Chapter Four- Persecution

WHEN, ON JANUARY 30, 1933, HITLLER was appointed chancellor, triumphant Nazi troopers staged a massive demonstration, marching with torches through the streets of Berlin, singing songs of vengeance. Still, Hitler did not have the majority of voters needed to win an election on March 5. Whether the Nazis really expected a Communist uprising or whether, as often before, they camouflaged their own wrecking methods by ascribing them to their opponents, luck came to their assistance. On February 27 the Reichstag, Germany’s white-columned, neoclassical parliament building, went up in flames. In no time, Hitler, Goring, and Goebbels turned up among the scorched ruins. Hitler proclaimed: “This is a sign of Providence from above. Now nobody will dare stand in our way when we crush the Communist menace with an iron fist.” Immediately afterward, a wave of terror swept throughout Germany. The Nazis had started to settle accounts with their enemies. When the jails proved not to be large enough, Himmler stepped in; within less than a month he embarked on the construction of concentration camps, beginning with Dachau.

Among the first to be jailed were the directors of homosexual rights organisations, which had been proscribed just four days before the burning of the Reichstag. Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Research was a prime target, as were Kurt Hiller, its chairman, Felix Halle, a legal adviser, and Max Hodann, a respected sex reformer whose books on women’s rights, sexual minorities, and abortion had annoyed the Nazis for years. Hiller, Hirschfeld’s successor and the most prominent member of the institute, was shipped to Oranienburg, where he was repeatedly tortured. Through sheer luck he was discharged and later published a vivid account of his experience. The offices of several prominent homosexual organisations were raided during these early winter weeks of 1933. Storm troopers plundered the premises of Friedich Radzuweit, editor of Die Freundschaft (“Friendship”), and took his stepson to jail. Communist and Social Democratic papers were forced to stop printing. The Nazi propagandists never tired of conjuring up the smouldering debris, the smoking woodpiles, the devastated ceilings of the Reichstag, to declare that this fire was only a beginning. The Communists, they said, had destroyed the Parliament; now they would unleash a civil war. German citizens could expect the worst. Only the strongest government measures could save the nation. The strongest measures followed soon. On March 24, the so-called Enabling Law was adopted, subtitled the Law to Remove the Stress from People and State. In reality, it did away with the constitution, removed all legal restraints, and gave total control to Hitler and his thugs. It signalled the end of the Weimar Republic and the start of totalitarianism, and it remained on the books until 1945.

The blaze that consumed the Reichstag, the later ransacking of Hirschfeld’s institute, and finally the notorious book-burning of May 10, during which fanatical storm troopers destroyed the works of those who had made German culture great but were now declared to be subhumans, should have been seen as a signal to every non-Nazi that an era had abruptly come to an end, that a new dark age would follow. Shortly thereafter- and nearly a year before the Roehm purge- the Law for the Protection of Hereditary Health was enacted, a barely noticed omen of mass killings to come. Here terms such as “racially inferior offspring,” “deviant psychopath,” “criminally insane person,” and “unneeded consumers” were first introduced. Homosexuals should especially have been on their guard; as early as the fall of 1933, some were sent to Dachau and to Fuhlsbuttel, near Hamburg. Yet most gays hoped they could weather the storm. Many rushed to join the Nazi Party in the belief that they could vanish among the uniformed crowds; others hoped for the best, and although bars, cafes, and dancing places catering to homosexuals were eliminated, they tried to continue their lives as unobtrusively as possible. Gradually, many realised that their existence was threatened, and they lived in constant fear of discovery. Others joined the armed forces, over which the Gestapo was never to gain complete jurisdiction. But not until Roehm and his confederates were executed did most homosexuals believe that a country like Germany could fall back into barbarism. Now, however, there could be no mistaking the murderous intentions of the Nazis. There could be no doubt any longer that the Nazis were as violently opposed to sexual deviants as they were to such racial deviants as Jews and Gypsies.

The Ministry of Justice and the Berlin headquarters of the Gestapo soon released a deluge of regulations and memoranda designed both to regulate the sex lives of German citizens and to widen the categories of crime. On October 24, 1934, for example, Himmler’s still-modest Gestapo sent a secret circular letter to police headquarters throughout Germany. They were instructed to mail in lists of all “somehow homosexually active persons.” If possible, political affiliations of suspects should be noted together with information on previous police records. Especially welcome were names of politically prominent personalities. From the start, alleged offenses against Paragraph 175 were used as a ruse to arrest people whose politics displeased those in power.

Charges of homosexual activities were easily concocted. The authorities could always unearth an ex-convict who could be persuaded to swear that Herr X had fondled Herr Y in a bar. One might even say that the Roehm purge belongs in this category – political assassination dressed up as anti-vice action- the only difference being that Roehm had indeed been a practicing homosexual.

Two months later, on December 20, a Law Against Insidious Slander was issued to encourage relatives and neighbours to spy on one another, and it helped to breed a new class of informers, generously rewarded by the regime. More significant were two regulations, one issued in 1934, the other in 1937. The first broadened the concept of “protective custody,” permitting the Gestapo to jail for an indefinite period, and without a trial, those it distrusted. Police officials had only to sign a declaration that somebody was an enemy of the state before being allowed to take him into “protective custody.” In 1937, another refinement was added. People with “well-known criminal tendencies” could be arraigned, if police officers, after observation, concluded that they were a threat to the state. Two categories of suspects needed special surveillance: persons who had been sentenced to prison but were now discharged, and “anti-community-minded” people. Especially dangerous were individuals who threatened the “moral fibre” of German youths, such as homosexuals, whom the decree linked together with beggars, vagrants, prostitutes, and those who refused to engage in productive labour. Thus, an efficient machinery of repression was put into motion: first, protective custody, then preventative arrest. It amounted to the same thing. A quip about Himmler’s non-Nordic features, about Goebbels’s philandering, or about Goring’s fantasy uniforms, overheard by a neighbour, would be a violation of the Law Against Insidious Slander.

On June 28, 1935, Paragraph 175 was revised to extend the concept of “criminally indecent activities between men.” It permitted the authorities to arrest any male on the most ludicrous and transparent. From the beginning, courts and judges took it upon themselves to decide what, in their minds, constituted criminal indecency. This meant that previous interpretations of Paragraph 175 as outlawing only actions resembling coitus were now seen as too narrow. Mutual masturbation was declared a felony; a kiss or a touch could be interpreted as criminally indecent. The specialists in the Ministry of Justice were not satisfied until anything that could remotely be considered as sex between males was labelled a transgression.

In 1935 the courts published a landmark decision to the effect that any act was punishable as a crime “if the inborn healthy instincts of the German people demand it.” This meant that judges could administer justice as they believed the Fuhrer had intended it. The long-established principle of Western law – no punishment without prior law- was effectively abolished. Gradually, Third Reich jurists constructed a system of jurisprudence that was almost totally subjective and placed the power of judgement into the hands of party appointed functionaries.

In August 1936, Himmler was compelled to suspend his assault temporarily. During the Olympic Games in Berlin, some gay bars were permitted to reopen and the police were requested not to bother visiting foreign homosexuals. But by the fall of 1936, the campaign was renewed. On October 10, Himmler delivered one of his rare public speeches. In it he sounded many of his familiar ideological formulas. Germany was “surrounded by enemies ready to destroy this heart of Europe…” He was proud to report that the state had started combatting homosexuality in 1934. “As National Socialists we are not afraid to fight against this plague within our own ranks. Just as we have readopted the ancient Germanic approach to the question of marriage between alien races, so, too, in our judgement of homosexuality- a symptom of racial degeneracy destructive to our race- we have returned to the guiding Nordic principle that degenerates should be exterminated. Germany stands or falls with the purity of its race…”

Barely two weeks later, on October 26, the Federal Security Department for Combating Abortion and Homosexuality was established in the Berlin Gestapo headquarters. It was headed by SS Captain Joseph Meisinger, an ex-policeman from Bavaria who previously had been occupied with the distribution of confiscated Jewish properties. His zeal pleased Himmler at first, but later the SS chief had to acknowledge that Meisinger’s intellectual equipment was insufficient. When, in 1938, Meisinger mismanaged the von Fritsch affair, he was transferred to Poland. There, as Gestapo supervisor, he started a reign of such brutality that even his fascist co-workers denounced him. He disappeared into Japan but was surrendered by U.S. authorities to Poland, where a Polish court had him executed in March 1947 in Warsaw.

