As part of the Nazis attempt to purify the ‘Aryan’ blood line and strengthen the German Nation, anyone who was different was targeted. The Nazis ideal picture of German men and women, and importantly how a family was constructed, fed in to their hatred of gay men and lesbians. The Nazis’ portrayed gay men and lesbians as antisocial and in direct conflict with the German people.
A Scientific-Humanitarian Committee had been set up to defend the rights of gay and lesbian Germans in 1897. By the 1920s, especially in Berlin, there was a more open and tolerant view towards homosexuality with newspapers and magazines on sale in newsagents, openly lesbian and gay bars and dedicated community service organisations.
In 1933, the Nazis began taking people into what they called ‘protective custody’ (Schutzhaft). Anyone who represented a threat to Nazism, through their political, religious or other views was included in the Schutzhaft. People who were known to be gay or who had been involved in defending gay rights were also rounded up. In 1935, it was made an offence to ‘promote friendships’ between men which might have a homosexual element.
Albrecht Becker was an actor and production designer. He lived with his partner, the Director of the State Archive, in Würzburg, a town in the southern state of Bavaria, where Dr Leopold Obermayer also lived. When the Nazis investigated Obermayer, they found pictures of Becker along with other men and they were both arrested.
Becker was put on trial, after which he was sent to Nürnburg Prison. Towards the end of the war, when the German army needed more soldiers, some gay men were released in order to help the war effort, and Albrecht was among these. Having no option but to go into the German army, he was sent to the Russian front. Soldiers who were sent here rarely survived for long and suffered extreme privations. However, Becker did manage to survive and was able to return to working in the film industry after the war where he became well known internationally. He died in 2002.
It is not entirely clear how many men suffered as a result of Nazi persecution because sometimes gay men were arrested on false charges. However, it is estimated some 100,000 were arrested under the Paragraph 175 anti-gay legislation between 1933 and 1945. Lesbians were not explicitly referenced in the statute but did face potential arrest for anti-social activities, and so many lesbians and gays married to provide cover for each other. In Austria the penal code did mention lesbians explicitly. Those confined in concentration camps were sometimes made to wear a cloth badge sewn onto their clothes in the shape of a pink triangle. Such a badge made them identifiable to the guards and singled them out for extra torment. In at least one camp, it is recorded that the SS used the pink triangles on the men’s chests as targets to shoot at ‘for practice’.
After the War, people started to return to the openness of pre War times. However, within four years it became apparent that the Allies and the new West German State were not going to change the Nazis’ anti-gay laws - even though they had removed every other Nazi persecution measure. People were forced to readopt the strategies they had used to survive in the 1930s. Tragically, this continued until 1968 when homosexuality was decriminalised in East Germany and 1969 when the same happened in West Germany.