Chapter Five- In Camp

BEFORE DESCRIBING WHAT HAPPENED TO those homosexuals who were caught in Himmler’s net and sent to concentration camps, I must confess that it is hard to maintain the necessary disinterest required for proper historical investigation. Several of the difficulties besetting anyone trying to grasp the enormity of the horror of the Third Reich have been outlined in the Introduction, and they do not have to be named again. Still, I must sound a fair and personal warning: to analyse the documents from the camps- official directives, police dossiers, hastily scribbled entrance-and-departure lists, the “Death Books,” often mangled and yellowed by time into illegibility- demands a formidable degree of dispassion.

When i spent time at the International Tracing Service in Arolsen, West Germany, its huge rooms piled to the ceiling with papers rescued from the camps- the records not yet completely catalogued- i often had to stop. Since it is impossible for any single person to review even a fraction of the material, I decided to concentrate mostly on the camp at Buchenwald, near Weimar, in what is today East Germany. Unlike many other camps, its files are comparatively intact, including those on pseudo-medical experiments administered to homosexuals by Carl Vaernet, the Danish hormone specialist. Several years earlier, a team of young German researchers under the direction of Rudiger Lautmann reviewed most of what was available from the thirteen or fourteen institutions that had incarcerated homosexuals. Lautmann and his researchers opened up a territory nobody had surveyed or mapped before. His pioneering study, the first statistical and sociological analysis of what happened to homosexuals in Nazi camps, based not only on the Arolsn documents, but also on the recollections of non-homosexual prisoners, was published in Germany in 1977. Nevertheless, Lautmann is the first to admit that his researchers were unable to obtain complete data. The Nazis never kept orderly books. There were also advantages to be had by compiling misleading statistics. In addition, collateral police blotters in East German and Russian centres were not and, as of this writing, are not accessible.

All statistics must be regarded with caution. We do not know, for example, how many gays were detained in a specific camp during a specific month. No irrefutable figures are available. The Nazi penal bureaucracy was concerned with no more than a prisoner’s name, age, and reason for detention. Professional or marital status, place of residence, and arresting agency were not always noted. Some camps kept thorough records only during periods of comparative quiet; others lacked competent clerks who knew how to fill out official forms or how to spell a difficult name. And toward the end of the war, the SS burned countless documents.
Homosexuals constituted a very small minority, perhaps one of the smallest; only the categories of “emigrants,” “race defilers,” and “armed forces transfers” contained fewer men. For example, in Natzweiler-Struthof, a camp in Alsace-Lorraine, from 1942 to June 1944, the number of homosexuals varied between 20 and 50. In Mauthausen, from February 1944 to July 1944, the camp’s books list the names of between 50 and 60 gay prisoners. In Buchenwald, from January 1943 to March 1945, the tables show between 60 and slightly more than 150 gay inmates. For Dachau, Luatmann found 150 homosexual inmates for the period March 1938 through September 1938. These are partial statistics, with many months and even years missing. How many homosexuals were actually held in the camps remains uncertain, the various institutions detained at all times several hundred homosexuals. Later this increased to about one thousand. Altogether, somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 homosexuals perished behind barbed wire fences.

As i combed through the Arolsen files, I realised that just as the various camp registrars were not able to keep track of the prisoners’ names, especially those with names unfamiliar to the German clerks- in Eastern Europe the name Schwarz could be spelled in more than eighty ways- the bookkeepers, too, left out vital information. In Buchenwald, for instance, on a certain day there were noted down not sixty-one homosexuals as listed the previous day, but only fifty-eight. It is not clear whether the missing three died, were remanded to one of the Droa-Mittelbau labour units, or were sent to an altogether different camp. If, on a day soon after, there appear three additional numbers –no names- for the Buchenwald homosexual contingent, it is not possible to say whether these are the same three men omitted from the group of sixty-one listed before, whether they had been shipped to Buchenwald as first offenders, or whether they had been transferred from another institution. The same uncertainties still afflict researchers seeking precise data on the fate of other contragenics, especially Slavs. For many millions of Russian prisoners of war, the Nazis did not bother with detailed lists at all- they were to be eliminated too rapidly to bother recording their names. Nevertheless, maniacally obsessive archivists pressed on with their grisly task. In 1945, shortly before the surrender, while Allied guns could be heard clearly booming close to Buchenwald, some of them kept on scribbling entries for homosexual prisoners- all such numbers now being illegible.

Another essential source of information- the reminiscences of those fortunate enough to survive- runs very thin when it comes to homosexuals. Not many ere that lucky. Most memoirs are the work of former Jewish or antifascist prisoners. Except for Rudolf Hoess, no prominent executive of the Nazi penal system wrote his recollections. When Lautmann publicly invited those still living to come forward to be interviewed, only a small number accepted his offer. Those few who did insisted on anonymity =. Since then, the slightly improved political climate in West Germany has encouraged others to testify- that is, to allow scholars and journalists to question them about a time that most would rather forget. It must be remembered that until 1969, sexual acts between consenting adult males were still considered a crime under West German law. The few former pink-triangle survivors who had re-entered civilian life had usually concocted “cover stories” – for example, some claimed ti have been arrested as anti-Nazi resisters. A few had married; some had children and grandchildren; none wanted the past to re-emerge and threaten their present lives. Over the years, i have been able to interview only a handful of survivors willing to send me written testimonies. I have also drawn extensively on Lautmann’s work. What follows is only a beginning and cannot be considered the definitive chronicle of homosexuals kept behind the barbed-wire fences of the Third Reich.