The all-encompassing control of the Nazi police directorates can only be appreciated by grasping the essence of the new jurisprudence. By 1936 the traditional, more conservative police agencies were “federalised,” which meant that Himmler ruled virtually unchallenged. From 1935 and 1936 on, higher legal officers were appointed by Wilhelm Frick, the Minister of Interior. Prosecutors were granted more leeway, while defence lawyers and judges lost power. The rules of factual evidence were abolished. Sentencing depended not only on the severity of the alleged criminal act but on the “psychological type” to which the offender supposedly belonged. Thus, people accused of sexual deviance had little chance of avoiding conviction by a Nazi court.

The newly devised laws also were made retroactive. A Jewish man, for example, could be jailed in 1936 for having had an affair with a non-Jewish woman in 1933, before the Nuremburg laws had established the crime of “racial defilement.” The same held true for homosexual practices. In addition, illegal actions, such as the 1934 Roehm purge, were now declared to have been legal. Few members of the legal profession protested; some retired, a handful braved the storm, stayed on, and tried to soften the worst excesses of Nazi dominated courts. Still, many lawyers surrendered to Hitler’s bullying as easily as did those medical doctors who helped to organise the euthanasia programs and the medical experiments on camp inmates. The Third Reich wiped out the humanisation and democratisation of jurisprudence that the Enlightenment had brought to Germany.
Two centuries before, King Frederick II of Prussia had abolished torture as a legal instrument for extracting confessions or the names of accomplices. Now, in every large city, people were legally tortured and executed in the cellars of Gestapo buildings. No one arrested on charges of real or trumped-up homosexual activity could count on a fair trial. If, before 1933, homosexuals had been second-class citizens, now they were slowly expatriated like the gypsies, denaturalised like the Jews. They could be doubly scapegoated, as “incurably sick” and therefore candidates for mercy death, or as “congenitally criminal deviants,” to be re-educated in camps. In December 1934 the Ministry of Justice issued new guidelines stating that homosexual offenses did not have actually to be committed to be punishable; intent was what mattered. This emphasis on intent originally had been brought to bear in various cases of Jewish men accused of having had sexual relations with non-Jewish women. Since both groups were regarded as contagious subhumans, similar strategies could be employed against them. There were, however, significant differences in their treatment, as we shall see.
In 1937 a young lawyer named Rudolf Klare wrote a book, Homosexualitat und Strafrecht, to provide the ideological underpinnings for the war on homosexuals. With Klare’s book, SS officers in charge of indoctrination could explain to the often ignorant members of the folk community how their natural, healthy instincts would be affected by sexual vagrants.

Like his superior, Himmler. Klare shared a disposition to draw fine distinctions. A chart classified same-sex felonies according to the following criteria:
• Simple contemplation of desired object (abstract coitus)
• Plain touching (which might lead to hyperesthesia, erection, ejaculation, orgasm)
• Petting, embracing, kissing of the partner with results similar to above
• Pressing of (naked) penis to any part of the partner’s body, such as thigh, arm, hand, etc.
• Pressing of two bodies against one another with or without friction
• Rhythmic thrusts between knees or thighs, or in armpits
• Touching of penis by partner’s tongue
• Placement of penis into partner’s mouth
• Pederasty or sodomy (placement of penis in anus)
This catalogue was not inclusive enough for the Nazi ideologues. Later, courts decided that a lewd glance from one man to another was sufficient grounds for prosecution.

The revision of Paragraph 175 had not banned sexual acts between women. Klare sought to correct this oversight. He pleaded to make “gross indecencies” between females as punishable as those between males. Marriage and childbearing, he wrote, were the two main pillars on which Nordic racial heritage was based. Criminal law must see to it that the folk community remained pure. Fortunately, he claimed, it was alien to the German woman to indulge in lesbian activities. On the contrary, most German women showed nothing but contempt for it. Klare admitted there were problems. Lesbians, unlike some homosexual men, had not developed theories exalting a special, same-sex society; they had produced no Hans Bluher. Moreover, women could be tender with other women without arousing undue suspicion, and it would be difficult to discover, much less prosecute, lesbian acts that were carried out in private. Klare therefore regretfully accepted the fact that, for the moment, sexual contacts between women would have to go unpunished, but he hoped this would prove only temporary.

Nazi jurists ignored Klare’s pleas, and Himmler seems never to have made any statements about lesbians. Nevertheless, some –albeit very few- German lesbians were caught in the machinery of the secret police. Little was known of their fate until quite recently. In 1975, Ina Kukuc published an account of how some SS officers had arrested and sentenced lesbians. The one victim on whom she reports most extensively was brought to court on a charge of treason- which was almost certainly false. Helene G. from Schleswig-Holstein had been working for the counterintelligence division of the Luftwaffe and sharing her residence with another woman, a lesbian. Toward the end of 1944, a young lieutenant wanted to bed Helene’s girlfriend and, when rebuffed, took his revenge. The two women were denounced and arrested. Helene, indicted for military subversion, was expelled from the air force and sent to Camp Butzow. This violated regulations because Butzow was specially designated as a penal camp for recalcitrant prisoners of war. It did not matter. She and five lesbians were thrown into an empty cell block, under the command of male constables. “These are the scum of the earth,” the guards are reported to have told the French and Russian POWs. “We wouldn’t fuck them with a sofa leg.” The prisoners were promised a rare reward: for each woman they penetrated, they would be given a bottle of schnapps. This grotesque sport was, of course, a violation of Himmler’s orders concerning the purity of the German race. POWs were to be severely punished for having had, or having tried to have, intercourse with German women. But then, the entire case, like so many others, had no legal foundation and serves only to emphasise the extent to which the SS felt itself to be free of all moral and ethical restraint. In the end, the only law that was respected was the law of the jungle.

Another example of arbitrary punishment of real or presumed lesbian relationships is to be found in the memoirs of Isa Vermehren, a German intellectual who was arrested because her brother had defected to the Allies in 1944. She was dragged through Dachau, Ravensbruck, and Buchenwald. She reports that some older inmates in Ravensbruck attacked two young girls whom they suspected of having an affair. The female block warden yelled at them that lesbian love was a crime and threatened to punish them. Some instances of lesbian or crypto-lesbian relationships can also be found in Fania Fenelon’s fictionalised memoir, Playing for Time (1977).

There also exist some interviews with lesbian survivors conducted by Ilse Kokula, a Berlin social worker and journalist. The women- now in their seventies- tell of their arrest and mistreatment by Gestapo officers during the early 1940s. Several of the women were taken into custody when the SS raided a lesbian bar- again, an action illegal even within the Nazi judicial code. And here, too, the courts upheld prison sentences when not even the newly minted Nazi sex laws had been violated. Nevertheless, these instances are exceptions. Most lesbians managed to survive unscathed. Fortunately, they fell outside the universe of Himmler’s sexual obsessions.

Another group that emerged untouched were some of Germany’s most prominent and open homosexuals in the performing and decorative arts, who obtained the protection of high Nazi officials. The most famous example is that of the actor Gustaf Grundgens, who was much admired by Goring’s actress-wife, Emmy Sonneman. Despite the fact that his homosexual affairs were as notorious as those of Roehm’s, Goring appointed him director of the State Theatre, and Grundgens quickly became head of theatrical life in the Third Reich. In 1936, Klaus Mann wrote the novel Mephisto, a bitter satire of Grudgens who had been married to Mann’s sister, Erika. He wrote the book to “analyse the abject type of treacherous intellectual who prostitutes his talent for the sake of some tawdry fame and transitory wealth.”

On October 29, 1937, in what appears to have been a concession to Goring’s rule over the arts, Himmler advised that actors and other artists could be arrested for offenses against Paragraph 175 only with his personal consent, unless the police had caught them in flagrante.

Still, the flood of antihomosexual injunctions kept rising. On April 4, 1938, the Berlin Gestapo issued a new directive: a man convicted of gross indecency with another man could be transferred directly to a camp/ then, on September 27, 1939, the Office for Combating Abortion and Homosexuality was reorganised within the Federal Security Bureau to free up more agents for the headhunts.

