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Holocaust exhibit on homosexuals opens in Vancouver

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Holocaust exhibit on homosexuals opens in Vancouver

German police file photo of a man arrested in October 1937 for suspicion of violating Paragraph 175, which criminalized male homosexuality.
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Gay German lives pre- and post-Nazis remembered

As a young merchant-in-training in Hamburg, Friedrich-Paul Von Groszheim could meet other gay men in bars, celebrate openly, read gay magazines and look forward to what seemed the inevitable repeal of anti-gay laws.

Things were getting better.

“The so-called ‘Golden ’20s’ were for me a wonderful time,” he later remembered. “I failed to recognize the problems of the time — unemployment, the growing poverty, the political radicalization. But I was so wonderfully young.”

Then it all collapsed. In January 1937, Von Groszheim was rounded up by the SS, beaten and imprisoned for 10 months. Less than a year later, he was imprisoned again, tortured and finally castrated by the Gestapo as a condition of his release.

Von Groszheim’s story reemerges in the travelling exhibit Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933–1945, on loan from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The exhibition is now on display at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre until Dec 4, with a guided tour at 1pm on Nov 17.

The exhibit’s most striking narrative is not how gay people died during the Holocaust, but how they lived before it.

By the early 1930s, more than a quarter of a million gay men and lesbians lived in Berlin — nearly one in 10 citizens. Gay men had their own bars, clubs and newspapers, and women dined in public with coat tails and cigars. Male homosexuality was still officially illegal under section 175 of the German criminal code, but the prominent sexologist Dr Magnus Hirschfeld was campaigning, with some success, for its repeal. Even Hitler’s personal friend and commander Ernst Röhm was openly gay and brought other gay men with him into the ranks of the party.

The persecution of gay people during the Holocaust was all the more terrifying for its precipitousness. The story is disturbing in much the same way as recent developments in Russia: it proves that gay acceptance can disappear as easily as it is won.

The curators of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC) took that message seriously and paired the American exhibit with its own on the Nazi-run 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. While VHEC education director Adara Goldberg warns against comparing any country directly to Nazi Germany, she says the juxtaposition was absolutely intentional.

“As much as we aren’t a political organization, there are some things that need to come to light,” she says. “All the time we are battling against the words, ‘Never again.’”

The impetus to bring the exhibit to Canadian students, in fact, began after directors at human rights group Egale Canada read research from the 2011 “Every Class in Every School” study on classroom homophobia. A few Canadian students, in one anecdote, cheered in support when a video mentioned that the Holocaust affected gay people.

“We have an illusion in Canada that we’re on a road to progress that only goes one way,” says Egale Canada Human Rights Trust director Mark Riczu, who helped to bring the exhibit to Canada. “Nazi Germany, coming out of the Weimar Republic, shows us what can happen.”

Comparing current events to Nazi Germany is now unbearably cliché, but sometimes — backed by serious historical scholarship — there are genuine lessons to be found. Von Groszheim, living his sunny early years in Hamburg, might hardly have believed what would become of Germany’s gay community.

“I’m living proof that Hitler didn’t win,” he said, 50 years after his imprisonment. “If I don’t tell my story, who will know the truth?”

 

 

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Comments

It Can Happen Again
The persecution of LGBT people in Nazi German can happen again. Too often, it seems the lives of some LGBT people resolves around the next night at the bar or club or the next big social event. However, recognition of our rights has come about only because of the hard struggles and sacrifices by others. We literally "stand on the shoulders of giants." We must not forget that has been gained can be taken away and the cost of keeping hard-won equality and human rights is vigilance. Never forget that those opposed to LGBT equality are very well organized and are looking for every opportunity to spread lies and fear about us to get their way.
do not rewrite history
There were no LBGT people in WW2. The concept was invented in the 1990s. The humans who were systematically exterminated by the Nazis in WW2, which this exhibit shows, were homosexual males. Men with penises not trans who were homosexual. They were G and not any other letters. Can you please respect the dead. Respect the homosexual males who were exterminated in WW2 and the homosexuals males who died from AIDS after trying to create a Gay Liberation for male homosexuals. Thank you.
C'mon cister!
Those exterminated or imprisoned by the Nazis weren't members of some exclusive club. While LBGT may be a recent concept, the people it represents have always been with us. I wonder how you determined from photos whether a male person was bisexual or homosexual. And those we now class as transsexual would likely have been swept up in the killings of the mentally ill, another target of the Nazis. I think a little generosity of spirit is in order on the subject.
No it is not
Homosexual males who are not trans or bi are having our history erased by the enforced inclusion of other groups who may or may not have anything to do with the events in question. To force unify groups debases them all. It reeks of Nanny State and Kumbayaism. Homosexual male to male sex was illegal and exterminated. Please allow some respect in your zeal to mollycoddle and cosset new and privileged groups.
Oh stop grumbling old girl!
Zealous to mollycoddle, no, I am not. I think I'm a rather easy-going old queen. I'm just not offended to see "our history," our experiences, placed in a larger context. I wonder what's next from your point of view. Perhaps fems like myself should object to being lumped in with the 'masc, straight-acting' types? Yeah, maybe those bastards got a comparatively easy ride during the Holocaust. Oh dear, what silliness that would be.
He isn’t “grumbling”
He’s insisting on strict historical accuracy and he rejects outright any attempt, no matter how you would like to phrase it, to call the gay men exterminated by the Nazis “LGBT.”
Yeah, I think he's grumbling.
If he's insisting on "strict historical accuracy", he's insisting on the unattainable. I think I pointed that out in a previous post. As well, I don't want to call gay men LGBT. However, I don't upset when they are grouped with others who suffered due to aspects of their sexuality. The lesson of history still remains the same: Rights attained or progress made can be lost in even the most cultured of nations.
Precisely
rights can be easily lost -- especially if they become complexly interwoven with too many other issues which are becoming increasingly not the same. LBT and trans as an idea is moving politically towards Queer which demands a declaration of belief in ideals and causes laid out by the Queer Hierarchy. Those issues were detailed by Joe Clark on his web site and in other letters and other blogs. LGBT and Queer and trans people and their gender issues are not the same. Therefore we should part company and each steward their own pasts; separate but equal of course (the trans rights bills now bogged in Parliament will pass and we can then disband the LBGTQ thing; or at least homosexual males (some of the G with the rest actually Queer but retaining the word Gay) can return to our own issues (as many Lesbians are doing and will do). As for your tired Femme gay-versus-Butch gay, oh Mary! All non-trans gay men are men first, homosexual second and any characteristics associated with gender are arbitrary and manipulable. We are all queens, Darling, but we are not women. Or trans. Or Queer although they are trying to kidnap Queen as a concept and mold it into their Gender Theory. They failed because they are not us.
We are all queens?!
You could have fooled this girl. But maybe you're speaking from some strange theoretical perspective which allows you to contradict the evidence of your senses.
Contrary to your musings
Contrary to your musings about how rights may be lost, I think of the statement by Pastor Martin Niemöller which speaks to the importance of supporting one another:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

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