The Nazi War on Gay People

Even after the Nazi defeat in 1945, gay survivors continued to be persecuted. Tomorrow the UK marks Holocaust Memorial Day, and human rights activist Peter Tatchell reminds us why we shell never forget.


In the early 1930s, Berlin was the gay capital of the world, with a huge, buzzing gay scene of bars and clubs. It boasted gay magazines and gay arts and sports associations, as well as organisations campaigning for greater understanding and rights. Life in Berlin was good – and getting better – for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Although homosexuality was illegal under paragraph 175 of the German criminal code, it was rarely enforced. In the Reichstag, MPs were on the verge of securing its repeal. A new era of freedom seemed to be dawning.

Then came Nazism.

Within weeks of assuming power in 1933, Hitler outlawed homosexual organisations and publications. Gay bars and clubs were closed down soon afterwards. Storm troopers ransacked the headquarters of the gay rights movement, the Institute of Sexual Science, and publicly burned its vast library of “degenerate” books. Before the end of the year, the first homosexuals were deported to newly established concentration camps.

Some of the personal stories of gay survivors were told in the film, Paragraph 175.

Gad Beck was one of them.

In the 1930s, he was a precociously gay Jewish schoolboy, sweetly innocent about homophobia.

He recalls:  “I had an athletics teacher … One day we were showering together and I jumped on him. I ran home to my mother and said: ‘Mother, today I had my first man.’” Luckily, his parents accepted his homosexuality. But they feared for his future. He remembers their reaction: “They said: ‘Oh my god, he’s Jewish and he’s gay. Either way he’ll be persecuted. This cannot end well.’”

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