On July 15, 1940, Himmler added an amendment to his April 1938 directive: men arrested for homosexual activities who have seduced more than one partner must be transferred to a camp after they have served their prison sentences. This was the usual fate for most people caught in the Gestapo net, whether they had committed a burglary, embezzled money, or happened simply to be contragenics: after prison they would be shipped to a camp. On September 4, 1941, the Ministry of Justice published an extraordinarily vague ruling that anyone who threatened the health of the folk community must be put to death.

On November 15, 1941, Himmler issued the Fuhrer’s Decree Relating to Purity in the SS and Police. Henceforth any SS or police officer engaging in indecent behaviour with another man or allowing himself to be abused by him for indecent purposes was to be condemned to death. That Himmler had to promulgate such an order suggests that, despite his vigilance, homosexuality within the elite SS had not entirely ceased; indeed, Himmler conceded at one point that he had to deal with one case a month. In February 1942, the Fuhrer’s purity decree was extended to any male engaging in homosexual activities. Finally, on May 19, 1943, after the Russians had retaken Stalingrad, after the German forces in Africa had surrendered, Himmler advised the army and navy chiefs of staff that his bureau held jurisdiction over soldiers and sailors convicted of same-sex indecencies. This seems to have been the last ruling to make Germany homorein (homo-free). The absence of further decrees should not be taken to mean that homosexuals were now left alone; the Gestapo kept arresting suspects until the Russians had encircled Berlin.


The policies of persecution carried out toward non-German homosexuals in the occupied territories differed significantly from those directed against German gays. The Aryan race was to be freed of contagion; the demise of degenerate subject peoples was to be hastened. Such was the “logic” of Himmler’s sexual cosmology, as we have seen. But what guidelines were actually issued? No systematic inquiry has ever been undertaken. Such a survey is beyond the scope of this book. Still, the broad outlines can be sketched. Each country conquered by Hitler had its own unique characteristics that must be taken into account. A few nations, for example, had no laws banning sexual activities between consenting male adults. Others had vague laws that were not rigorously enforced. In some countries, such as the Netherlands, the population, from the start, battled against the invaders; labour unions organised general strikes to protest the deportation of Jews. Except for a few quislings, Dutch intellectuals and artists did not cooperate with the Nazis- nor did the Germans expect them to do so. In France, things were more complex because there were two administrative zones, one of which, officially independent under Petain, was invaded by the Nazis in November 1942. Conditions deteriorated rapidly as the occupying forces changed from “correct” amiability to the rapacious brutality inherent in SS rule. While some of the French collaborated with the victors, assisting in the arrest and deportation of Jews and other “undesirables,” others organized resistance units. Officially, French homosexuals were not arrested by the occupying powers. Prominent gay artists like Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais were left unmolested; on the other hand, in 1943, the Vichy police issued an injunction for the arrest of gays on the Riviera. Only homosexuals from Alsace-Lorraine were hounded systematically at first; these provinces were to be made regular components of the future Reich. Thus, the populace had to be “purified.” Young men from these provinces had to serve in the German military; refusal risked expulsion to southern France. The people of Alsace-Lorraine were subject to all German laws, including the newly revised Paragraph 175.

In Poland, Himmler was eager not only to wipe out the Jews, but also to eliminate deviants who tried to have sex with German men. In March 1942, the Gestapo issued a detailed memorandum on the possible arrest and sentencing of Polish citizens guilty of sexual misdeeds. The secret memorandum was to be mailed to eleven different directorates and directors. It sought to eliminate “crimes of abortion and sexual offenses” among Polish citizens. It is written in a twisted legalese and is so over-elaborate that one can easily get lost in the din of double-talk. The following is an accurate, if condensed, translation:

We National Socialists are fighting abortion and homosexuality only among pure Nordics in order to strengthen German health and morals. It would defeat these aims if we would help alien groups, often antagonistic toward their German hosts, by punishing abortion and homosexual acts taking place among themselves. This would, in a way, strengthen their numbers and increase their vital powers. However, the Poles present a special problem. In the new territories we have started to administer, Polish people dwell in close proximity to us Germans. Their lives and activities cannot be seen as isolated from those of the Germans. This means that degeneracy and demoralisation extant among the Poles can contaminate German nationals. Such contamination is especially frequent when it comes to homosexuality, which, as we know, “is the result of seduction.” Also, men who carry out abortions, even if they are concerned only with Polish national, present a direct danger to German peoplehood… Therefore we deem it necessary to proceed against homosexuals and professional, that is, paid abortionists, even if these are Poles and have sexually interacted with Poles only. However, it is not necessary to bring to court Poles who abort Polish women or have sexual intercourse with Polish men. Rather, they must be evicted and transported to an area where their activities present no danger to Germandom.

Then, after a short subdivision on Polish women who abort or kill their children themselves- no objections are raised- follows this instruction: “Concerning those Polish for-hire abortionists and other sexual criminals who have done damage to the German people but have not been sentenced to death, reports would be forwarded to the Reich central Security office.” Five lengthy footnotes list the many legal offices that, under certain circumstances, must be informed of this decree.

The injunction regarding the treatment of “racially inferior” homosexuals who either have sex with one another or with German males throws some light on the ideology underpinning the whole fanatic campaign. What was decisive for all occupied nations was the particular station assigned to them in the blueprint of Nazi planners. The future status of a country in Hitler’s Europe determined the destiny of its minorities. Also important was the structure of the satellite government, its attitude toward minorities such as Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals, and its ability to negotiate with its Nazi overseers. After victory, Poland would be a slave state. Its upper classes and Jews were to be wiped out. Only peasants, granted a minimal education, would be allowed exist in order to provide their German masters with food. Thus the Nazis did not punish Polish women who aborted their foetuses, and merely evicted male Poles who had bedded their countrymen. The rules were changed, however, if a Polish male seduced a German one. One might reasonably ask how a Slavic man, by definition inferior, could ever succeed in bewitching a truly German specimen- but, then, Himmler’s reasoning was, as we have seen, full of holes. He never let the contradictions of his convictions subvert the intensity with which he held them.

The Netherlands offers a considerably different picture. Here, too, it is important to understand what part in Hitler’s overall scheme was assigned to the Netherlands during the war and later, after the war was won. The answer is simple: in the future Greater Germany, Holland would be a province like Hesse or Baden; the Dutch language would be relegated to a dialect. In May 1940, when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, the Dutch royal family fled to Britain. This, one might say, opened up a judicial gap. In neighbouring Belgium, where King Leopold had chosen to remain, something odd happened. Although Belgium was ruled by a German military protectorship, Leopold’s civilian bureaucracy continued to function. Although here, too, many Jews suffered deportation, Hitler’s deputies never gained the sovereignty they tried to achieve. The Belgians, seemingly acquiescent, carried out a good deal of subtle sabotage. Holland was more vulnerable. Since their leaders were in exile, the Dutch had to knuckle under to the rules of the German civilian authority, headed by Arthur Seyss-Inquart, an ambitious old time Nazi lawyer who had played a key role in making Austria a legal part of Germany. Probably that is why he was chosen to oversee another part of the future Greater Germany. Seyss-Inquart lost no time. In July 1940 he issued a decree banning “illicit sexual acts between males,” which was an exact replica, translated into Dutch, of the June 1935 revisions of Germany’s Paragraph 175. Since 1911, Dutch law had not bothered itself about sexual acts between males, unless one of the partners was under twenty one years of age. Moreover, a prominent Dutch jurist, Jacob Schorer, had studied under Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin and, in 1911, had opened branches of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee in Amsterdam and the Hague. The committee even published two issues of a magazine about homosexual problems. Seyss-Inquart’s injunction, so far as is known, was the only publicly published antihomosexual regulation issued against the population of an occupied territory. The reason was simply that, in Hitler’s utopia, the Netherlands were to be an integral part of Greater Germany. Special efforts were made to induce young Dutchmen to volunteer for a Dutch SS brigade, for the German armed forces, for work in war factories. It was therefore necessary to protect them from homosexual contamination. After all, Dutchmen were thought to be “true” Nordics able to father children with Nordic women.

