Poignant Documentary Recalls Nazis Gay Victims
The Film Explores How an 1871 German Law Led to Prison and Death for
Thousands During WW II
Los Angeles Times,
February 23, 2001
Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA, 90053
Fax: 213-237-7679 or 213-237-5319
By Kevin Thomas, Times Staff Writer
When filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman went to the 1997 Amsterdam
premiere of their documentary "The Celluloid Closet," based on Vito
Russos landmark survey of how gays and lesbians have been depicted in the
movies, they met Dr. Klaus Muller, a German historian and European project
director for the U.S. Holocaust Museum. They then embarked upon a
collaboration with Muller, who had been researching gay survivors of the Nazis
since the early 90s.
The result is their prize-winning new documentary, "Paragraph
175," which takes its title from the German anti-gay law passed in 1871
and enforced in East Germany until 1968 and West Germany until 1969.
At once illuminating, poignant and heartening, "Paragraph 175,"
eloquently narrated by Rupert Everett, calls attention to the fact that the
Third Reich systematically targeted gay men as well as Jews, Gypsies,
Communists and anyone else it deemed undesirable.
That gays were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, required to wear
pink triangles, just as Jews had to wear yellow Star of David patches, is not
all that well-known. A 1993 survey commissioned by the American Jewish
Committee revealed that only half of the adults in Britain and only one-fourth
of American adults knew that gays were victims of the Nazis.
Whats more, the 20th century ended without any effort on the part of the
German government to offer reparations to gay survivors, whose fate went
unnoticed at the Nuremberg trials. Muller, who looks to be thirty-something,
tells us he grew up in Germany unaware of the Nazi treatment of gays.
In the course of the 12 years of the Third Reich, about 100,000 men were
arrested for homosexuality. Roughly half were sent to prisons and 10,000 to
15,000 were sent to concentration camps. Since most gay men were Gentiles,
they were not slated for execution but were made slave laborers or subjected
to medical experimentation; their death rate, however, is estimated to be as
high as 60% the highest percentage for non-Jewish victims of the Nazis.
By 1945, only 4,000 had survived. By the time "Paragraph 175" was
shot, only 10 were known to be still alive, with two declining to participate.
We meet six of them, with one man appearing only long enough to protest,
"Oh, Ive talked about this so much," and then refusing to say
While the Nazis regarded male homosexuality as contagious and therefore a
threat to the Third Reich, they curiously viewed lesbianism as a
"temporary, curable" condition. Only five lesbians are on record as
having been sent to concentration camps, although the Nazis closed down
lesbian bars as swiftly as gay bars and gathering places. Also participating
in the film is Annette Eick, a lesbian and a Jew, who speaks of her miraculous
escape to England while losing her entire family to Auschwitz. The Nazis were
soon not only enforcing Paragraph 175, but also extending it. Gossip and
innuendo were enough to have a man arrested and imprisoned without trial.
Through a treasure trove of vintage stills and archival footage the
filmmakers evoke the glittering high life of Weimar Republic Berlin, a center
of avant-garde art and literature and and a mecca for gays and lesbians, who
could live openly at a time when pioneer gay activist Dr. Magnus Hirshfeld,
founder of the prestigious Institute of Sexual Science, was leading a campaign
to repeal Paragraph 175. Even with the rise of Hitler, gays, like many Jews,
considered themselves Germans first, which in many instances slowed their
response to danger. Many gays were also given a false sense of security when
Hitler, shortly after coming to power, stood by Ernst Roehm, his burly chief
organizer of the fearsome storm troopers, when Roehm came under fire for his
well-known homosexuality. However, in the following year, 1934, during the
notorious Night of the Long Knives, Roehm was murdered after he refused to
Gad Beck, Heinz Dormer, Pierre Seel, Heinz F. and Albrecht Becker, ranging
in age from late 70s to mid-90s, recall with pleasure and amusement sexual
adventures of long ago, many of them carried out in a spirit of defiance and
at high risk. These men come across as sturdy survivors, which provides
uplifting and crucial contrast to the terrible stories they have to tell.
Alsatian Seel recounts, among other atrocities, witnessing a concentration
camp friend being eaten alive by German shepherd dogs.
Especially moving is the dignified Heinz F., who beginning in 1935 spent
nearly nine years in concentration camps, returning home to help his brother
run the family store without ever speaking of his ordeal until, at age 93, he
recounts for this documentary his experiences for the first time. There are
tears shed for the dozen friends he witnessed being summarily shot to death,
but at the end of his account, he says with a smile, "Ive got a thick
skin, no?" As for Heinz Dormer, not only did he spend nearly a decade
behind bars for Paragraph 175 violations, being released only with the wars
end in 1945, he spent another eight years in prison for post-World War II
Reparations, should they ever be made, seem unlikely to arrive in time for
these men. Muller, however, has seen to it that the experiences of gays during
the Third Reich have been acknowledged and preserved at the U.S. Holocaust
Unrated. Times guidelines: Persecution accounts are too stark and intense
for youngsters. Paragraph 175
A New Yorker Films release of a Telling Pictures production.
Producers-directors Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman. Producers Michael
Ehrenzweig, Janet Cole; co-producer Howard Rosenman. Director of
research/associate producer Klaus Muller. Writer Sharon Wood. Cinematographer
Bernd Meiners. Editor Dawn Logsdon. Music Tibo Szemzo. Running time: 1 hour,
Exclusively at the Nuart through Thursday, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West
Los Angeles, (310) 478-6379.
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