The first camp, Dachau, near Munich, was opened on March 30, 1933, on Himmler’s orders. Set up in haste to relieve the prisons, which were overcrowded after the Reichstag fire, the camp was poorly organised. The SA arrested, and sometimes discharged, people at random. The earliest prisoners included antifascists, Catholics, homosexuals, and Jews. The commandant, Major Hilman Wackerle, attempted to maintain some order; “violent insubordination” and “incitement to disobedience” were punishable by death. Still, he could not keep his constables in check. Himmler, angered by the adverse publicity generated by the murder of several prisoners, dismissed Wackerle, who was subsequently charged by the Bavarian criminal prosecutor’s office.
In June 1933, Himmler appointed Theodor Eicke, the man who, more than anything else, shaped the character not only of Dachau but of labour camps. He organised brutality courses for the SS novices, worked out a graded system of confinements, and succeeded in welding the newly born Order of the Death’s Head into a fanatical gang of bullies, imbued with hatred toward the charges they regarded as subhumans. Eicke’s favourite slogan, frequently shouted by the guards at newcomers, was, “There are enough German oak trees to hang anybody who dares to deft us.” It was Eicke who transformed Dachau from a disorderly open-air jail into a place of carefully calibrated punishment and deprivation schedules. It was Eicke who provided the model for all later institutions. Men trained under him often ended up as high officers in the larger camps. And it was Eicke who brought the revolver into Ernst Roehm’s prison cell and, when Roehm refused the proffered suicide, shot him on Hitler’s orders, thus bringing to a climax the Night of the Long Knives. Whether Eicke’s governing techniques stemmed from his experiences as police informer, terrorist, and SS officer, or whether they simply mirrored the mind of a butcher born to the task- a bully who enjoyed tyrannising others- remains difficult to decide. What is incontestable is that it was his policies that shaped the epressive contours of all camps and made them into the indispensable and diabolical instruments of Hitler’s and Himmler’s rule by terror.

Basically, Eicke worked out two sets of rules, one for camp personnel, one for inmates. Of the code for guards, only certain sections were put on paper; much of it was passed on through indoctrination sessions. Foremost, he insisted on unconditional obedience. Every order by a superior officer had to be carried out. Frequently he emphasised “that every prisoner be treated with fanatical hatred as an enemy of the state.” Eicke developed a set of procedures that would breed in the guards a conviction that they were not only carrying out legitimate orders but punishing dangerous subversives. He began a “brutality Training Academy” whose graduates ruled over almost all later penal institutions- first those in the West, later in the extermination mills in the East. The earlier camps, located within German, Austrian, Dutch, French, and Belgian borders, did not dispose of inmates by mechanised crematoria. They cannot properly be labelled extermination camps, although thousands perished in them.

Men like Rudolf Hoess, later supreme ruler of Sachsenhausen and Auschwitz, were educated in the older camps and then graduated to the death factories, purposely placed in the East, away from the eyes of the German population.
For the regulation of the inmates, Eicke’s manual for “The Maintenance of Discipline and Order” remained the standard text for the camps. It granted the commandant the power to punish prisoners as he saw fit. Eicke legalised various procedures through which the inmates were humiliated and broken a process vitally necessary if a small-albeit well-armed- group of SS troopers was to reign over much larger numbers of prisoners.

Himmler, recognising Eicke’s talent for running Dachau more efficiently and ruthlessly than his predecessor, asked him, in April 1934, to think about reorganising all existing camps: their number had grown so fast that Himmler deemed centralisation essential. Himmler appointed Eicke to serve directly under him. In October 1934, Eicke was transferred to Berlin to ready the headquarters for the newly centralised Kazets (concentration camps). Although he ultimately moved his headquarters –fittingly, one might say- into Sachsenhausen, he continued to work closely with Himmler. Soon Eicke closed down numerous smaller camps, shipping their inmates to the larger establishments. Some of the old camps lasted longer than planned, however, because they had to absorb the unforeseen overflow, among them Flossenburg, in Bavaria, and Strutthof, near Danzig, where large numbers of homosexuals were interned.

By 1937 the indefatigable master builder had set up four basic units: Dachau, Sachsenhausen, (near Berlin), Buchenwald (near Weimar), and, after Austria had rejoined the Fatherland, Mauthausen (near Linz). In time, every one of these gave birth to numerous satellite camps, some serving newly built war factories. Each camp was patterned after Dachau, which stands as a monument to Eicke’s gift for organised tyranny. Only the exigencies of the war, the feuds among rival Nazi directorates, threatened to overwhelm Eicke’s troopers and cause dangerous cracks in the carefully constructed control apparatus.

In his guidebook on discipline and order, his training drills for the misfits and malcontents who made up his armies, Eicke created a nightmarish world of barbarism and doom, so far removed from the experience of most Western nations that what went on inside the camps was at first not believed. If Himmler was initially ordered to organise the extermination of large minorities, such as Jews and antifascists, if he later added the crusades against the smaller groups of contragenics such as Gypsies and homosexuals, it was Eicke who provided the needed confinement structures that soon dotted three-quarters of Europe.

The camps, thanks to Himmler, existed outside any legal restrictions. They presented a new type of penal colony where anybody resisting the established order could be quickly silenced. How the camps functioned, from exhaustive day to exhaustive day, has been told by so many excellent observers and historians that there is no need for detailed analysis here.