The new anti-homosexual injunctions granted Dutch homophobes and pro-Nazis ample opportunity to denounce fellow Dutchmen and thus curry favour with the new masters. Yet, unlike the particularly vehement- and successful- persecution of Dutch Jews, that of homosexuals ran into serious difficulties. Seyss-Inquart’s deputies were not pleased with the meagre results of the arrests of homosexuals carried out by the various Dutch policing units. In January 1941 a high Nazi official sent an angry letter to his Dutch counterpart: What methods, he demanded, could impel the police to more vigorously pursue these sexual vagrants who, according to a prominent Dutch psychiatrist, constituted more than 1.5% of the adult male population? The answer that Seyss-Inquart’s assistant received must have made him rather unhappy. The Dutch official replied that in order to catch the often elusive deviants, policemen needed certain qualities, such as long experience, a flair for ferreting out crimes of a sexual nature, and a pride in their profession. Such qualities, he noted regretfully, were mostly absent in the Netherlands police forces. In general, the Dutch had shown little sympathy for their invaders. Of course, there were Dutch Nazis, but many Dutch families hid Jews, at considerable risk to themselves. And it appears that the average Hollander little interest in turning in a homosexual countryman over to the Nazis. Dutch homosexuals “passed” relatively easily and melted into the general population. Some went underground. Among the so-called Gerrit van der Veen resistance unit in Amsterdam were some well-known gays who helped pull off a famous coup: they dynamited a key Gestapo office. No figures exist to show how many Dutch homosexuals were caught; Dutch authorities told researchers after the war that the records had not been kept. But despite a special decree outlawing same-sex acts among Dutch adults, the Nazi crusade against the homosexuals in the Netherlands must be called a failure.


How were homosexuals identified? The answer is- not easy. Unlike Jews and Gypsies, whose religious or ethnic origins were routinely noted on their birth certificates, and unlike Communists, Socialists, and Social Democrats, whose politics could be determined merely by a glance through their parties’ membership rolls, gays were difficult to discover. No straightforward documents or physical identification existed for homosexuals. The single exception was the central bureau of the Berlin criminal police, which in 1897 had compiled lists of about twenty to thirty thousand homosexuals throughout Germany.

The tradition of keeping track of as many potential undesirables as possible and the building up of a huge documentation system gave Himmler a head start. To this aging list were added the names obtained by the first large-scale arrests after the Roehm purge. Not only members of the SA, but civilians caught in gay bars or clubs were seized, interrogated, their names noted. The Gestapo used the same tactics it applied to all enemies of the state: pressure was put on victims to denounce others. In 1934 the arresting officers still behaved somewhat guardedly; the courts had not been beaten into total submission. Nor had the old Weimar police force been everywhere replaced by Nazi fanatics. A well-connected homosexual could sometimes still find a lawyer to obtain release from jail. However, after the revision of Paragraph 175, coercion was more openly used. Names of friends and lovers were extracted under torture, and Himmler’s list grew longer. Bartenders not overly sympathetic to their gay clientele would occasionally provide names. One address book led to another, one name to the next.

Fortunately, Hirschfeld’s Scientific-Humanitarian Committee had destroyed its membership rosters in time. But it is not known if the larger organisation, the Friendship League, headed by Radzuweit, managed to get rid of its archives early enough. Some 28,000 members paid regular yearly fees to the League. Their names may well have landed on the desk of Captain Meisinger. Another means of identifying suspected homosexuals lay in the confiscated subscription lists of about thirty magazines of more or less homosexual orientation then available in larger cities. Although most of these were probably purchased on newsstands, some may have been obtained by subscription. By 1938 and 1939, gay bars, clubs, and organisations had disappeared. Yet informers on all contragenics were constantly being trained. The authorities encouraged every citizen to report on all who exhibited the slightest evidence of deviance. Moreover, how was it possible for a suspect to prove that he had not thrown an “offensive glance” at another man? In at least one instance, a man was arrested not because he had been watching a young couple make love in a park, but because he had been seen observing the actions of the man more than those of the woman. Julius Streicher, editor of Der Sturmer, had urged his readers to write to him about Jewish men suspected of having, or trying to establish, relations with non-Jewish women. Denunciatory letters poured in. The same pattern held true for other contragenics. It was easy for anyone who wanted to get rid of a competitor to brand the rival as a homosexual. With one short anonymous note to the local Gestapo branch, the enemy of the state could be taken into protective custody or, at least, thoroughly interrogated. Later, after the war had started in earnest, the authorities divided every city into administrative blocks. Each block was supervised by a block warden, whose mission was to spy on everybody.

Still, many homosexuals managed to avoid detection by the authorities. Survival depended on either the suspension of one’s sex life or its successful pursuit in furtive, secret, often anonymous encounters, conducted at considerable risk.


Three special offensives were launched against homosexuals, or that used the charge of homosexuality as a pretext to rid the regime of suspected opponents. These campaigns were directed against the youth movement, the Catholic Church, and the armed forces. The first was organised by Baldur von Schirach, an aristocratic drifter, partly American by descent, who had met Hitler in the early 1920s and won his confidence. By 1931, Schirach held the reins of the Hitler Youth firmly in his hands. He was determined to dissolve the competing youth groups, to get rid of their leaders, and to push their charges into joining the Hitler Youth.

Schirach made it clear that his was military outfit, designed to produce future, purebred National Socialist soldiers. During the Roehm purge, a number of SA youth leaders had been imprisoned, and some had been executed. Now that the SA had been morally cleansed, any suspicion that Hitler boys ever so much as looked at one another “lewdly” must be headed off. Schirach never tired of proclaiming the purity of his mini-armies. After 1933, Hitler granted him money and assistants to conscript the youngsters. Schirach gradually stormed one fortress after another; his gangs occupied the various youth orders offices, sweeping out former key personnel. What made his task easier was the fact that the vague political concepts of most youth orders, with the exception of those of Catholic or Marxist orientation, were often close to such Nazi tenants as the worship of the farmer and the warrior, of “blood and soil,” of war as ultimate sensual intoxication. Schirach’s program consisted largely of strenuous military training together with interminable indoctrination classes.

Every year was given a grandiose label. Thus he dubbed 1934 the “Year of Training.” He organised huge sports spectaculars, and showered medals and prizes on the winners. In addition, a teen Gestapo was established, the so called Baby Gestapo. Selected youngsters were trained to report on cowardly behaviour, lack of respect for Nazi ritual, work evaders, and homosexuals. Soon, accusations charging comrades with sexual misbehaviour flooded in.

In 1941, Schirach’s office issued a manual on the behaviour of the young, part indoctrinational tract, part prescription for action against violators of the sexual and behavioural code of the Hitler Youth. The need to do so suggests that not all members of the Hitler Youth were always able to conform to the code of Nordic purity and righteousness. It was entitled Criminality and Delinquency of Youth. Once again, homosexuality was defined as a dangerous, contagious epidemic. The Weimar Republic was accused of standing by “while this epidemic spread everywhere, and even criminal statistics did not bother with registering it.” One page illustrates the snowball effect with graphics. A photo of one “main seducer” named Hasso Engel is placed in the middle of a chart. Grouped around him are the genealogies of those whom he had seduced, those whom the seduced subsequently had seduced and so on. Hasso was precocious: he admitted having started his activities at age eight, “a warning example of a hereditarily unsound delinquent who had helped spread this epidemic and must be viewed as a contamination risk.”

The book concedes that not all sexual activities between adolescents are proof of “true” or “compulsive” homosexuality. Sometimes youngsters take to mutual masturbation out of sheer curiosity. Still, it easily leads to “genuine perversion, and in the free-youth orders the leaders occupied themselves mainly with the seduction of younger males. This led their victims, as they grew older, to similar homosexual crimes. Thus, like an epidemic, these crimes spread further and further.” It is clear that the book has borrowed from Bluher. The intellectual development of the free youth sects led logically to homosexuality. It was supplemented by the idea that “`the Order is destiny.` it meant everything to its brother-members, including the sexual sphere. Homosexuality was part of the program. Even more, in various political and philosophical disguises it was accepted as a basic ideological creed. Thus, the unnatural became the guiding principle.”

The chapter on “Homosexual Crimes of Male Juveniles” spares no effort to justify the methods used to eradicate those infected by this epidemic. Since the book was issued as a secret dossier, it candidly listed the measures to be undertaken to “combat the dangers of free-youth activities.”

1. All free-youth orders and their organisations were to be exterminated, with special attention to be given to cliques.
2. Former free-youth leaders were to be expelled from the Hitler Youth. Or, as the case may be, they were not to be accepted as members.
3. All former ideologies connected with the free-youth movement were to be suppressed. All formerly accepted principles concerning leadership, organisation, and education were to be prohibited.

