ON AUGUST THIRD, 2011, Rudolf Brazda passed away at age 98 in a nursing home in the northeast of France. In December of 2008, the French gay magazine Têtu heralded Brazda, who survived three years at Buchenwald concentration camp, as “Le dernier ‘triangle rose.’”* After the passing of Pierre Seel, a survivor of the camp Schirmeck-Vorbrück, Brazda became the last documented survivor of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals.
The persecution began almost immediately after Hitler became chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. On May 6 of that year, fascist thugs attacked the Berlin institute of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, the pioneering sexologist and founder of the Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee (Scientific Humanitarian Committee), the world’s first gay rights group. Four days later, at Bebelplatz, Nazis burned Hirschfeld’s extensive library in what Austrian journalist Joseph Roth later described as “an auto-da-fé of the mind.” Gay bars were shuttered and mass arrests of homosexuals followed. Germany’s other primary homophile groups—the Gemeinschaft der Eigenen (Community of Strangers), founded by the male-rights activist Adolf Brand, and the Bund für Menschenrecht (Human Rights League) Europe’s largest gay organization, lead by newspaper man Friedrich Radszuweit—were forcibly disbanded. Years before, Nazi party headquarters had released the first in a series of statements decrying the evils of male homosexuality. (Lesbianism remained legal because the Nazis did not view it as a threat to procreation.)
In response to Adolf Brand’s petition to revoke Paragraph 175—Germany’s anti-sodomy law—the party trumpeted its homophobia with a statement from Munich:
Anyone who thinks of homosexual love is our enemy. We reject anything which emasculates our people and makes [them]a plaything for our enemies. Might makes right. Let us see to it that we once again become 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 form of lewdness, especially homosexuality, because it robs us of our last chance to free our people from the bondage which now enslaves us.
Many of Germany’s gays believed they would be spared because of the open homosexuality of several high-ranking Nazi officials, notably SA Chief of Staff Ernst Röhm. They would soon learn the full extent of this misapprehension.
Rudolf Brazda was arrested twice under §175A, the Nazi variant of the original anti-sodomy law, which dates back to the establishment of the Second German Reich in 1871. Following the murder of Röhm in the “Night of the Long Knives,” the Nazi war on homosexuality intensified. In 1935, §175 was extended to prohibit not only sodomy and bestiality but also ordinary social interactions such as touching and kissing. This Nazi experiment in Orwellian thought crime reached its ludicrous pinnacle in 1937, when Dr. Rudolph Klare advocated the criminalization of “abstract coitus,” which he described as “simple contemplation of the desired object.”
Rudolf Brazda was arrested a second time under §175A in 1941. By that time, the official line from the Reich Main Security Office was that “all homosexuals who have seduced more than one partner are after their release from prison to be placed in preventive custody.” Yet another instance of Nazi double-speak, “preventive custody” was code for internment in a concentration camp, which had been taking place in practice since the fall of 1933. Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler had an equally cynical, though somewhat blacker, euphemism in store for members of the police and SS convicted of homosexual acts. In 1937 he decreed that “after serving the sentence imposed by the court, [the convicted]will upon my instructions be taken to a concentration camp and there shot while trying to escape.” Some homosexuals—like the late Montréal-based artist Peter Flinsch, who died in 2010 at the age of 89—were spared the concentration camp because of their military degrees. But the treatment of the so-called “175-ers,” “warmer-Bruder” (warm brothers), and “Arschficker” (ass fuckers) in Nazi prisons was horrific. The terror of a Nazi military prison is recounted in grisly detail by an anonymous actor from Berlin’s Deutsches Theater (“Herr Wolf,” a pseudonym) in Frank Rector’s The Nazi Extermination of Homosexuals (1981).
For many years following the end of World War II and the liberation of the camps, the history of gay men persecuted under the Third Reich remained obscure. Even now, all of the scholarship currently available in English on the subject fits nicely onto a single bookcase shelf. It took the pioneering research of scholars like sociologist Rüdiger Lautmann to begin to shed light on this hidden history. Lautmann’s research in the 1970’s resulted in the seminal paper “Gesellschaft und Homosexualität” (1981). The German writer Heinz Heger published the anonymous memoir of a gay survivor of Sachsenhausen and Flossenbürg concentration camps under the title Die Männer mit dem rosa Winkel (The Men With the Pink Triangle) in 1972. The book caused a stir when it was released and it also served as the inspiration for Martin Sherman’s play Bent, which had its premiere in London’s West End in 1979 starring Sir Ian McKellen. In 1986 the German-American author Richard Plant released The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War against Homosexuals (1986), which also made an important contribution to the struggling field of queer-Holocaust scholarship.