Nor is it necessary to render in minute detail the chain of command as it prevailed in most institutions- from the commandant at the top, whom few of the prisoners ever saw, to the SS block sergeant, of whom they saw too much. It is sufficient to note that in between ruled various middlemen and numerous administrative assistants and adjutants to the commandant, representing special departments. The pyramid of power was patterned by Eicke after that of prisons and the armed forces, and as in these institutions, some areas of authority were ambiguous; guerrilla skirmishes between departments frequently erupted. Such rivalries sometimes made it possible for prisoners to survive. Even more crucial was the composition of the “self-government” forced on prisoners by their SS overseers. These “prison aristocrats” wielded enormous influence and could save their confederates’ lives, assign an adversary to an infamous work detachment, or get rid of a hated guard or an inmate suspected of being an informer. On the other hand, such power brokers were in a constant bind. Some of the rank-and-file prisoners naturally saw them as tools of the enemy, while the camp administration, for its part, held them responsible for everything happening within their area of control, from an escape plot to minor disciplinary infractions. In short, the SS rulers used inmates against inmates. This ancient technique promoted strife among prisoners, something the authorities needed and cherished. Even so, differences were rife among the prisoners: class background, social status, racial type, religious creed, sexual preference, and, later-as non-German prisoners were herded in- national origin.

The entire process of dehumanisation on entering the camp- the stripping, in some cases the shaving of all, even the pubic, hair, the loss of name and personhood, caused profound trauma. The jolt was accompanied not only by the enduring sensation of powerlessness; the victim, under daily assault in one way or the other, also began to realise that nothing he had achieved, done, or owned counted here. It has been said that in the inferno all are equal. But for one group the shock of incarceration was not as destructive as for the others. To habitual criminals, the trauma was less intense; they had spent years in jails developing a repertoire of survival techniques.

Some of the criminal prisoners, identifiable by the green triangles they were forced to wear, had learned through long years in prison to abide by a special code based on group solidarity: one does not squeal on a buddy, one looks after one’s mates, one respects “honour among thieves.” This group of seasoned penal graduates did not include the so-called asocials, tagged by black triangles, often those who had run away from labour camps or were chronically unemployable. They were considered stupid, unable to communicate, lacking the courage to stand up for a brother. The SS despised them the colour of their triangles was an insult to their own black uniforms.

After the initial baptism of mortification, newcomers had to learn to cope with their utter defencelessness. all were treated like criminals, all had to do spine-cracking labour, and, what was worse, all were forever at the mercy of both the SS and the Kapos, who were prisoners, usually camp elders, appointed by the commandant, charged with ensuring obedience and discipline in the barracks. Education, wealth, achievement- none of these mattered. On the contrary, the guards and their Kapo deputies favoured farmers, labourers, lumberjacks, and craftsmen; they had nothing but contempt for former white-collar clerks, merchants, teachers, lawyers. They rejected foreigners, especially Slavs, Jews, and Gypsies, and they loathed homosexuals, clergymen, and artists- except, perhaps, musicians, who were sometimes recruited for an orchestra to perform on social occasions, such as the Fuhrer’s birthday, SS socials, and hangings.
Newcomers who failed to adapt fell after a time into a state of acute apathy. They did not wash, shave, or mend their clothes. They never participated in the most essential inmate activity: the bartering of goods, miserable as these might be. Such men began gradually to resemble the living dead. If a newcomer, determined not to succumb, fell in with an old-timer, usually someone with a similar ethnic, political, or work background, willing to teach him what not to do and the little he should do, he might gradually and painfully learn to adjust.

The civilian penitentiaries of Europe had not been established to eliminate their inmates but rather simply to mete out punishment, to keep criminals away from society, and, perhaps, to reform them. The Nazi camps had a far different objective. They were planned to neutralise and isolate enemies of the state, to subdue, and, if needed, get rid of resisters and entire peoples and groups deemed to be subhuman. To the public, Himmler touted the camps as “beneficial re-education centres” but by 1942 nobody believed this any longer. Indeed, editorials in Das Schwarze Korps or the Volkischer Beobachter had occasionally been rather explicit: yes, the camps were attempting to re-educate the purely misguided, yet they must show no mercy toward intractable saboteurs or racial and sexual misfits.

From the beginning, Himmler and Eicke had constructed their penal colonies to spread a sense of terror over the population at large. They succeeded beyond all expectations. The word Kazet radiated the same numbing fear as the word “Gestapo.” By 1941 the camps had assumed two additional functions. They served as “shelters” for the forced labour battalions in the war-related factories that German businessmen had erected nearby. Only slave labour in the Nazi camps kept the German economy afloat. But this expanding labour force exacerbated the never-ending tug-of-war between what one might call the “pragmatists” and the “fundamentalists.” One group, made up of planners and industrialists such as Albert Speer, needed captive workers to produce planes, tanks, guns, chemicals, and so forth, and tried to prevent the other group, the fundamentalists, from exterminating these workers. The pragmatists also frowned on the other function of certain camps had assumed as centres for experimental tests on humans. Here, SS physicians carried out pseudo-medical experiments on inmates without their consent and, it should be added, without proper scientific supervision. None of these tests ever brought results of any worth either to medicine or to war technology.


What was the fate of homosexuals in the netherworld of the camps? How did a homosexual newcomer fit into the institutional mechanism the SS had set up to dominate the inmates, and how did he fit into the counter-mechanism the prisoners had developed to survive? How did homosexual prisoners hold their own in the internal feuds between criminals and antifascists?

After a homosexual arrived in camp, he underwent the first experience of all newcomers: he was seized by a profound trauma. He was battered, kicked, slapped, and reviled. According to at least one witness, homosexuals and Jews were not only given the worst bearings, but their pubic hair was shorn; others lost only their head hair.