If, despite all precautions, some former free-youth leaders had succeeded in joing the Hitler Youth, the book recommends that wherever the commanding officers of the Hitler Youth had not hit on plausible legal justifications for getting rid of infiltrators, “we have always succeeded in eliminating them by using indictments for crimes against Paragraph 175.”

According to statistics compiled by the Nazis and discovered after the war’s end, only 3,976 male teenagers between fourteen and eighteen years old, of the more than 25,000 juveniles arrested for crimes against Paragraph 175, were convicted between 1933 and 1940. Since the total of juveniles during this period amounted to about 2.4 million, this number is relatively small. The legal department of the Hitler Youth had researched the cases of 100,000 juveniles convicted of all sorts of illegal deeds only to discover that on the average; just forty-seven out of ten thousand crimes were of a homosexual nature. This was embarrassing; Schirach, like Himmler, was convinced that homosexuals formed a greater portion of the criminal population. Still more embarrassing proved to be a second inquiry into same-sex felonies committed between July 1939 and August 1941 within the newly purged Hitler Youth. Of those ousted from the organisation, 293 were charged with homosexual misdeeds- nearly 15 percent of the total expelled a rather large percentage.

These figures must be treated with caution. They indicate only the number of people arrested and sentenced for homosexuality; they tell nothing of the truth of that charge. Further, they reflect only the number of arrests and convictions the Nazis decided to record. It was not unusual for people to disappear without a trace.

How far the police bureau’s were willing to go in order to wipe out people judged to be enemies of the state, how they would fabricate allegations of homosexual indecencies, bribe or intimidate witnesses, and, finally, establish kangaroo courts called “People’s Courts,” can be seen during their campaign against the only youth formations that, around 1936, still put up some resistance. These were the various Catholic youth groups. The drive against these groups is, of course, interwoven with that against the Catholic Church, but a short sketch of that battle for the souls and bodies of Catholic youth is necessary.

In July 1933, Pope Pius XI signed a concordat with the Hitler government which guaranteed certain freedoms to clergy, monasteries, nunneries, parochial schools and hospitals, and even Catholic laymen. But Pius XI had underestimated his foe. It took Schirach only nine days after the signing to issue a decree that no young man could belong to a clerical organisation and to the Hitler Youth at the same time. A second directive stipulated that nobody could become a member of the Nazi Party who had not completed four years of service in the Hitler Youth. Since the better jobs in nearly all fields were open only to party members, this dealt another blow to those youth groups that somehow had managed to coexist with the Nazis. With Schirach’s approval, juvenile gangs invaded Catholic youth centres, stole the roll books, smashed the furniture, and sometimes set fire to the buildings. By 1937, all Catholic youth fraternities were officially dissolved.

Schirach’s book repeatedly berated the Catholic youth societies and the institutions that sponsored them. It zeroed in on two areas: it asserted first that monasteries had always been breeding places for homosexual activities; and second, that the parochial schools were also places of such infection. As an example, the report singled out one Catholic institution in the village of Eichstadt. Here, so the book maintained, an insider had handed a confidential memorandum to the Gestapo in 1934. The memorandum stated that “for year, the males have had sexual relations with one another. Not only mutual masturbation was prevalent, the boys indulged in other practices such as oral and anal intercourse. The police suspect that some of the teachers knew about these indecencies but did nothing to stop them... No doubt the Catholic concept of sin had to do with this- the priests explained the wickedness of such activities and this aroused the students’ curiosity... .The clergy is to blame if the young men did not seek the company of girls.... In all probability, the priests encouraged the gross offenses if they did not participate.”


With this, i have slipped into a discussion of the larger drive against the Catholic Church, which started in 1935, culminated in several show trials in 1936 and 1937, and continued on a much smaller scale until 1945. The Nazis simply ignored the 1933 concordat with the Vatican. Only in 1937 did Pope Pius XI issue his encyclical “With Burning Anxiety.” It is not possible here to render a complete history of the war that the Nazis waged against the German Catholic Church. I must restrict myself to those skirmishes in which the Nazis employed, among other weapons, charges of homosexuality. A few representative incidents will suffice.

Like Hitler, Reichsfuhrer SS Himmler admired the organisation of the Catholic Church as much as he loathed its doctrines. Himmler often said he wanted to shape his SS troops into a well-knit elite order embodying many of the superior qualities of the Jesuits. Nevertheless, together with Goebbels, Himmler let loose a defamation campaign against the Catholic establishment which portrayed it as a hotbed of homosexual atrocities.
The Nazis had charged the Catholic Church with assisting enemies of the state to escape to foreign countries; transferring funds illegally outside the Third Reich, especially to the Vatican; committing homosexual felonies, often with minors but also with other clerics; demoralising the armed forces through pastoral epistles; lending support to the resistance within Germany and in the occupied territories; befriending members of the forced labour battalions in German factories, both directly through distribution of food and clothing, and indirectly through counselling; spreading atrocity stories outside of Germany, mainly through the Vatican; attempting to deny all wrongdoings, hide the perpetrators, and hush up the crimes.

If one of these imputations proved to be impractical, another could be substituted. When trying to pin down a priest, the Gestapo often used combinations of charges, such as illegal money operations and homosexual misdeeds.

Paragraph 175 supplied the basis for many individual anticlerical arraignments, but the most famous witch hunt started in 1935, culminating in two show trials in 1936, and 1937. Here the authorities brought charges of gross indecencies against three groups, almost all residents of such heavily Catholic districts as Bavaria, the Rhineland, Westphalia, and the Palatinate. The first group comprised lay brothers, loosely connected and nominally supervised by the Franciscans; the second included secular clergy, priests serving in various western and south-western dioceses; the third consisted of members of such orders as the Augustinians and the Franciscans. The battle was really three-sided: the Gestapo, seeking every shred of evidence with unremitting devotion; a frightened judiciary, split among traditional judges, wary of Nazi methods, pro Nazi careerists, and those who were weak and wavering; and finally, the beleaguered Church. Often, defendants were not permitted to have their own lawyers; evidence was suppressed when it hampered the prosecution attorneys, or distorted or falsified when it furthered their case.

Yet it is astonishing how the clergy, from the two most prominent officials, Clemens August Cardinal von Galen, Bishop of Munster, and Konrad Cardinal von Preysing, Bishop of Berlin- to the local parish priest, put up such tenacious resistance. That the Gestapo directorates violet even their own new laws comes as no surprise. What is more startling is the extent to which they frequently blundered, and badly misjudged the effectiveness and effects of the extravagant publicity the propaganda ministry lavished on the proceedings. What they hoped to achieve was clearly stated by Heydrich in a confidential letter circulated to Gestapo headquarters in Koblenz, Aachen, Munich, and other places where the major hearings were held: to bring before the public a large number of clerics convicted of unnatural sex acts in order to discredit the Church as a haven for degenerates and enemies of the state. The authorities held between fifty and a hundred hearings.

The first target the Gestapo chose was a small congregation of lay brothers in Waldbreitbach, a village near Trier in the Palatinate. These brothers, nominally supervised in a rather informal arrangement by the Franciscans. Concerned themselves mainly with the care of hospitals for handicapped or retarded juveniles and adults. Many of these lay brothers had entered the congregation during Germany’s worst depression and- as the clerical authorities admitted- had not been properly screened. One member, a Brother Leovigil, had been under suspicion for a while but had not yet been transferred or dismissed. As the hearings started, the entire German press was ordered by Goebbels to paint the alleged felonies in vivid colours and to play up every detail of Catholic homosexual turpitude. Most papers obeyed. One or two, however, such as the influential Frankfurter Zeitung, managed to smuggle in a few equivocal asides. Although the battle was uneven, with all the advantages on the side of the state, the Gestapo agents occasionally botched the job. In the Waldbreitbach case, the Nazi agent in charge had called one of the feebleminded patients as a witness while several of the arraigned lay brothers were seated in the first row of the courtroom. The patient was asked by the prosecutor whether among those present he could identify any person who had attempted to seduce him into deviant sexual activities. The patient nodded and then pointed to the presiding judge. The court adjourned in disarray.

It goes without saying that both Paragraph 175 and Paragraph 174, prohibiting sexual contact between older men and minors, were made retroactive. Thus, the prosecutor had indicted as a homosexual felon a lay brother nurse who, four years before, had put his arm around a male patient.

