Guest Blogger

Second-Class Citizens: Women & LGBTs Under the Third Reich

Filed By Guest Blogger | January 14, 2014 3:45 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living
Tags: abortion, atrocities, Holocaust, intersectionality, misogyny, Nazi Germany, Paragraph 175, pink triangle

Editor's Note: Guest blogger Warren J. Blumenfeld is a professor in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

israel-telaviv-gay-holocaust-monument.jpgTel Aviv, Israel this week joined an ever-growing list of cities and towns throughout the world that have erected and dedicated a memorial in tribute and remembrance of the thousands of perceived and actual gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people spied upon, tracked, censored, arrested, incarcerated, tortured, and murdered under the auspices of the Nazi regime.

Nazi portrayals and understandings of sex, sexuality, gender, and gender expression included a divisive and brutal program that was anti-feminist, anti-women's equality, anti-women's reproductive freedoms (anti-family planning, anti-contraception, anti-abortion for so-called "Aryans"), anti-homosexual, anti-gender nonconforming, and anti-sexuality education in schools.

On Homosexuality

The Nazis ruthlessly enforced and eventually extended Paragraph 175, the section of the German Penal Code dating back to the 1871 unification of Germany:

"Unnatural vice committed by two persons of the male sex or by people with animals is to be punished by imprisonment; the verdict may also include the loss of civil rights."

Nazi ideology rested on the belief that homosexual males lowered the German birth rate; that they endangered, recruited, enticed, and corrupted youth; that a possible homosexual epidemic could spread; that homosexuals are "potential oppositionists" and enemies of respectable society; and that sexual relations between people of the same sex impairs their "sense of shame" and undermines morality, which inevitably will bring about the "decline of social community."

Even before taking power, the Nazi party argued against homosexuality in the 14 May 1928 edition of their daily newspaper, Völkischer Beobachter:

"Anyone who thinks of homosexual love is our enemy. We reject anything which emasculates our people and makes it a plaything for our enemies, for we know that life is a fight, and it is madness to think that men will ever embrace fraternally. Natural history teaches us the opposite. Might makes right. The strong will always win over the weak. Let us see to it that we once again become the strong. But this we can achieve only in one way -- the German people must once again learn how to exercise discipline.
"We, therefore, reject any sexual deviation, particularly between man and man, because it robs us of the last possibility of freeing our people from the slave-chains in which it is now forced to toil."

While Nazi ideology and practice rejected lesbianism as well, they did not criminalize same-sex sexual activity between women, as Paragraph 175 did for men, because they believed that so-called "Aryan" lesbians could at least birth children for the "New Germany."

On the other hand, Heinrich Himmler, Gestapo head and chief architect of the Reich's anti-homosexual campaign, justified his actions by arguing that male homosexuals were "like women" and therefore could not fight in any German war effort. Subsequently, he conducted surveillance operations on an estimated 90,000 suspected homosexuals, arrested approximately 50,000, and transported somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 to a number of concentration camps throughout the Nazi dominion. Very few survived.

Upon coming to power in 1933, under their Youth Leader, Baldur von Shirach, the Nazis took over all youth groups and converted them into Hitler Youth groups. One action taken following consolidation was to eliminate all signs of "homosexual corrosion," because it allegedly posed a threat to state control by "fostering political conspiracies." Nazi leaders purged all boys suspected of "homosexual tendencies."

They tried and convicted an estimated 6,000 youth under Paragraph 175 between 1933 and 1943.

Hitler also proposed eliminating all sexuality education from the German school system and encouraged parents to take on the primary responsibilities for sexuality instruction within the home.

While the Catholic Church spoke out then and today against same-sex sexuality, their own policies actually boomeranged and hit them in their own faces. Used primarily to silence any potential resistance from the Church, the Nazis conducted their so-called "Cloister Trials," where they dissolved Catholic youth fraternities and arrested large numbers of priests, religious brothers, and Catholic laity.

