Holocaust Museum exhibit at LGBTQ Community Center

Drawing “Solidarity”, by Richard Grune (1903–1983), lithograph, 1947. Schwules Museum [Gay Museum], Berlin. Grune was incarcerated for homosexuality by the Nazi state from 1934 to 1945.

By now we’re all at least somewhat familiar with German pastor and Dachau survivor Martin Neimoller’s recollection of public complicity with the rise of Nazi persecution in Germany that begins with the words “First they came for the ____, and I did not speak out because I was not a ____.” There are various versions, the most commonly cited beginning either with “the communists” or “the socialists.”

The historical truth is that the very first people marked for extermination by the newly installed Third Reich were those institutionalized with physical and mental disabilities; an early version of Neimoller’s list identifies them as “the incurably sick.” But the next to be targeted as “debilitating” to the ideal of the Aryan master race — and entirely left off Neimoller’s radar screen — were homosexuals. The Nazis took power in January 1933, and in February police and Storm Troopers began shutting down Germany’s same-sex bars and clubs.

Gays were denounced as “antisocial parasites” and “enemies of the state” and blamed for subversive activity. In 1935, Nazi authorities rewrote Paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code — originally intended to protect citizens from sex crimes — to make all male homosexual activity illegal; even victims of male-on-male rape could be sentenced to hard labor. (Oddly, lesbianism officially did not exist under Nazi law, as gay women were seen as still having the potential to breed eugenically superior little Aryans.)

Shortly thereafter, Heinrich Himmler rose to the head of the SS and began an aggressive campaign of rounding up gay men, often on the flimsiest of evidence. Citizens were encouraged to inform on their neighbors. Between 1933 and 1945, over 100,000 men were arrested under Paragraph 175. About 50,000 served prison terms, while others were forced to wear the dreaded Pink Triangle in concentration or labor camps, where many were literally worked to death. Draftees into the Wehrmacht army could be sent to prison for homosexual activity, then returned to the front when their sentence was served. Even after liberation, the Allies failed to free those incarcerated under Paragraph 175 or to take the law off the books. West Germany did not decriminalize homosexual activity until 1969.

Fewer than 4,000 of the men arrested under Paragraph 175 survived the war years, and only a handful are still around today. Among the many who suffered horrific persecution under the Holocaust, their stories are perhaps the last to be told. To attempt to rectify that long silence, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. has mounted a traveling exhibition titled “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933-1945,” and it’s on view now at the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center in Uptown Kingston.

A Special Program Series related to the exhibit is being presented by the Center through August 14, hosted by the nearby Old Dutch Church. The Center describes its ecclesiastical neighbor as “open and affirming” toward the gay community: a refreshing note in these times when religious doctrine is so often used as a rationale for homophobic behavior. The recent trend of increasing public support for the legalization of same-sex marriage makes this series of films and lectures particularly timely.

The series begins Friday, July 26 at 7 p.m. with a screening at the Old Dutch Church of Aimée & Jaguar. Nominated for a Golden Globe, the film is a dramatization of the true story of an unexpected love between a Jewish member of the Resistance and the wife of a Nazi officer in 1943. Next Saturday, August 3 at 3 p.m., the Church will host readings of personal stories of loss and survival by two Holocaust-era writers: Paul Russell, author of The Unreal Life of Sergei Nabokov, and Evi Seidman, who was born in a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany in 1947. The film series continues the following Friday, August 9 at 7 p.m. with a screening at the Church of the documentary Paragraph 175, featuring first-person testimonies from survivors of the Nazis’ campaign to imprison gay men.

On the closing night of the exhibit, Wednesday, August 14 at 7 p.m., special guest Dr. Alfred Munzer, a Dutch/English translator and tour guide at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, will relate the story of how the rest of his family was hunted down, captured and destroyed in concentration camps during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Through the assistance of a Dutch/Indonesian family who took great risks to keep him in hiding for the first four years of his life, Munzer managed to survive the Holocaust. He came to the U.S. in 1958, where he became a nationally respected pulmonologist and president of the American Lung Association.

The “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933-1945” exhibit at the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center will be open to visitors in the hours preceding the evening screenings and following the afternoon speaker programs in this series. Admission is free, thanks to support from the Irving and Gloria Schlossberg Family Fund of the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley. For more information, call (845) 331-5300 or visit https://www.lgbtqcenter.org..

Aimée & Jaguar screening, Friday, July 26, 7 p.m.; readings by Paul Russell & Evi Seidman, Saturday, August 3, 3 p.m.; Paragraph 175 screening, Friday, August 9, 7 p.m.; free; Old Dutch Church, 272 Wall Street, Kingston. US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933-1945” exhibit, through August 14, free, Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center, 300 Wall Street, Kingston; (845) 331-5300, https://www.lgbtqcenter.org.

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