In the summer of 1936, Hitler ordered a halt. The Olympic Games had opened in Berlin; hundreds of foreign guests were expected to visit the Third Reich for the first time. The newspapers, which for weeks had been brandishing such headlines as “Sex in the Sacristy,” now turned to the joys of sport. Just as “Jews not wanted” signs were removed from public benches, just as gay bars were reopened and Himmler himself issued circular letters enjoining the police not to bother gay foreigners, so too were the Catholic trials suspended- without explanation. The uneasy peace was soon shattered. In March 1937, Pope Pius XI issued his encyclical “With Burning Anxiety,” deploring the unjust persecution of German Catholics and condemning the authorities for violating the concordat. Within a day, the publication of the text was prohibited. Any mention of its existence was declared an act of treason. Gestapo agents monitored sermons in as many churches as they could; the issuance of ministerial letters was proscribed- and the trials, all at once, were resumed.

Previously there had only been attempts to involve secular clergy and the monastic orders. Now the authorities went all out. In two major cities, Cologne and Aachen, Gestapo agents confiscated the registries of the General Vicariat. But things did not go smoothly. The trials were too hastily organised and, in the event, the conservative members of the judiciary proved more resistant to Gestapo pressures than the government had anticipated. After twelve weeks Hitler ordered a postponement- again for political reasons: he seems to have realised that the campaign had begun to backfire. He was reluctant to antagonise vast segments of the population with further anticlerical trials. Moreover, the Gestapo, despite heroic efforts, had not been able to carry out mass arrests of homosexually active clerics. Goebbel’s strident propaganda had boomeranged. It is also possible that Mussolini, whom Hitler needed as an ally in his war schemes, had persuaded him to leave the Catholic Church alone for the time being. The Vatican was not only a power of enormous, history-proven resilience, but served as a conduit to the world press. At this moment, in 1937, Hitler still hoped to vanquish France and Eastern Europe while keeping Britain and America out of the war. It would not do to alarm Catholics in the West unduly.

During the twelve weeks of the 1937 trials, however Goebbels had tried to destroy what he called “the ulcer on the healthy body of Germany.” The propaganda had reached its climax in a Goebbels speech delivered in May 1937, carried over nationwide radio, reprinted in most newspapers, and repeated in Sunday editorials. The speech was cluttered with such remarks as “the sacristy has become a bordello, while the monasteries are breeding places of vile homosexuality.” Monks must never be allowed to educate children, and parents were exhorted to pull their children out of parochial schools. Goebbels- a lapsed Catholic- repeatedly condemned the organisation of the Catholic Church as such, especially “the unnatural life of single men confined to monasteries, which promoted the spread of this unnatural vice.” He accused the ecclesiastical authorities of knowing what went on but claiming ignorance as reason for their inaction. That clerical institutions were seedbeds of anti-German propaganda, of perfidious atrocity tales, was no surprise, according to Goebbels, since homosexuals had been traitors throughout history.

Thousands of Catholic sex criminals planned to corrupt German children, he shouted. The crimes uncovered by the police were only a fraction of those taking place behind so-called sacred doors. In addition, the church was waging a ruthless campaign against the new state and its Fuhrer. Goebbels cited the liquidation of Rohm as an example of the high ethical standards of the party.

The party faithful wildly applauded him, but Hitler, it appears, was having second thoughts. Now was not the most opportune moment to continue the anti-Catholic campaign. The hearings were called off.
This did not mean that the entire anti-Catholic campaign had been cancelled. From 1933 until 1941, Catholic institutions were under siege. By 1936 and 1937, not a single Catholic youth organisation remained active. By then, inmates of about thirty five monasteries had been expelled. In 1941, Goebbels closed down all Catholic newspapers and magazines. Between 1937 and 1945, more than four thousand clerics died in concentration camps through torture, pseudo-medical experiments, or simply lack of food. Non-German clergymen arrested in occupied territories, accused of having assisted the resistance, were either shot or shipped to Dachau, the special camp for the clergy. Nevertheless, the 1936-7 show trials, staged with an awesome expenditure of rhetoric, venom, and print, had yielded a startlingly small harvest. Of the total three thousand lay brothers, only 170 were sentence; of a total of 21,000 secular clergymen, only fifty-seven went to jail; of a total of 4,000 members of monastic orders, the judges found only seven (!) guilty of crimes against Paragraph 175. If Goebbels had expected his media blitzkrieg against the Church to spur mass defections, the available statistics prove him wrong. Between 1933 and 1943 (there are no figures available for 1939), less than half of one percent of Germany’s 22.4 million Catholics left the Church. Despite Himmler’s repeated declarations (“There can be no peace between the National Socialist state and the Church. The demand for total power by the Catholic clergy is opposed to the legitimate demand for total power by our state.”), the Catholic population remained almost entirely immune to his pleas.

In July 1937, at the height of the media broadside against allegedly homosexual clerics, a pilgrimage took place at the Rhenish city of Aachen, as it had for seven hundred years. One bishop wanted to postpone it; he believed pilgrims might stay away out of fear. The presses, he argued, that had printed the Pope’s encyclical had been sequestered; no posters could be exhibited; what remained of the Catholic press was under orders from Berlin not to mention the planned event,. Still, between 750,000 and 800,000 pilgrims went through the streets of Aachen and the police were unable to stop the crowds.

The Aachen example is only one of many similar happenings. Throughout the twelve years of the Third Reich, certain parishes continued to celebrate important holy days. A few monasteries and nunneries bravely hid baptised and non-baptised Jews. Bishops like von Preysing and von Galen never lost the allegiance of their parishioners. To be sure, the Nazi state abolished the Catholic youth groups, shut down Catholic institutions, and persecuted and killed several thousand clerics. But the offensive to defame the Catholic Church by smearing clergymen as treasonous homosexuals definitely miscarried. The hoped for massive flight from the Church did not take place. The Nazi machine utterly failed to shake the faith of millions of German Catholics.


As we have seen, the Roehm purge proved Hitler could get away with murder. It also proved that the SS, under Himmler, was a more pliable and effective force than Roehm’s unruly SA. Roehm’s removal had reassured the old officer corps who had feared Roehm’s plans to dismantle the Reichswehr and replace it with an army of his own. After the purge the generals assumed they had reasserted their proper place within the state without having to bloody their hands; Hitler had done the dirty work. They approved of using Roehm’s homosexuality as a pretext for getting rid of him. These mostly right-wing soldiers, many from noble families, wavered in their attitudes toward the Nazi dictatorship. By instinct and training they tended to regard Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels and the rest with contempt, as lower-class upstarts. Nevertheless, they hoped that Hitler would provide them with more money, soldiers, weapons, and power while respecting their traditional independence. The murder of Roehm seemed to suggest that Hitler was prepared to strike against extremists within his own party, and to pursue a course of moderation and cooperation. Nothing was further from the truth. What the generals had not foreseen was that, as Alan Bullock has noted, “within ten years of Roehm’s murder the SS would have succeeded where the SA failed in establishing a party army in rivalry with the generals army....” moreover, Hitler continued to harbour an enmity toward the old military establishment; he feared them as potential conspirators and rivals, and retained a twisted remnant of the front-line soldier’s contempt for his superiors. “The General Staff,” Hitler would remark, “is the only Masonic Order that I haven’t yet dissolved.” And he declared that “those gentlemen with the purple stripes down their trousers sometimes seem to me even more revolting than the Jews.” He was determined to break their independence and curb their pride. Once again, charges of homosexuality would provide the perfect pretext.

The following discussion of the cashiering of Werner von Blomberg, first minister of defence, later general marshal of the armed forces, and of Baron Werner von Fritsch, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, is perhaps tangential to a chronicle of homosexuals under the Third Reich. Nevertheless, if I am reluctant to consign it to a footnote, it is because of such a discussion demonstrates Hitler’s use of charges of sexual misconduct, some possibly factual, others clearly spurious, to force the resignations of men like von Blomberg and von Fritsch, who had become difficult and obstinate, and because the trial of von Fritsch irreparably undermined the independence of the military commanders who, until 1938, had successfully resisted the encroachments of the SS and the Gestapo.