A clergyman, remanded to Dachau in September 1941, describes the process well: “The SS man asked everybody what charges he had been sentenced. One man was there on account of crimes against Paragraph 175. He was cuffed, forced to tell in detail what he had done and how. Then they fell upon him, cuffing and kicking.” Another victim recalls his first day in Sachsenhausen: “When my name was called, i stepped forward, gave my name, and mentioned Paragraph 175. With the words `You filthy queer, get over there, you butt fucker,` I received several kicks... then was transferred to an SS sergeant in charge of my block. The first thing I got from him was a violent blow on my face that threw me to the ground... he brought his knees up hard into my groin so that i doubled over with pain... he grinned at me and said: `That was your entrance fee, you filthy Viennese swine...”

Another witness testifies about his reception at Camp Natzweiler: “I can swear an oath that because of my triangle I was separated from other inmates. An SS sergeant together with a Kapo mistreated me in the most brutal manner... three times their fists hit my face, especially my nose, so that I fell on the floor three times; when I managed to get up again, they continued battering and hitting me... I then staggered back to my barracks, covered with blood.”

These degradation rituals were applied to crush all novices. That, as some survivors have maintained, the pink triangles were always larger than those of other colours, has not been proven. Equally uncertain is whether there was ever any order to sequester homosexuals in special barracks or to distribute them among the regular barracks population. In Dachau, Flossenburg, and Sachsenhausen they were kept apart for a while. Rudolf Hoess, one of Eicke’s prize students, a Dachau official, then commandant of Sachsenhausen and Auschwitz, explained in his memoirs that he ordered homosexuals isolated to make it easier to control them. Hoess also developed the “salvation through work” theory, which he tried out on homosexuals in Sachsenhausen and Auschwitz. It was intended to make the depraved deviants work so hard that they nearly collapsed from exhaustion. This, it was hoped, would “straighten them out.” Hoess admitted that it did not always work out this way, but he still kept them separated and assigned them to the cement works, from which it was nearly impossible to emerge alive.

Hoess’s directives to keep the homosexuals strictly controlled, apart from all other prisoners, was followed for a while in several camps. Of Flossenburg, one survivor writes: “Our block was occupied by homosexuals, with about 250 men in each wing. We could sleep only in our nightshirts and had to keep our hands outside the blankets.” This was to prevent them from masturbating. “The windows had several layers of ice on them. Anyone found in bed with his under clothes on, or his hands under the blankets- there were several checks every night- was taken outside and had several buckets of water poured over him before being left standing in the cold for a good hour. Only a few people survived this treatment. The least result was bronchitis, and it was rare for any homosexual taken into the sick bay to come out alive.” In other institutions, the gays shared quarters with Gypsies, asocials, or foreigners. Occasionally, homosexuals were distributed throughout various barracks and were treated no worse than other prisoners.

What put the homosexuals into a low- if not the lowest- category of prisoner were several factors, some easy to formulate, others more elusive. Hoess, for example, insisted on sequestering the gays. Sealed off in their barracks, they could not fraternise with the antifascist underground, which, Hoess knew, occupied key camp positions. Like Himmler, Hoess seems to have been convinced that most homosexuals were intellectually above average, and thus they might serve as useful allies to the dangerous antifascist power block within the camp. Hoess also believed that homosexuality was an illness that might spread to other inmates or even to the guards. Himmler shared this conviction and, to counter the danger, installed bordellos in many penal colonies. In Sachsenhausen and Auschwitz, Hoess ordered homosexuals to visit the bordellos- perhaps thereby they would be cured and become useful camp labourers.

There appears to have been an additional, deep-rooted folkloric dogma at work that doomed efforts by gays to associate with one another or with their fellow sufferers. In his reminiscences, Hoess observed that “even if they were in poor physical shape, they always had to indulge their vice.” It wasn’t only Hoess and other SS rulers who presumed that homosexuals always had sex on their minds and were forever bent on seducing heterosexuals. The inmates themselves also tended to regard gays as men for whom nothing was more important than their genitalia. After all, that was why they were jailed, that was what distinguished them from all other prisoners. In the camps, with no women present, even the political prisoners worried that the situation offered the gays too many opportunities to approach a sex-starved males. Such contact, in turn, was likely to lead to private relationships, perhaps with Kapos or even guards, which might endanger the solidarity of the antifascist coalition. Thus, when gay inmates tried to join a clandestine camp committee, they were rejected. Both Nazi overseers and their prisoners took it for granted that the men with the Pink triangles were somehow biologically programmed to seek nothing but sexual satisfaction. Homophobia flourished everywhere, making it nearly impossible for gays to join any effort by prisoners to improve conditions in the barracks. They were suspect as a class. Whatever assistance they might offer was thought to mask a sexual motive.

This wifely accepted dogma had long been a staple of German folklore. It was taken as gospel not only by ordinary workers but also by lawmakers, educators, and politicians. From the start, the Nazi regime shrewdly exploited the antihomosexual sentiments of large segments of Germany’s populace, much as it had played on the anti-Semitic attitudes of most classes. Nevertheless, while Himmler had branded homosexuals as enemies of the state, as he had labelled Jews, Communists, and other contragenics, this honour did not necessarily mean that non-gay prisoners were particularly willing to accept homosexuals as equal victims.

There were additional factors complicating the lives of gay prisoners. First, a few SS guards were homosexual. Although they risked everything, they made some younger inmates, usually Polish or Russians, their “dolly boys” (Pielpel). They would also occasionally compete with Kapos for these teenagers. They even drew lots to determine who should go to whom. Naturally, it enraged the other inmates to watch as these youngsters received extra food rations and were exempted from tough work assignments in exchange for sexual favours. There were also some SS guards who took special pleasure in occasionally masturbating while torturing prisoners. For such acts, the gay inmates were, so to speak, held accountable by the non-gay inmates: homosexual guards, however hostile, were seen by non-gay prisoners as belonging to the homosexual underclass. Thus, homosexual prisoner were often tainted by the crimes of homosexual guards- even though they themselves were often the victims.

