IS IT POSSIBLE, is it legitimate, to speak of a “gay genocide” under the Nazis before and during World War II? There’s no debating that the Nazis rounded up and killed a number of people for being gay, but does this make it a “genocide” in the same sense that their program to exterminate the Jews clearly was (as well as the Roma people and other ethnic minorities)? The question becomes, what is meant by a “genocide” as opposed to another type of crime against humanity, such as a massacre or state terrorism? Is it a matter of sheer numbers? Is it a question of intent, as some have argued, a concerted effort to wipe out an entire ethnic group? Is it the scope of the violence, or the level of involvement of the aggressor?
Let me try to address these questions with reference to the Nazis’ treatment of gay people in the 1930s up to 1945. First, it should be stated at the outset that the number of people who were killed for their sexual orientation was small relative to the number of Jews (and others) who were exterminated. But was there a plan or an intention to kill every homosexual that could be found, or even a large proportion of them?
Jack Nusan Porter, PhD, born in Ukraine in December 1944, is a child survivor of the Holocaust. He is currently a research associate at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard. He maintains a website www.drjackporter.com.