Last edited: July 11, 2004

Documentary Unveils Nazi Brutalization of Gays

New York Times News Service, July 6, 2001

By Ken Parish Perkins, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Albrecht Becker, his voice faint at times, cracking at others, is speaking of his first romantic affair. He was 18, his lover 45. They stayed together for 10 years, though he stops short of calling it romantic bliss.

Becker, now well into his 80s, was a motion-picture art director residing in Hamburg in Nazi Germany - and he was openly gay. He admitted as much to police when they hauled him away to jail, beating him to a pulp along the way. Upon his release, Becker found he could no longer live comfortably in the village where he grew up since all the men had left to join the army. So he enlisted, too.

Photos of Becker’s lovers are scattered about in "Paragraph 175," a provocative documentary airing Monday on HBO that boldly reveals a seldom-told story of the Holocaust - one that has long been kept neatly out of sight.

Paragraph 175 was a portion of the German penal code dating to 1871. It broadened the definition of illegal male homosexual behavior (the German authorities viewed lesbianism as a curable condition), and it was brutally enforced as part of the Nazi campaign to eliminate so-called "undesirables." Between 1933 and 1945, about 100,000 men were arrested under the aegis of Paragraph 175.

Gay men, mostly German Christians, were forced to wear pink triangles, imprisoned and often sent to concentration camps where they were beaten, shot to death or left to die from horrible illnesses. About 4,000 survived, according to this documentary. Six appear on camera here to tell the little-known stories of their devastating experiences, and all six look beaten down, as though they’ve been to hell and back.

Heinz Dormer remembers being part of a youth movement that spawned a generation of idealistic young Germans proclaiming a romantic, sensual, physical vision of the world. He tells of having sex with some boys in his group, which ended up being overcome by, or assimilated into, the burgeoning Hitler Youth movement.

He also describes the "singing forest" - the screams of prisoners hung from trees in the forest as their captors prolonged their agonizing final moments.

Annette Eick says Weimar Germany was in the 1920s a kind of "homosexual Eden," with authorities largely ignoring Paragraph 175, and sexual pioneers like Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld leading campaigns for gay emancipation.

She describes the atmosphere of Berlin clubs that catered to lesbians, many of whom dressed as men, and remembers having a crush on "a Marlene Dietrich look-alike who later saved my life" by getting her a permit to flee Germany during the war.

That’s as light as this documentary gets. Becker and his lover lived under constant fear because gays were viewed not as political prisoners but as criminals under the Nazi sodomy law, which remained on the books through the late ‘60s.

Paragraph 175 shows how Hitler changed his laissez-faire policy toward the homosexual culture by making scapegoats of gays, who often met the same fate as the millions of Jews who were eliminated as part of the Final Solution.

Yet another grim chapter to the brutal Nazi legacy.

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