliament.