Homosexuals in the Holocaust

“It is not necessary that you and I live, but it is necessary that the German people live. And it can only live if it can fight, for life means fighting. And it can only fight if it maintains its masculinity. It can only maintain its masculinity if it exercises discipline, especially in matters of love. Free love and deviance are undisciplined. Therefore we reject you, as we reject anything which hurts our people. Anyone who even thinks of homosexual love is our enemy” (Rector 105). This is the view of the Nazi party relating to homosexuals during the time of the Holocaust. Scarcely a word has been written on the fact that along with the millions whom Hitler had butchered on grounds of ‘race,’ hundreds of thousands of people were sadistically tortured to death simply for having homosexual feelings (Rector 115). The persecution of homosexuals in the Holocaust is not currently classified as a “genocide” in history, however, I believe that the United Nations should adjust its criteria for genocide by including sexual orientation in its definition. A person’s sexual orientation is just as important to a person’s identity as their race. Therefore, their identity should be protected and included in the genocide definition.

A Threat to the Nazi State

Homosexuality was seen as a threat to the Nazi state. Nationalism among the Nazis helped control sexuality where the distinction between normality and abnormality was basic to modern respectability within society. Nationalism and respectability assigned everyone their place in life, man and woman, normal and abnormal, native and foreigner; any confusion between these categories threatened chaos and loss of control (Mosse 16). The idea of manliness was crucial to society and the nation’s ideology. It symbolized strength of body and mind, however the individual had to be kept under control. Furthermore, homosexuality was seen as diverging from this “control” of certain urges. Homosexuality was considered an act against nature. Homosexuals were condemned as depriving the nation of its future soldiers and workers. Therefore, Heinrich Himmler, military commander of the SS (a military organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party), ordered that homosexuals be exterminated if they did not reform. Homosexuality was considered to be a disease acquired by masturbation or by infection through bad example (Rector 143). Like any other disease, homosexuality threatened to spread throughout Germany. If there was no stop put to this epidemic, it could mean the end of the Germanic race.

Himmler’s Cure for Homosexuality

Heinrich Himmler was the driving force behind the persecution of homosexuals. He considered homosexuality an illness that poisoned the entire body and mind (Mosse 169). Himmler says the execution of homosexuals was “not punishment but simply the extinction of abnormal life” (Herzog 35). In 1937, Himmler declared that any member of the SS convicted of homosexuality must be executed. Because Himmler felt that homosexuality was caused by lack of feminine contact, he often promoted female prostitution. The National Socialist regime’s goal was to eradicate homosexual behavior and not the “homosexual” himself, although the end result was often the same (Heger 96). They often believed that this could be done through re-education or castration.

Paragraph 175

Paragraph 175 is part of the German Criminal Code that made all homosexual acts between males a crime (Plant 206).


  1. A male who indulges in criminally indecent activities with another male or who allows himself to participate in such activities will be punished with jail.
  2. If one of the participants is under the age of twenty-one, and if the crime has not been grave, the court may dispense with the jail sentence.

175(a): A jail sentence of up to ten years or, if mitigating circumstances can be established, a jail sentence of no less than three years will be imposed on:

  1. any male who by force of by threat of violence and danger to life and limb compels another man to indulge in criminally indecent activities, or allows himself to participate in such activities;
  2. any male who forces another male to indulge with him in criminally indecent activities by using the subordinate position of the other man, whether it be at work or elsewhere; or who allows himself to participate in such activities;
  3. any males who indulges professionally and for profit in criminally indecent activities with other males, or allows himself to be used for such activities or who offers himself for same.

175(b): Criminally indecent activities by males with animals are to be punished by jail; in addition, the court may deprive the subject of his civil rights.

 The Case of Ernest Rohm


Figure 1. Picture of Ernest Rohm, a high ranking homosexual officer under Hitler.

Ernest Rohm, chief of staff of the SA, was a well-known homosexual. For many years his homosexuality was covered up by members of the SA. Hitler blamed Rohm’s homosexuality on his life in the tropics, but believed that his private life was his own affair as long as he used discretion (Mosse 158). However, Rohm’s popularity began to grow among the troops, and Hitler began to grow jealous of him. Therefore, Hitler believe that this threatened his power and he used the announcement of Paragraph 175 in 1934 and Rohm’s homosexuality as an excuse to murder Rohm. Shortly after Rohm’s execution, all organizations that defended homosexuality were shut down. The secret police also began to compile a list of all known and suspected homosexuals. In October 1934, a special team within the criminal police whose task was to fight homosexuality made the persecution of homosexuality a priority of the state (Mosse 164).

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Homosexuals thought that they were Germans first and that their nationality would protect them. They often argued that their spirit of comradeship made them the best soldiers (Mosse 41). However, medical analysis of homosexuality helped create a clear boundary between normal and abnormal sexuality. This medical analysis involved a smaller nucleus in the hypothalamus in the brains of homosexuals. Forensic medicine came to the aid of judges by developing a stereotype for use in identifying homosexuals (Mosse 27). This stereotype included hypersensitivity, feminine hands, a higher pitched voice, as well as some other physical characteristics. However, homosexuals were often difficult to recognize despite these identified characteristics. The Nazis had lists of some homosexuals – that were arrested whether these cases were true or not. Some denunciations were false, but establishing the accused’s innocence could be difficult (Heger 123). Gossip and certain accusations were used as evidence against homosexuals, and many were sent to concentration camps without a trial. In 1933 there were 853 convictions, 948 in 1934, about 3,700 in 1935, 5,321 in 1936,8,721 in 1937, 8,115 in 1938, 7,614 in 1939, 3,773 in 1940, 3,735 in 1941, 2,678 in 1942, 996 in 1943 (Rector 119-120).

Prisoners of concentration camps were forced to wear different colored triangles so that they were easily identified throughout the camps. The colors of the triangles are as follows:

  1. Yellow for Jews
  2. Red for political
  3. Green for criminals
  4. Pink for homosexuals
  5. Black for anti-socials
  6. Purple for Jehovah’s witnesses
  7. Blue for emigrants
  8. Brown for gypsies


However, the pink triangle was about two or three centimeters larger than the other colored triangles so that they could be recognized from a greater distance (Heger 32). The yellow, pink, and brown triangle members were treated the least humanely. They were described as the scum of humanity who had no right to live on German soil and should be exterminated. However, the lowest of the low in this ‘scum’ were the men with the pink triangle (Heger 33).

Homosexual Genocide


Figure 2. Homosexual prisoners push a road-impaction roller through the streets of Dachau concentration camp. This task was reserved for the Pink Triangles because it was one of the worst, most exhausting tasks in camp.

There has been controversy around whether or not the persecution of homosexuals in the Holocaust is a genocide. Sexual orientation is not currently, nor was it ever, included in the United Nations’ definition of genocide. According to the United Nations, genocide is limited to national, ethnic, racial, or religious groups. As homosexuals become more accepted in our society today, I think that it is important to raise questions or at least consider including sexual orientation in the definition of genocide. Homosexuality and sexual orientation are just as important to a person’s identity as one’s race or religion. Therefore, it should be viewed in the same light as racial and religious persecution and included in the definition of genocide.

Homosexuals during the Holocaust were dehumanized and often referred to as “vermin,” “plague,” “cancerous ulcer,” and “a tumor.” This is the kind of dehumanization that allows genocide to occur. Himmler wanted to destroy and exterminate any homosexual that he could find. This also resembles genocide and wanting to wipe out an entire population (Porter). However, there is no proven intent to this “genocide.”

Although the persecution of homosexuals in the Holocaust does not fit all of the criteria for claiming the definition of “genocide,” I think that the United Nations needs to readjust its criteria for what it claims genocide to be by including sexual orientation in its definition.

The Forgotten Victim


FIgure 3. A tile from the Wall of Remembrance at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Most discouraging of all is that those who know the most, the surviving “Pink Triangle” victims themselves, have done their best to forget this terrible period of their lives. Many of these surviving victims find reliving these memories to be too painful. Even after the Holocaust was over, Paragraph 175 was still enforced for many years until June 1969. Therefore, homosexuals could not tell their stories without fear of being arrested for identifying as a homosexual. Jews and other victims of the Holocaust often received compensation from the government for their hardships, however, the Pink Triangles were still considered criminals and not entitled to restitution. Therefore, this seems to mean that present-day Germany does not consider Nazi killings of homosexuals a crime against humanity that deserves recognition and reparation (Rector 109). Another factor that prevented homosexuals from sharing their stories was the fact that those who emigrated from Europe were granted citizenship under false pretenses by concealing their homosexuality. Prior to World War II, visitation or immigration was denied throughout the world to known or suspected homosexuals (Rector 110). “The belated removal of the anti-homosexual law from West Germany’s penal code did not remove prejudice and hate from the hearts of the straight majority. Thus, only gays who feel they have nothing to lose, or those compelled by principle come out of the close. The rest – about 99 percent – keep their closet doors shut and bolted as tight as a gas chamber door” (Rector 110).


Homosexuals are still being persecuted in many parts of the world today, although, they are receiving much more acceptance now than they did in the past. Society is becoming more understanding of differences between individuals and therefore becoming more accepting towards different sexual orientations. Clearly homosexuals have faced a world full of persecution and shame, as seen in the Holocaust. However, these individuals are just like you and me and, therefore, their persecution should be noted as well. I believe that sexual orientation should be included in the definition of genocide in order to include all “outsiders” in its protection.

Works Cited

Heger, Heinz. The Men with the Pink Triangle. Boston, MA: Alyson Publications, 1980. Print.

Herzog, Dagmar. Sexuality and German Fascism. New York: Berghahn, 2005. Print.

Jones, Adam. Genocide. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2008. Print.

Mosse, George L. Nationalism and Sexuality: Middle-class Morality and Sexual Norms in Modern Europe. Madison, Wisc.: University of Wisconsin [u.a., 1988. Print.

Paragraph 175. Dir. Robert P. Epstein and Jeffrey B. Friedman. 2000.

Plant, Richard. The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War against Homosexuals. New York: H. Holt, 1986. Print.

Porter, Jack. “Genocide of Homosexuals.” : Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies : University of Minnesota. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2013.

Rector, Frank. The Nazi Extermination of Homosexuals. New York: Stein and Day, 1981. Print.