Under Nazi rule homosexual men and women were severely discriminated against. State persecution, through tightened laws and special police units, focused on male homosexuality and led to the arrest of approximately 100,000 homosexual men. Lesbian women, while spared such a massive persecution, had to mask their lives once again. Personal testimonies show how individuals came under pressure in a treacherous environment.
The persecution of male homosexuals in Nazi Germany was possible on such a large scale because of the ready complicity of society. Neighbours, colleagues and passers-by in the street readily reported people in Germany.
Why did so many cooperate, voluntarily reporting their friends or colleagues to the police? Were they aware of the consequences for these fellow citizens and did they not care? Homosexuals were thus forced into lying and secrecy for their own protection. They no longer knew who they could trust.
After the war, gay survivors did not receive recognition as victims of the Nazi regime and post-war societies in Germany and Europe failed to show empathy for their suffering. In fact, the 1935 revised law against male homosexuality remained on the book in West Germany until 1969. Some gay survivors were re-imprisoned after their liberation and made to serve out the remainder of their Nazi sentences. Prejudice prevailed; compensation was denied. Gay survivors remained alone and died alone with their memories; lesbian women suffered from society’s contempt and thus were forced to hide their love and relationships.
Looking back at history also raises questions about the present: how strong is the recently secured position of homosexuals in society? How would family, friends or colleagues react today?
The exhibition In Whom Can I Still Trust seeks to answer these questions.
Venue: Cape Town Holocaust Centre, 88 Hatfield St, Cape Town 8001
Phone: 021 462 5553
Date: 13 February to 22 March 2013
Hours: Tuesday hours 9:00 am–5:00 pm
Exhibition and ancillary programme of teacher workshops, schools’ programmes, panel discussions, public talks, films and a youth symposium.