Adam Polaski

Last Known Gay Holocaust Survivor Dies

Filed By Adam Polaski | August 04, 2011 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living
Tags: Buchenwald, Holocaust, Pink Triangle, Rudolf Brazda, sexual orientation

Pinktriangle.jpgRudolf Brazda, who was believed to be the last survivor of the Holocaust who was specifically targeted because of his sexual orientation, died yesterday, at the age of 98. Brazda was interned for three years at the Buchenwald concentration camp and made to wear a Pink Triangle to represent his "crime" - his reason for being taken prisoner. When the camp was liberated in 1945, Brazda moved to France. He and his partner, who passed away in 2002, made their lives together there. Brazda had been raised in Germany, born there in 1913.

Brazda has been selective in his choices of to whom and where to speak out about his internment. In 2008 he spoke with the French media outlet Têtu in a video interview below. He reflected on his post-internment life:

I had found freedom. I started a new life. Of course, I was a homosexual and I wanted to find a new boyfriend. And that's how I met Edouard. He had been kicked out of Yugoslavia, since his parents were Germans. And he didn't have a home. So he stuck with me, he was so young. He must have been 18 or 19 years old, and I was 18 years older. But we were good for one another, and we started a new life together. It was going well, we each had a job, and we managed to live just like everyone else.

In 2008, Brazda also spoke at the dedication of a memorial in Berlin that remembered gay men who were killed in the Holocaust. The memorial is controversial because it focuses on gay men, including a video of two men kissing to celebrate their sexuality (right), although lesbians were also victims.

Estimates put the number of homosexuals deported to concentration camps during the Holocaust at between 5,000 and 15,000, primarily Germans. People who were brought to the internment camps specifically for their sexual orientation were forced to wear the pink triangle on their clothes. Brazda explained the triangle system, again in the 2008 video interview:

Then I left the disinfection room. I got dressed, but this time, I had to wear the striped prisoner's clothes. We were also given our symbols. It was a pink triangle stitched on the left breast. It was ... the symbol for homosexuality. It was so ridiculous, the color pink. The other prisoners, the common criminals, they had a green triangle. The asocials were wearing a black triangle, and the Jehovah's Witnesses, the purple triangle.

The Washington Post spoke with Klaus Wowereit, the openly gay mayor of Berlin.

He is an example of how important the work of remembrance is for our future. Fewer and fewer people can give information about repression under the Nazi dictatorship authentically and from their own experience.

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This is why it is SO important for us to expose the lies and hypocrisy of the Radical Right! They would rather kill us than give us one shred of dignity.

Herr Brazda was a brave man, and we honor his sacrifice by not forgetting what happened. Even today we have Ghana and Uganda. In this country, we have many who would if they could make gay activity illegal. We must not forget that many of these people would follow the punishment that is proscribed in the Bible-Death. No we must never forget what happen in Germany, and guard against it happening again in our country. .

The "controversy" about Berlin's Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted under Nazism is entirely manufactured by historical revisionists, the worst of which are those who claim that lesbians were sent to concentration camps, too, simply because they WERE lesbian even though an attempt to add them to Paragraph 175 failed.

According to German historian Dr. Claudia Schoppmann, herself a lesbian and author of some 10 books on the period, in “Days of Masquerade: Life Stories of Lesbians During the Third Reich”: “Lesbians did not make up a separate category of prisoners.” Some were arrested as “prostitutes” or under the catch-all “asocials,” and, as both categories [along with vagrants, pacifists, et al.] were assigned the black triangle, that is from which the growing myth arose that it “meant” “lesbian” in the same way the pink triangle meant “homosexual.” Ella Smula and Margarete Rosenberg were arrested as lesbians and sent to Ravensbruck, but, in another example of the inconsistency of the Reich, they were assigned red triangles which meant “political prisoner.” One example of a lesbian sent to a concentration camp and executed was Henny Schermann. While her prisoner record in Ravensbrueck included the fact that she was gay, her imprisonment and death was because she was also a Jew.

Schoppmann: “A desire to identify with historical victims might be understandable from a psychological perspective, but it prevents an unobstructed view of the differences that actually existed. Under some circumstances…lesbians were among the perpetrators, the bystanders, and the victims.”

