The Nazis primarily targeted Jews in their genocidal rampage, but other groups suffered too, including Romani (gypsies), Soviets, people with disabilities, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Of course purging Germany of homosexuals was also part of the Final Solution.

Rudolf Brazda and Jean-Luc Schwab in 2010 (Patrick Korben/WPA)

This is Rudolf Brazda, at nearly 97 years old he is the only living survivor of the Nazi incarceration of homosexuals, shown here with Jean-Luc Schwab who worked on Berlin’s Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism. He continues to tell his story and publicize the persecution gay people suffered under the Nazis.

Rudolf grew up in Brossen, Germany, near Leizig, and was first arrested in 1937 on suspicion of homosexual activities. Interestingly, he openly gay from a young age, as his Czech parents accepted his open love of men. The persecution began when the Nazis came to power when he was 20, and after repeated arrests and incarcerations, they sent Rudolf to Buchenwald in 1942. He was released when the camp was liberated by Allied forces.

Rudolf, left, with his friend Fernand at Buchenwald days after liberation. (Photo by fellow ex-prisoner, Albert Stüber. From Rudolph's personal collection.)

Rudolf ended up in France where he met his lover Edi. They remained together for the next 50 years until Edi’s death in 2003.

Given the gay undertone of the Third Reich (masculine idealization, fetishization of hot men in uniforms, overly orchestrated event planning, emphasis on aesthetics) it is no surprise rumors of self-hating homosexuality among prominent Nazi leaders is common. Self-hating closeted homosexuals are always the most aggressive towards the openly gay. Plus the creative are always a threat to the rigid (see Mormons, Catholics, Islam, etc.), and few were more rigid than the Nazis.

In Germany alone, 100,000 men were classified as homosexuals, and 50,000 convicted and sent to prison. Many hundreds were castrated or mutilated in Nazi experiments to “cure” them. (At least Mormon electroshock cures only scarred me on the inside. They stopped at emasculation, so thank God for small favors.) While Jews wore two overlapping gold triangles to form the Star of David, homosexuals wore pink triangles to label them deviants, a symbol the modern gay movement reclaimed as its own. 5-10,000 gay men where sent to concentration camps where they were among the worst treated inmates.

I have never been a fan of the pink triangle except as a symbol of persecution. While I am glad we reclaimed it, the origin is too horrific to enjoy as a symbol of gay identity. The pink triangle’s ties to the Star of David link it to the far greater tragedy the Jews suffered, rendering it too painful a symbol to see on display in anything but a mourning context.

As usual, women are not a big part of this story. The Nazis viewed women as adjuncts to men who should know their place was with children and domestic duties. Nazism’s obsession with masculine power lead to blindness towards women. (Strangely, that’s just like the Mormon culture I grew up with.) Lesbians were, of course, only women, and therefore largely ignorable.

In a horrifying postscript, most gay men liberated from the camps were immediately thrown back into prison. Being a homosexual remained a crime in post-war Germany, even if their conviction occurred under Nazi courts. After serving their full Nazi-mandated sentence, these men were labeled sex offenders by the post-war German government and denied all reparations and state pensions given to other Holocaust survivors.