Exhibit on Nazi persecution of homosexuals opens at downtown library

May 26, 2016

A traveling exhibit that tells the tale of Nazi atrocities against homosexuals is now on display at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library's downtown central branch.

Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945 is produced by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It features numerous panels of text and images that trace the plight of gays living in Germany, from prewar attitudes during Adolf Hitler's rise to power, World War II, and the aftermath. 

When Hitler became chancellor in 1933, there were an estimated one million homosexual men living in Germany. By 1945, an estimated 100,000 of them were arrested, and half were imprisoned. As many as 15,000 were sent to concentration camps. 

Just as Jews, Roma, Poles, Jehovah's Witnesses and other groups were deemed undesirable by the Nazi regime, so too were gays, according to Mara Koven-Gelman, executive director of the Holocaust Research Center Buffalo.

"I think there was a huge fear within the Nazi party that the homosexuals would take over the party," she said. "And then of course if you get into eugenics, they were focused on breeding an Aryan race."

There was also the fear, as explained within the display, of homosexuals undermining efforts to boost the German population and produce sons and daughters who would rise up for the Reich.

In some cases, homosexual subjects were subject to medical experimentation and castration. 

There were also numerous ironies. One of them was the fact that the head of the Nazi Stormtroopers (SA), Ernst Röhm, was a known homosexual. When Hitler purged potential political rivals, Nazi officers executed Röhm after he refused to commit suicide.  

The display also points out that it took many years until postwar Germany took responsibility for Nazi-era deeds. Some gays convicted under Hitler's regime, Koven-Gelman explained, still served out prison terms even after the Reich collapsed.

"In May 2002, the German Parliament completed legislation to pardon all homosexuals convicted under Paragraph 175. We can already see that this is happening very late, way too late."

The exhibit will be on display until Saturday, July 16 and is free to the public.