Cooperation among camp homosexuals was rare. Unlike the hard-core criminals, the antifascist, and the Gypsies, the gays came from such widely disparate backgrounds that group solidarity was hard to achieve. As Raimund Schnabel has observed in his study of Dachau: “Among the homosexuals were exceptional people whose distance could be called tragic; on the other hand [there were] also cheap hustlers and blackmailers. The prisoners with the pink triangle never lived long. They were exterminated by the SS quickly and systematically.” Eugen Kogon, who survived six years in Buchenwald as a political prisoner, went on to write the still classic account of the camp experience, The Theory and Practice of Hell. Kogon gives more attention to the fate of contragenic minorities than do most other writers. He confirms what Schnabel discovered about Dachau, that the light of homosexuals was made especially terrible.

This group had a very heterogonous composition. It included individuals of real value, in addition to large numbers of criminals and especially blackmailers. This made the position of the group as a whole very precarious... Homosexual practices were actually very widespread in the camps. The prisoners, however, ostracised only those whom the SS marked with the pink triangle. The fate of the homosexuals in the concentration camps can only be described as ghastly. They were often segregated in special barracks and work details. Such segregation offered ample opportunity to unscrupulous elements in positions of power to engage in extortion and maltreatment. Until the fall of 1938 the homosexuals at Buchenwald were divided up among the barracks occupied by political prisoners, where they led a rather inconspicuous life. In October 1938, they were transferred to the penal company in a body and had to slave in the quarry. This consigned them to the lowest caste in camp during the most difficult years. In shipments to extermination camps, such as Nordhausen, Natzweiler, and Gross-Rosen, they furnished the highest proportionate share, for the camp had an understandable tendency to slough off all elements considered least valuable or worthless. If anything could save them at all, it was to enter into sordid relationships within the camp, but tis was as likely to endanger their lives as to save them. Theirs was an insoluble predicament and virtually all of them perished.

Lautmann’s team, examining the dossiers of 1,572 homosexual inmates, corroborates Kogon’s assessment. Moreover, Lautmann found very few gays who acted as Kapos. Without a Kapo, prisoners were unable to strike profitable life-saving deals with camp officials and guards.

Lautmann’s analysis of the occupational backgrounds of homosexuals shows that while 77 percent of the political prisoners and 81 percent of the Jehovah’s Witnesses were employed as manual labourers, only 56 percent of the homosexuals did such work. About 44 percent of the gays held office jobs of some kind, whereas only 23 percent of the political prisoners and 19 percent of the Jehovah’s Witnesses were clerical workers. The contempt of blue collar prisoners for men who had once held desk jobs might also have helped to isolate the homosexuals from the bulk of the camp’s inmates.

In the life of every prisoner, connections with the outside world played a vital part. Many survivors remember bitterly how the SS constables, together with corrupt Kapos, stole packages or rifled them, and how they withheld mail at a whim or as punishment. Still, a few parcels and letters managed to slip through to the jailers, the incoming mail of an inmate meant that he had contacts, possibly with officials who might exert pressure or pay money to work out a transfer or even a discharge. Most homosexuals, however, were cut off from contacts with the outside world. Very few families seem to have been willing to stand by sons, brothers, husbands, or other relatives convicted of crimes against Paragraph 175. Few gay friends would dare to establish communications when such a gesture might endanger their own precarious existence. In the climate of terror that the Nazis had created, even direct relatives, close friends, or former lovers hesitated to contact homosexual prisoners. Some homosexuals in camp, anxious to avoid entangling others, sought intentionally never to initiate contact with the outside.

What counted in the never ending struggle for dominance between political and criminals were positions of power and the tight organisational bonds of toughened men determined to resist the SS at almost any price. The small minority of homosexuals, utterly disunited, usually apolitical, and thought to be abnormally passive, were particularly vulnerable to abuse. Thus, if a quota had to be filled for one of the more crushing labour details, such as the dreaded cement works, an antifascist Kapo was likely to choose criminals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, asocials, and homosexuals before turning to his political comrades.
Hardened criminals, when running a camp such as Flossenburg, would occasionally give a single homosexual a chance. A handsome young homosexual might improve his lot by becoming a dolly boy. One Austrian survivor recounts how he was saved at Flossenburg:

We were led to our block by an SS guard, and transferred there to the sergeant in charge... a group of eight to ten Kapos gathered round us and looked us up and down. I was already wise enough to know exactly why [they]... were admiring us in this way. They were on the lookout for a possible lover among the new arrivals. Because I still did not have a full beard, even though nearly twenty-three, so looked younger than my years, and because i had filled out a bit again thanks to the supplementary rations from my Sachsenhausen Kapo, i was obviously very much at the centre of these Kapos considerations. I could tell as much from their unconcealed discussions. The situation in which the five of us found ourselves seemed to me very much like a slave boy market in ancient Rome... When the seargeant had departed, and the block senior had to assign us new arrivals to our beds, he immediately came up to me and said: “hey kid, do you want to come with me?”

“Yes, certainly,” I said right away, knowing very well what he meant. My immediate acceptance somehow made an impression on him. He said: “You’re a clever kid, I like that,” and patted me on the shoulder... The senior whose lover I became was a professional criminal from Hamburg, very highly regarded in his milieu as a safecracker. He was much feared by the prisoners for his ruthlessness, and even by his Kapo colleagues, but he was generous and considerate to me. Only half a year later he became camp senior, and remained so until the Americans liberated the camp. Even later on, when I was no longer his lover, his eye having fallen on a young Pole, he kept a protecting hand over me. He saved my life more than ten times over, and I am still very grateful to him for this today, more than twenty-five years later.