They incarcerated them in prisons and concentration camps, accusing them of being "threats to the state" on fabricated charges of homosexuality. One notable fatality that resulted from the "Cloister Trials" was Fr. Alois Abdritzki, who was murdered by prison guards at Dachau concentration camp. But his death was just one of many.

The intensely patriarchal Nazi German society also clamped down tightly on women and sexuality in general. Details, after the jump.

On Women

nazi-propaganda-women.jpgAlfred Rosenberg, one of the Nazis' chief ideologues, directed his misogynist outrage against women: "The emancipation of women from the women's emancipation movement is the first demand of a female generation trying to rescue nation and race, the eternally unconscious, the foundation of all civilization, from decline... A woman should have every opportunity to realize her potential, but one thing must be made clear: Only a man must be and remain judge, soldier, and politician."

Englebert Huber, a Nazi propagandist, dictated that the "proper" place of women in the Third Reich was figuratively (and literally) beneath men: "In the ideology of National Socialism, there is no room for the political woman... [Our] movement places woman in her natural sphere of the family and stresses her duties as wife and mother. The political, that post-war creature, who rarely 'cut a good figure' in parliamentary debates, represents the denigration of women. The German uprising is a male phenomenon."

The Nazis added Paragraph 218 to the German Penal Code, which outlawed abortions and established a national file on women who had undergone the procedure and doctors who had performed them.

On "Indecency"

In their increasing obsession with "purifying" the social sphere, Nazi leadership enacted the "Decree for Combating Public Indecency," which included such provisions as working to eliminate prostitution; closing all bars and clubs that "are misused for the furtherance of public indecency" including "public houses solely or mainly frequented by persons engaging in unnatural sex acts" (a.k.a. homosexuals); closing kiosks and magazine stands in libraries and bookshops "whether because they include nude illustrations or because of their title or contents, are liable to produce erotic effects in the beholder."

Though Pope Pius XII maintained a position of neutrality and rarely spoke out against the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi regime, for which he was roundly criticized in some circles, the Vatican praised the Reich for this policy on April 3, 1933:

"The Vatican welcomes the struggle of National Germany against obscene material. The strong measures that Prussia's Minister of the Interior Göring has ordered for the combating of obscene writings and pictures... have received serious attention in Vatican circles. It will be recalled that Pius XII, in his recent encyclicals, has repeatedly and vigorously stressed that defensive actions against obscene material are of fundamental importance for the bodily and spiritual health of family and nation, and he most warmly welcomes the type and manner... with which this struggle has been undertaken in the new Germany."

The Patriarchal Connecting Strand

The Nazi regime connected multiple forms of oppression when Heinrich Himmler reorganized the Reich Criminal Police Bureau to centralize operations by creating a national file on male homosexuals, transgender people, those they referred to as "wage abortionists" (women and their doctors). They also began to monitor the production and ban the use of contraceptives among "Aryan" women.

Within this bureau, they established the Reich Office for Combating Homosexuality and Abortion, which in 1938 alone conducted 28,366 arrests for abortion, and 28,882 arrests of male homosexuals.

The common thread running through Nazi ideology regarding gender, gender expression, and sexuality was an intensive campaign to control individuals' bodies and the bodies of members of entire communities in the attempt to control their minds.

Women and LGBT people have been constructed as second-class and even third-class citizens not merely in Nazi Germany, but today as the current political discourse indicates. But women and LGBTs are certainly not victims because through it all, as individuals and as groups, they have resisted and challenged the inequities facing them and have pushed back against patriarchal constraints.

I hope, though, that we as a society can learn from the tyranny of the past.

For my extensive PowerPoint presentation on LGBT people under the Nazi regime, as well as my two-part LGBTQ history PowerPoint, go to and click on "LGBT Holocaust," "AnLGBTQHistoryOne" and "AnLGBTQHistoryTwo."

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