Benjamin Cohen reflects on the persecution of gay people by the Nazis as Britain marks Holocaust Memorial Day.
This is Ben Cohen’s review.
If I was alive 75-year-ago and living in Berlin and not London, my outlook would not have been looking good and not just because I’m Jewish. Like some of those who found themselves in concentration camps, I also have a disability, I am member of a trade union and perhaps more pertinently, like some of the people reading this article, I am gay.
More than 80 years ago, Hitler ordered the creation of a list of homosexuals, who would later find themselves persecuted. In total, during their time in power, the Nazis arrested 100,000 people for homosexuality, imprisoning half of them including up to 15,000 in concentration camps. Many of those imprisoned died, some after sickening experiments by scientists trying to find the ‘cure’ for homosexuality.
Unfortunately, when the allies liberated the concentration camps, many of the gay people who were imprisoned were not set free. Instead they were transferred to prisons, then under the control of the Allied forces. Their crime, homosexuality, something outlawed before the Nazis took power, remained on the statute book until 1968 in East Germany and 1969 in West Germany. Unlike other victims of Nazi persecution, they were not offered reparations and it took until 2002 for the German government to officially apologise for the Nazis’ crimes against gay people. Today memorials to the Nazi persecution of the gay community are found in Berlin, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Sydney and Tel Aviv.
Holocaust Memorial Day, marked today is the opportunity to remember all of the victims of Nazi persecution. The Nazi’s rule of terror was an era that witnessed the single worst example of misery that humanity has ever inflicted on itself. Today in my view, also provides moment of reflection for what happened still in our collective lifetimes and an opportunity to galvanise us never to allow the same persecution of minority groups happen again.
Many countries are still murdering or imprisoning gay people for who we are.
One of the most important visits during my world travels in the 70s was entering Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration Camps in Poland. Profound and disturbing, the presence of the 400, 000 who passed through these spaces has never left me. The Gypsies and the homosexuals were at the bottom of the pecking order even amongst the prisoners.