The 1938 trial of von Fritsch on charges of homosexual indecencies was based on documents collected by Goring, Himmler and Heydrich. To understand their animus it should be remembered that von Blomberg was so strongly convinced that Hitler would bring stability and grandeur to the army that in August 1934 he had arranged for the officers of the army to swear a personal oath of loyalty to Hitler. During the Roehm massacre, von Blomberg had done nothing to protest the murder of his two colleagues, General Kurt von Schleicher and General Kurt von Bredow. Von Fritsch, however, had demanded an explanation from Goring, then head of the Prussian police. Goring alerted the two most sinister power brokers on Hitler’s staff, Himmler and Heydrich, but neither could offer an explanation that satisfied von Fritsch. This, one might say, formed the nucleus of hatred that the Goring-Himmler-Heydrich faction harboured against von Fritsch.

That Hitler himself joined the team is due to the events of the Hossbach Conference of November 1937. Hitler had gathered the heads of all the armed services and lectured them for several hours on his plans for the conquest of Europe. Von Fritsch protested that the army was in no way ready. Von Blomberg vacillated but finally overcame his scruples and started preparing for “Operation Green,” the code name for the campaign against Czechoslovakia. During the conference, the usually cool von Fritsch lost his temper and argued energetically against Goring. It did not endear him to Goring.

The unimaginative timidity of his generals convinced Hitler that he had to dismantle the army high command. He had to get rid of von Blomberg, von Fritsch, and the other traditionalists. Goring, too, realised that with the exception of the upper echelons of the Catholic Church, the armed forces were the only source of institutional power the Nazis had not yet subdued. Goring also hoped to be appointed successor to either von Fritsch or von Blomberg. He fanned the fires against von Blomberg, and luck was on his side: von Blomberg had married a girl “with a past.”

Von Blomberg, a widower in his sixties with two grown children, had met a woman named Eva Gruhn, whose mother had once run a massage parlour. Though Goring had discovered that Eva had once posed for several nude photos, some of which bordered on the pornographic, he did not immediately inform von Blomberg. Von Blomberg married Eva in a simple ceremony; the witnesses were Goring and Hitler. Shortly afterward, Goring showed von Blomberg the police blotter containing photos of his new wife. To avoid public disgrace, von Blomberg, broken and humiliated, tendered his resignation and took Eva on a honeymoon to Italy. Hitler did not hand over von Blomberg’s job to Goring, but instead appointed himself chief of the Supreme Command of the Army, a post he invented.

Now the more resilient von Fritsch had to be tackled. Baron Werner von Fritsch, at first glance, conveys the image of the exemplary Prussian officer, complete with clipped speech and monocle. In fact, this brilliant military tactician was a shy, deeply religious introvert. He had a pronounced sense of justice, and frequently interfered to soften the punishment of soldiers caught violating minor army regulations. His sense of personal responsibility, his total devotion to the army, won him the admiration of officers and enlisted men alike. He had only one hobby: he loved to ride horses whenever his duties permitted it. He had never married and had few known relationships with women. Such was not viewed with suspicion; it corresponded to a tradition of the Prussian army, some of whose most brilliant generals had been lifelong bachelors.

Von Fritsch was also immune to the charm the Fuhrer occasionally lavished on those he needed, and tended to stay aloof from the new Nazi court. Solitary, straightforward, and pious, he was no match for the plots of his adversaries. Although he never trusted the Nazi leaders, he only caught on to the true character of Hitler and his aides when it was too late.

Even while the von Blomberg crisis took its course, the Goring-Himmler-Heydrich machine was searching for material to incriminate von Fritsch. It is not certain who first unearthed a dossier containing information dating back to 1933. It recorded the confessions of Otto Schmidt, a twenty-nine year old thief with a long record of fraud and blackmail. Captain Meisinger, the newly appointed head of the Gestapo’s Security Office for Combating Abortion and Homosexuality, listened with interest as Schmidt claimed that in the winter of 1933 he had seen an elderly gentleman in a brown coat with a fur collar and carrying a cane picking up a well known hustler. The two men had disappeared into a dark alley, where Schmidt said he saw them commit homosexual acts. After the two separated, Schmidt followed the gentleman and began to blackmail him. Schmidt could not squeeze much money out of his prey; the gentleman soon collapsed and hired a nurse who guarded him faithfully. Schmidt swore that the man he had blackmailed was General Werner von Fritsch. Whether Meisinger knew from the start that the gentleman Schmidt allegedly had watched was actually Captain Achim von Frisch, an ailing retiree, remains open to speculation. Probably he found out after a few weeks of inquiry. Still, during an interrogation in 1936, when he showed Schmidt some photos of General Werner von Fritsch, Schmidt assured him this was the man he had blackmailed. Meisinger was delighted. He notified Himmler and Heydrich.

Hitler, given the documents, seems to have felt that the time was not ripe for a break with von Fritsch. Hitler needed the army: he had just finished his illegal march into the Rhineland. Although he wished to keep the story quiet, Hitler confided the matter to Goring. Now, nearly two yearsa later, Goring, hgaving succeeded in removing von Blomberg, saw a way to undo von Fritsch. At the end of 1937, Schmidt was again grilled, this time in jail. He was eventually set free pon condition that he work as a “sexual deviants informer.”
A fellow blackmailer and the hustler were also interrogated. It became obvious- even to the Gestapo- that the gentleman had indeed been Captain von Frisch, not General von Fritsch. This awkward fact should have made it impossible even for an operator like Goring to uphold the fiction that the Gestapo had not known the identity of Schmidt’s victim. But it didn’t. In January 1938, von Fritsch was summoned to speak to Hitler. He not only found himself facing the Fuhrer but also Goring and Schmidt, the blackmailer, who called out: “That’s him.” Von Fritsch said only “I don’t know this person.” His denial was not enough.

Von Fritsch’s first trial took place in March 1938, but was aborted just as the blackmailer began to be cross-examined. Hitler had decided to march into Austria. When the trial resumed a few weeks later, von Fritsch’s counsel had prepared several traps for Schmidt. The Gestapo was also unable to browbeat the hustler into identifying von Fritsch. Finally, old Captain Achim von Frisch, although obviously beaten in prison admitted everything.

The court acquitted von Fritsch of all charges. It did not matter. The armed forces had suffered a devastating blow to its morale, from which it was never to recover. Now that von Fritsch was “rehabilitated,” Hitler mailed him a letter that is a masterpiece of double-talk. Hitler observed that he, like the general had suffered much slander. Hitler promised to make public the general’s vindication before the German people. He never did. Instead, he appointed von Fritsch to the colonelcy of his old regiment- a meaningless gesture. Von Fritsch was killed during the war in Poland in September 1939.

Schmidt was sent to the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen for nearly four years, than liquidated on Goring’s orders. Some of the bunglers in the Gestapo were transferred. The fate of the hustler is unknown; no records have come to light. Probably he ended up in a camp, with a black (asocial) or a pink (homosexual) triangle sewn on his sleeve.


To understand what happened to those homosexuals in the armed forces who did not “pass” – that is, those who were caught and convicted- three factors must be taken into account. First, after July 1935, as draft-age gays began to grasp the ferocity of the new anti-homosexual laws, many decided to volunteer for the navy, army, or the air force. Neither General Keitel of the army, nor Admirals Raeder or Doenitz of the navy, nor even Marshal Goring of the air force shared the homophobic obsessions of Himmler. Second, after the Roehm purge had eliminated the homosexual SA elite, no halfway intelligent gay was likely to join the homophobic SS. Third, none of the armed forces were inclined favourably toward homosexuality. Statistics from 1940 show that the military courts were busy with sexual offenders as more and more young men joined or were drafted. Simultaneously, indictments of male civilians for the same felonies stayed the same or dropped slightly. In 1941, about 3,700 civilians were sentenced for same-sex activities. During the same year, the number of men indicted for the same crime within the armed forces amounted to just over 1,100.

Between 1940 and 1943, nearly 5,000 German military men were indicted for homosexual misdeeds, of which 205 held the rank of officer and 1,434 that of non-commissioned officer. Homosexuals in the higher ranks seem to have been more adept than enlisted men at dodging the snares of Paragraph 175. The armed forces struggled to keep their own long-established legal procedure intact. Until 1942, the military courts distinguished between “libidinal felons,” meaning offenders who were by nature homosexual or could not resist an urge to commit occasional same sex misdeeds, and essentially heterosexual victims of incidental aberrant feelings, who had been either seduced or had found no other outlet. Service personnel in the first category were to be put in a military jail or in a penal combat battalion.