Such behaviour is no surprise. This is the pattern of penal institutions and their inmates everywhere. But while such an arrangement might improve the prospects of an individual, it could never do anything to advance the status of homosexual prisoners as a group. On the contrary, it helped to isolate the young “favourites,” thus arousing the fury of those less well fed, and exposing the dolly boys to the suspicion that they were informers. It was very difficult for a dolly boy who enjoyed the friendship of a green Kapo or an SS officer to join a camp’s clandestine opposition- he had, so to speak, been bought by the other side, and had bartered his birthright as an inmate for bread from the foe.

One additional note. The two most knowledgeable historians of the camps, Italian chemist Primo Levi (a survivor of Auschwitz) and Kogon maintain that just as the majority of women stopped menstruating after four to six months in Eicke’s penal chambers, so too did men gradually lose their sexual urges; they were weakened by the gruelling work, the starvation diet, and the lack of medical care. Even the stronger prisoners came to loather their emaciated bodies, infected with parasites and covered with dirt. For the majority of prisoners, homosexual activity was, at best, tacitly tolerated as “locational sex,” a hygienic relief measure – if it did not put others at a disadvantage. This was true so long as the older partner was able to dispense favours without getting caught and the dolly boys did not gossip and stayed out of trouble. None of the participants in these locational sex activities had been arrested as violators of Paragraph 175; they wore green, red, and black insignia in various combinations. In contrast, men with the pink triangle were stigmatised from the start and had to bear the brunt of the centuries old hostility toward homosexuals.

L.W. , a Protestant theology graduate student at the time of his arrest, has observed that the supervisor of his Sachsenhausen penal labour battalion referred to the pink triangle wearers as “menwomen”(Mannweiber). These sissies, he declared, deserved the worst, and he proudly reported that that the labour in the Sachsenhausen cement works finished almost all of them. L.W. also repeats the testimony of other survivors: in most penal institutions where he had been held, gays and Jews were considered the lowest, most expendable group. Another survivor remembers that the guards lashed out with special fury against those who showed “effeminate” traits. In one case, this witness had to watch helplessly while a guard battered the penis and testicles of a young dancer. The witness himself, incidentally, was released because of family connections to Himmler, who, declaring him a “Nordic, manly specimen,” had him discharged when he promised to “mend his ways.”

Two of the worst assignments the camps forced on homosexual inmates were the special labour details in the quarries of Flossenburg, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, Mauthausen, or Dora-Mittelbau, and the medical experiments carried out in various institutions. To understand what these assignments meant necessitates knowing some essential facts of camp life. At least three-quarters of an inmate’s day was spent on some work detail. The prisoners had to build the first camps themselves. Most of the work was truly needed- if they wanted a barracks made secure from the rain and cold, they had to do a creditable job. But because the available supplies and tools often proved to be of poor quality, much of what was done collapsed and had to be done over and over again. However wearying these tasks proved to be, they were resented less than those designed primarily to punish the detainees – senseless exertions, such as building a wall in the morning and tearing it down in the afternoon. These cruel practices not only gave pleasure to the overseers- it gave them an opportunity to mock their charges- but they emphasised the limitless power held by the SS. The abyss between the powerful and the powerless grew infinitely when both were aware that the tasks demanded were utterly meaningless.

Later, after industrial enterprises grew up near the camps, conditions should have improved- after all, you need a halfway healthy labourer to get work done that is not only exhaustive but sometimes demands precision. Yet, while a few specialists managed to slip into less strenuous jobs, the conditions in many of the forced labour factories were not better than in the regular camps. Certain assignments had the reputation of being death warrants. One of the most notorious was Dora-Mittelbau, a maze of underground factories near Buchenwald that produced V-2 rockets. Its tunnels- dark, moist, and without proper latrines- had narrow bunks stacked on four tiers in which workers had to sleep. The stones oft3en dripped water; plaster and cement dust ruined their lung, rapidly causing tuberculosis. The percentage of homosexuals ordered to Dora-Mittelbau was larger than that of any other group. Hoess proudly reported how, in Sachsenhausen, he had assigned the homosexuals to the cement works for its “educational” value. Such work would “cure them of their vices.” He conceded, though, that the work was “hard.” The recollection of L.D. von Classen-Neudegg differs markedly from that of Hoess.

It happened in June 1942. In Camp Sachsenhausen, there started one of those special operations designed to get rid of a few hundred people. This time, they worked out the final solution for the homosexuals; they would be put into a special liquidation command where forced labour and starvation would bring about a slow, painful end... After roll call.... an order was suddenly given:”All inmates with pink triangles will remain standing at attention.” We stood on the desolate square... our throats dry from fear... Then the guardhouse door of the command tower opened and an SS officer and some of his lackeys strode toward us. Our Kapo barked: “Three hundred criminal deviants present as ordered.” ... We learned that we were to be segregated in a penal command and the next morning would be transferred as a unit to the cement works... We shuddered because these bone mills were more dreaded than any other work detail... “You don’t have to look so dumb, you but fuckers,” said the officer. “There you’ll learn to do honest work with your hands and afterward you will sleep a healthy sleep. You are a biological mistake of the Creator. That’s why you must be bent straight...” Guarded by staff sergeants with machine guns, we had to sprint in lines of five until we arrived... They kept beating us with rifle butts and bullwhips... Forced to drag along twenty corpses, the rest of us encrusted with blood, we entered the cement quarry. Then the martyrdom started... Within two months, the special operation had lost two thirds... To shoot someone “trying to escape” was a profitable business for the guards. For everyone killed, they received five marks and three days’ special furlough... Whips were used more frequently each morning, when we were forced into the pits... “Only fifty are still alive,” whispered the man next to me... When I weighed not much more than eighty-five pounds, one of the sergeants told me one morning: “Well, that’s it. You want to go to the other side? It won’t hurt I’m a crack shot.”

