Lesbian Notions – Repeating Holocaust History

As a second-generation Jew on the cusp of turning 50, I grew up with stories of World War II and the reality of the Holocaust. My father fought in the war; my mother was in the Signal Corps. Anti-Semitism was a hatred I was taught about at an early age – from hearing the stories of pogroms in Eastern Europe, where my family was from, to reading and talking about Hitler?s rage against anyone different from his Aryan idea.
In the 1960s and ?70s, few publicly questioned whether the Holocaust happened, as some revisionist historians, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and others do today. It was a
time when the slogan ?Never Again? was a rallying cry for American Jews so that we would never forget the six million who died in the camps.
It was only after I came out that I learned that gay men and lesbians were also interred in the concentration camps. It certainly wasn?t something I was taught in Hebrew school.
I knew early on that Jews were not the only ones targeted by the Nazis, although we were the largest group. Germans with disabilities or mental illness, Jehovah?s Witnesses, Gypsies, Poles, and Soviet prisoners of war, among others, also found themselves in concentration camps. But no one ever talked about the gays.
Richard Plant published The Pink Triangle in 1988, which chronicled the atrocities against lesbians and gays in the camps. But it wasn?t until the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., opened in 1993 that this treatment was brought to national and international attention.
I was in D.C. for the 1993 lesbian and gay March on Washington. Hundreds of us gathered at the museum the evening before it opened, laying down carnations to symbolize the lives of gays and lesbians lost in the Holocaust and praying for their souls.
Since opening, the museum has printed educational material, sponsored major exhibitions about gays and the Holocaust, and has an online exhibition dedicated to the subject.
Thousands of gay men were killed in the concentration camps, forced to wear pink triangles so everyone knew why they were there. These men were not only abused – and even killed – by the Nazis and the people who ran the camps, but they were also subjected to the homophobic reactions of their fellow prisoners.
More than 100,000 gay men were arrested under the Nazis? notorious Paragraph 175 law that broadly defined lewd behavior between men. A man could literally be arrested for just looking at another man the ?wrong? way.
Approximately, 50,000 served prison terms as convicted homosexuals, while an unknown number were institutionalized in mental hospitals. Hundreds of men were castrated under court order or coercion. According to the museum, record-keeping on gay concentration camp victims is sketchy, but it estimates that between 5,000 and 15,000 gay men were imprisoned at the camps, where many died from starvation, disease, exhaustion, beatings, and murder.
After the camps were liberated, many of the German gays were sent back to prison to finish their terms, because Paragraph 175 was not among the Nazi laws that were repealed.
The museum is one of the world?s leaders in making sure we don?t forget what happened during the Nazi reign of terror. Too bad some others – like the ultra-orthodox Haredi sect of Jews in Israel – apparently haven?t made the trip to D.C. or availed themselves of the museum?s online resources.
The Haredi are the folks who routinely protest Gay Pride parades in Israel – the country that was established as a democracy that would be a haven for the persecuted Jews of Nazi Germany, the former Soviet Union, and other countries. All the Haredi are doing is repeating the hatred that fueled the Holocaust in the first place.
They put a hate-filled coalition of reactionary Christians, Muslims, and Jews together to try and stop World Pride from happening in Jerusalem. It always amazes me how conveniently and quickly enemies become allies when it comes to denying us our rights, our pride, our way of life.
This year in Jerusalem, the Orthodox Righteous Court of Law actually placed a curse on the city?s Pride parade organizers and marchers, as well as on the police who helped to keep the event safe and secure. It went like this: ?To all those involved, sinners in spirit, and whoever helps and protects them, may they feel a curse on their souls, may it plague them and may evil pursue them; they will not be acquitted of their transgressions from heavenly judgment.?
Then you have the ultra-orthodox members of the Knesset, Israel?s parliament, sponsoring bills to outlaw all gay Pride parades or to establish ?rehab centers? to teach us how to repress our sexuality.
Knesset member Nissim Ze?ev considers us dangerous and says that the government needs to keep an eye on us. The rehab centers would be staffed with a special team of psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers who will help us return to ?a normal life.? According to Ze?ev, lesbian and gay people must be made aware of ?how their lifestyle is destroying our existence.?
Camps, curses, making us the enemy of society – it all smacks of Hitler?s rhetoric. But this time, it?s wrapped in an ultra-orthodox tallit (prayer shawl) that gives it a credibility it doesn?t deserve.
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Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached LesbianNotions@qsyndicate.com.

Libby Post

Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media.

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