In 1942, Hitler declared that the armed forces were too lenient in their treatment of sexual deviants. There was probably more behind this than Hitler’s pleasure in the badgering the military. Himmler, who a year earlier had prescribed the death penalty for any SS member guilty of homosexual actions, had probably pressured Hitler to the armed forces to conform. After all, an SS man caught with a sailor could be executed, while the sailor might get away with one or two years in jail. A psychiatrist, Otto Wuth, was appointed to alert military jurists to the dangers of all types of homosexuality. Wuth, a firm believer in Himmler’s scriptures, disapproved of the distinction between full-time libidinal felons and part-time victims. He labelled every male indulging in any type of same-sex activities a “compulsive psychopath,” and sought to prove that most homosexuals had previous criminal records of one sort or another. Should men convicted of homosexual felonies be dismissed from the armed forces? Wuth thought not. He proposed to put them instead into penal combat battalions where they had to face direct enemy fire. Wuth argued that if genuine psychopaths were discharged from the fighting forces. Heterosexual malingerers might pretend to be libidinal felons and use this ruse to get out of service. For repeat offenders, Wuth recommended demotion in rank for minor violations, and strict prison sentences for major crimes; all criminals were to wear a visible badge denoting their status.

Wuth, it appears, was not able to win over the legal chiefs of the military. There followed prolonged periods of wrangling between the various Himmler directorates and the armed forces. In 1943 a draft was worked out that established three categories: (1) libidinal felons who were incorrigible; (2) men who had committed only one or two homosexual crimes, probably when seduced; and (3) defendants whose inclinations were dubious. This time around, the first category, the libidinal felons, faced sharper penalties. They would be convicted and handed over to the Gestapo, and they could be condemned to death. The second group should also be severely punished, but could be rehabilitated. The third group must be put into penal combat battalions, but if observation suggested they had reformed, they could rejoin their former units. The psychiatric and legal experts could not agree on whether a “successful” visit to a military bordello should be taken as sufficient proof that the offender had been reformed and was, so to speak, heterosexually reborn. Neither these nor later, stricter directives were put into effect because the worsening plight of all armed forces after 1943 meant that every able-bodied man was essential.

Another Hitler memorandum restored some power to a special military court, originally organised to rule over the militia but now covering the entire realm of military jurisdiction. The court’s president was Paul von Hase, a foe of Nazi ideology, as was his counsel, Army Court Martial Judge Karl Sack, the jurist who had been instrumental in unmasking the Gestapo intrigue against von Fritsch. This court heard cases of desertion, treason, corruption, and crimes against Paragraph 175. It is reasonable, even in the absence of surviving evidence, to assume that these two oppositionists did their utmost to soften or delay punishments meted out to servicemen accused-rightly or wrongly- of treason (which included self-mutilation), desertion, or homosexual felonies.

Still, the military was not overly lenient toward same-sex offenders. It meted out justice according to the old laws established by the Prussian army before 1870. There are only a few examples for which the records have been preserved. In 1940 a special naval tribunal was convened to hear the case of a sailor described only as Emil B. Emil and a companion named E, had been drinking beer aboard a coast guard cutter; Emil had kissed E, several times. The court decided that six months in jail was “an appropriate and just punishment.” Another naval tribunal was convened in August 1942 to decide the case of an engine room machinist name B. He was accused of having made indecent proposals to several sailors on his minesweeper. Two sailors insisted they had rejected his advances; another confessed that he had indulged twice in mutual masturbation with B, but only at B’s urging. B, was ordered to serve in a special penal combat camp for two years and was deprived of his civil rights. His petitions for parole and re-entry into his old job on the minesweeper were rejected because the court concluded that he was a “libidinal felon.”

The armed forces had also to grapple with the behaviour of no-German fighting men recruited after 1942. These foreign volunteers- among them Turks, Azerbaijanis, Cossacks, Armenians, Turkomans, Arabs, Belgians, and Frenchmen- had often grown up in cultures whose traditions permitted occasional homosexual acts, especially when young men had no access to women. Neither the German army nor navy seems to have asked the Gestapo’s advice on how to handle them. To all appearances, the armed forces tribunals tended to treat non-Germanic personnel with moderation. In February 1944, for example, a naval court convened in the northern German town of Gluckstadt to try three French-speaking Arabs. It seems that Dhu, Deb, and Beaug had satisfied each other’s sexual needs quite openly at various places, mainly in the showers. One episode in particular shocked the court. While a marine captain had delivered an illustrated lecture about the wartime duties of the true German fighting man, defendant Dhu, protected by the backs of the sailors sitting in front of him, went down on his knees and satisfied his companion Deb. Two German sailors had watched and reported the crime. Verdict: seven months in jail for Dhu, five months for Deb, and two months for the less active Beaug, who was only involved in the shower incidents. If these non-Germanics had been members of a forced-labour battalion in some German city and had been apprehended by the Gestapo, they would have been either executed on the spot or sent to a concentration camp. There they would have been worked to death or shot “while trying to escape.”

If the military did not follow Gestapo practices in their treatment of crimes against Paragraph 175, it was not because it considered homosexuality a natural variant like left-handedness. To declare a kiss between two drunken sailors an offence deserving six months in jail does not exactly indicate preferred treatment for homosexual offenders. After the Gestapo entrapment of von Fritsch, however, every legal employee was wary of Gestapo efforts to curtail and to destroy the independence of the armed forces judiciary. It was, quite simply, the conservatism of the military establishment that defied Himmler. The experts in various departments might accept a guideline here, a directive there, but in principle they resisted outsiders, and the Gestapo directorates were definitely felt to be intruders. Himmler, for instance, never succeeded for long in placing informers on navy vessels. They were always detected.


No exact figures can yet be given of those who suffered in the campaign of persecution against the homosexuals. However meticulous the Nazis were in their mania for keeping records, they were also eager to conceal the extent of their savagery. Those documents that survived the war are often incomplete and untrustworthy. Nevertheless, there is material that bears on the question from which we can infer the criteria necessary for any reasonable evaluation of its scope.

First, the number of male homosexuals in the German population of 1933-45, for which it is impossible to give a precise figure. On the basis of his 1909 survey, conducted only in Berlin among 6,611 factory workers and students, Magnus Hirschfeld concluded that there about 1.2 million gays, or about 2.2 percent of the male population. Earlier, in 1897, the Berlin police had compiled a list of between 20,000 and 30,000 known or suspected homosexuals throughout the country. In 1928, German sociologist Robert Michels also put the number of homosexually inclined men at 1.2 million. He seems only to have echoed Hirschfeld’s estimate. Himmler, too , seems to have embraced this figure, although in at least one instance he placed the number of homosexuals at 2 million. There was, of course, no way to know. Nevertheless, in the light of later sociological research (Kinsey et al.), such a figure was perhaps not significantly inaccurate.

Second, the number of those- both civilian and military- convicted for violations of the Paragraph 175 can be considered. Here we must rely on the often conflicting records of the various Nazi police organs. The Gestapo, for example, listed nearly 37,500 men sentenced for homosexuality between 1933 and the first half of 1940. The Federal Security Office for Combating Abortion and Homosexuality also compiled statistics of the number of homosexuals sentenced from 1936 to 1939, the peak years of Himmler’s campaign against the gays. Its total of nearly 43,000 is considerably greater than the Gestapo figure of almost 30,000 for the same period. For the war years 1941-44 the most reliable estimate is of about 12,000 homosexual men sentenced. Overall, we may reasonably estimate the number of males convicted of homosexuality from 1933 to 1944 at between 50,000 and 63,000, of which nearly 4,000 were juveniles. (Also recoded were the arrests of six lesbians- a bewildering statistic, since sex between women was not against the law.)

Despite the paucity of reliable statistics, it seems reasonable to concede that a considerable number- perhaps even a majority- of the tougher and more circumspect, resourceful, and just plain lucky homosexuals survived the Third Reich undetected. Himmler never ceased his efforts to ferret them out, though. But unlike other contragenics like the Jews, Gypsies, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or political opponents, homosexuals were usually difficult to detect. Still, even for those who managed to survive, their days and nights were filled with fear. It was impossible to trust anyone, especially strangers. Even a casual contact might prove to be an informer. Moreover, from 1935 on, every gay German man knew that if he was caught he risked being shipped to a concentration camp. There, disease, degradation, and almost certain death awaited him.