These assignments left the inmates totally at the mercy of the SS. Here the guards could give full vent to their loathing of the “butt fuckers,” far away from the camps and and barracks where Kapos and other middlemen could occasionally exert a moderating influence. From the few sources available, it appears that the percentage of homosexuals shipped to the quarries of Flossenburg, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, and Mauthausen was larger than that of any other group.
In one of the institutions for which few records have survived, Natzweiler-Struthof, a camp in Alsace-Lorraine, a gay physician recalls that

While we were working, my partner, a barber, and I were continually kicked and beaten by both the SS guards and the Kapos. One evening, when we had to parade in the nude for delousing our block leader took pity on us and tried to make at least the Kapo stop the torture. He could not do anything about the SS brutalities. Then we two with the pink triangles were assigned to different details- the barber to the sick bay and I- who by now was convinced I was the only scapegoat left alive in the camp- to a unit near Metz. There I obtained a position in the registry. In addition to my regular job, I had to work at night between midnight and 2:00 A.M.

For this, the prisoner was rewarded with some leftover food that saved his life.

He ends his story on a note familiar to all who have talked to survivors: “please don’t ask me for more incidents. During the last two nights, all these nightmarish scenes from Natzweiler kept haunting me again. It makes me ill.”

Perhaps the most feared assignments were to a detachment marked “Medical Experiments.” Kogon has concluded that, again, the number of homosexuals used for these pseudo medical undertakings was disproportionately large. Consider the hormone experiments administered in Buchenwald by the Danish endocrinologist Carl Vaernet with the German surgeon Gerhard Schiedlausky. These were only a few of the many that took place there. I have singled out those by Vaernet because he used homosexual inmates exclusively, and beause the sources in Arolsen were sufficient to draw conclusions. The hormone tests, however, can stand as a model for virtually all of those tests carried out by the Nazis on their human guinea pigs. These experiments brought illness and death to the subjects and had no scientific value. Often, physicians and laboratory technicians did not know how to proceed; files and samples were incomplete or misplaced; medicine could not be checked for purity; and there was no control group. In the case at hand, Allied bombers repeatedly destroyed containers carrying blood, urine, and other specimens in transit from Buchenwald to Vaernet’s laboratory in Prague.

In December 1943 the Buchenwald inmate roster lists 169 homosexuals; in March 1945, the last entry, four months before defeat, reveals their number to have dwindled to eight-nine. The Buchenwald statistics have been comparatively well preserved for 1943. They group the prisoners into such categories as hard-core criminals, asocials, antifascists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, “racial defilers,” and convicted former armed forces members. Vaernet’s hormones tests took place in 1944, a year for which only scant files have been salvaged. Like so many similar atrocities in the Third Reich, the tests were frequently encoded. The hormone tests were coded but plainly labelled “Medical Experiments on Homosexuals.” The extant dossier consists of two parts: first, notes on the progress or failure of the program; second, the correspondence between Vaernet in Prague and Schiedlausky, the Buchenwald surgeon. The first section, labelled “Medical Experiments No.5” is dated July 29, 1944. It notes that “five genuine homosexuals should be selected so that Dr. Vaernet could try out his theory.” Vaernet’s theory was probably based on the premise that homosexuals could become heterosexuals by hormone treatments, a field in which Vaernet had specialised. If successful, such treatments would aid Himmler’s unending efforts to produce more offspring, in conjunction with his directives to send homosexuals to bordellos for “conversion”.

From the start, complications beset the two physicians. Subalterns did not seem capable of following orders. Although the documents mention the names of only five men selected at the start of 1944, a later entry notes the names of ten gay subjects. Another gives the names and numbers of seven gays selected for castration and hormonal “rebirth,” but their names are only partially identical with the five chosen originally. In short, the sources, as is so often the case, are incomplete and frequently filled with contradictions. The letters between Prague and Buchenwald complain about incompetent handling all round, about missing names, slipshod identification- in at least one instance the prisoners’ numbers were mailed without their accompanying names- and loss of good urine. The camp itself did not have the laboratory facilities to measure the hormone levels of the subjects or to analyse blood, sputum, and urine. Vaernet’s method was brutally simple: castrate several homosexuals, inject them with huge doses of male hormones, then wait to see whether they would begin to exhibit signs of interest in the opposite sex.

Schiedlausky laments the fact that during the long trip to Prague the urine samples would change chemically to such an extent as to be useless. It is not clear how the doctors overcame this problem, but in September 1944, by special permission of Himmler, Vaernet travelled to Buchenwald. Eight prisoners were chosen for castration. The documents do not detail their fate. Instead, they speak of new complications: for instance, there had been confusion as to which subject’s blood sample was in which container. The actual operations seem to have been delayed for other reasons: Allied bombers were attacking targets between Prague and Buchenwald- though not Buchenwald itself. Thus, Vaernet, who seems to have gone back to Prague, could not visit again. Finally, on October 1, 1944, Vaernet managed to get to Buchenwald, intent on checking the cholesterol and calcium levels in the subjects’ blood before and after castration.