While these myths have infected some pages of their official site, this is from the definitive article by the USHMM on the subject of lesbians during the Third Reich:

“Unlike male homosexuals, lesbians were not generally regarded as a social or political threat. Even after the Nazi rise to power in 1933, most lesbians in Germany were able to live relatively quiet lives, generally undisturbed by the police [even though] traditional political and social conservatives harshly criticized [the] new openness for homosexuals in Germany [that had existed]. … In 1928, for example, the police banned 'Die Freundin' and other lesbian literature based on the Protection of Youth from Obscene Publications Act. Many conservatives demanded the enactment of criminal statutes against lesbian sexual acts. Pamphleteers such as Erhard Eberhard wrote tracts against homosexuals, feminists, Republicans, and Jews, groups that were often linked by conservatives to a conspiracy to destroy Germany. In particular they denounced the movement for women's rights, claiming it was really a front for seducing German women into lesbianism.

With the rise of the Nazis to power in 1933, this conservative backlash was replaced with state repression. The Nazis believed women were not only inferior to men but also by nature dependent on them; therefore, they considered lesbians to be less threatening than male homosexuals. The Nazis regarded women as passive, especially in sexual matters, and in need of men to fulfill their lives and participate in sex. Many Nazis also worried that the more explicit social affection between individual women blurred the lines between friendship and lesbianism, making more difficult the task of ferreting out ‘true’ lesbians. Finally, the Nazis dismissed lesbianism as a state and social problem because they believed lesbians could still carry out a German woman's primary role: to be a mother of as many ‘Aryan’ babies as possible. Every woman, regardless of her sexuality, could serve the Nazi state as wife and mother.

The Nazis nonetheless persecuted lesbians, albeit less severely than they persecuted male homosexuals. Soon after Hitler's appointment as chancellor, the police systematically raided and closed down homosexual meeting bars and clubs, forcing lesbians to meet in secret. The Nazis created a climate of fear by encouraging police raids and denunciations against lesbians. Many lesbians broke off contacts with their circles of friends, some moving to new cities where they would be unknown. Others even sought the protection of marriage, entering into marriages of convenience with male homosexual friends.

While the police regarded lesbians as ‘asocials’-—people who did not conform to Nazi norms and therefore could be arrested or sent to concentration camps-—few were imprisoned because of their sexuality alone. The Nazis did not classify lesbians as homosexual prisoners, and only male homosexual prisoners had to wear the pink triangle. Though police arrests of lesbians were comparatively rare, the threat of persecution made living openly as a lesbian dangerous.
Lesbians also suffered discrimination because of the Nazis' policy toward German women in general. Since the Nazis believed women should serve primarily as wives and mothers, they forced women out of prestigious careers. Paradoxically, labor demands brought on by rearmament and the war actually increased the number of working women, though they were relegated to work in low-paying jobs. The low wages set for women particularly affected lesbians, since lesbians were generally unmarried and could not rely on a husband's job for support. Economic hardships combined with ever-increasing social pressures and fear of arrest to make the lives of lesbians difficult even though sexual acts between females were not illegal in Nazi Germany.

Though many lesbians experienced hardships during the Third Reich, the Nazis did not systematically persecute them. Those who were willing to be discreet and inconspicuous, marry male friends, or otherwise seem to conform to the expectations of society were often left alone and survived."

I have no problem with lesbians being included in the "memorial," per se, [which apparently they soon will be in the form of a similar video loop of two women], but the different context should be uncompromisingly clear. My real problem is with the structure itself which I visit a year after its dedication. It's a monstrosity in its own right both in design and location across the street from the huge and genuinely moving Jewish memorial, and several yards from the nearest sidewalk and next to a grove of trees reinforcing the impression from a distance that it's a concrete public toilet. All concerned were well-intentioned but they paved the way to an insult to the memories of the Reich's gay victims.

For me, the problem I have with the memorial is that, in my opinion (and my husband's opinion), the video being played on a loop inside the memorial is a distasteful. It features two young, good-looking men playing tonsil hockey with each other -- not something I would object to in any other situation, but hardly a suitable way to memorialize gay victims of the Holocaust.