Since surviving entries are spotty, if not nearly illegible, one can only conclude that on October 1, 1944, a group of seven homosexuals was operated on, and a second group, consisting of eleven more, on October 10. Additional tests may have been administered, because Vaernet visited Buchenwald again in December. The evaluation process seems to have hit many snags. Again and again, Vaernet criticises sloppy labelling of the samples arriving in Prague. Some subjects became ill; some, so it seems, must have died, because new names appear on the rosters of those actually castrated. Vaernet carefully filled out order forms for chloroform, bandages, and new medical instruments, and handed out instruction sheets explaining how Buchenwald physicians should continue the castration-hormone tests without him. No final report has survived that notes the results of the experiments on the castrated men.

Vaernet was forced to stop his tests because of the danger of a yellow fever epidemic in the camp. The epidemic was not a result of infection from outside sources, such as prisoners of war from the East, as frequently happened in other institutions. The Buchenwald outbreak followed experiments with the microorganism responsible for yellow fever, which had gotten out of hand. Although Buchenwald seems to have provided better isolation wards than most camps, many prisoners –and some guards- died. By then Vaernet had probably returned to Prague, but his name appears again in the files for Neungamme, a camp near Hamburg, where he attempted to repeat his castration-hormone tests. The Neungamme documents do not state whether he actually finished them.

From the available records it cannot be determined whether homosexuals were also used for other pseudo-medical experiments, administered not only in Buchenwald but in camps like Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Ravensbruck, and Auschwitz. Dachau specialised in tests involving malaria, high –altitude simulation, and underwater tanks: Buchenwald in yellow fever and sulphur drugs; Auschwitz in the sterilisation of women. Most experiments reruite larger numbers of subjects than Vaernet did.


It now seems appropriate to draw a balance sheet. From available police and Gestapostatistics, from numerous testimonies, including those by SS officers, from surveys, interviews, and recollections – of which I have given a few representative examples- five basic facts seem to explain why most homosexual detainees were destroyed in the camps.

1. The homosexuals constituted one of the smaller minorities. Unlike antifascists, Jews, and foreign nationals who sometimes succeeded in setting up active inmate organisations, gays offered no challenge to SS personnel.
2. The homosexuals were a decidedly heterogonous group, and therefore hard to rally. Their members ranged from professionals and artists to hustlers and labourers. For political reasons, some men had been stigmatised with a pink triangle, although they had never committed crimes against Paragraph 175. In all, the gays offered the reverse pattern of those tightly bonded national groups who, in several places, fought for and gained minor food and work benefits.
3. Inside the camps, the barracks were run either by criminals or antifascists. Each of these factions, having once gained the power positions in the key offices, favoured its own members in all vital areas of camp existence, especially food distribution, labour assignments, and sick-bay referrals. Thus, few Gypsies, homosexuals, clergymen, Jehovah’s Witnesses, asocials, “race defilers,” or armed forces deserters were placed in the privileged positions that offered some measure of relief from the daily trials. If an inmate could not slip into any of these jobs, his chances for getting out alive were extremely low. In addition, gays were often shipped to high-mortality tasks in factories and quarries.
4. Neither the hard-core criminals nor the antifascists were interested in cooperating with the homosexuals. To be sure, a green Kapo might pick an attractive young gay inmate as a favourite, but as a group did not profit from such an arrangement. The inmates themselves reflected the rejection that homosexuals had faced in Germany long before Himmler and Eicke had built penal colonies. On their side, the SS overseers were drilled to treat all prisoners as dangerous contragenics and to apply unremitting violence as the only appropriate method for keeping inmates under control. To them, homosexuals were despicable degenerates, and therefore they could and did indulge in manifold humiliation rituals.
5. Outside assistance was scant. Close relatives often would not lend support because they were ashamed that “one of the family” had been convicted for crimes against Paragraph 175. Former associates, friends, or lovers were even more reluctant- for good reasons. Thus the homosexual prisoners were virtually cut off from the world outside.

Whatever statistics we possess tend to substantiate these five points. The death rate can only be tabulated for those prisoners for whom records have been preserved. Those we possess show that in 1945, when the camps were liberated, the mortality rate of the homosexuals was higher than that of the other units investigated.

Considering the large numbers of other prisoners, homosexuals played a minor role in the SS blueprints, just as they constituted a minor part of the inmate organisations. That at the war’s end, in 1945, so few were able and ready to come out and testify cannot be explained alone by the fact that so few survived. The world into which they found themselves liberated was still officially hostile. According to German law, homosexual ex-prisoners were to be treated as criminals. East Germany voided the Nazi version of Paragraph 175 only in 1967; West Germany followed in 1969, adding minor alterations in 1973. Moreover, some American and British jurists of the liberation armies, on learning that an inmate had been jailed and then put into a camp for homosexual activities, ruled that, judicially, a camp did not constitute a prison. If, therefore, someone had been sentenced to eight years in prison, had spent five of these in jail and three in a camp, he still had to finish three years in jail after liberation. In at least one instance, a homosexual camp detainee was given a stern lecture by an American colonel, informing him that the United States also considered what he had done criminally offensive. For homosexuals, the Third Reich did not fully end with its defeat. None of the lucky few who came out alive was granted any compensation when the new post war West German government, bowing to American pressure, set up a cumbersome but functioning legal bureaucracy to grant restitution to political, Jewish, and other selected ex-inmates. Moreover, gay survivors often did not return to a loving family or a group of sympathetic peers during the first months of readjustment. Families frequently refused to take back a homosexual ex-inmate. And former gay friends were usually displaced or dead. Although they were no longer compelled to wear the stigmatic pink triangle, they felt marked for life. And like so many victims of the Third Reich, most gays never recovered emotionally from the Nazi boomtowns of hell.