Nazis Persecute Homosexuals Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Between 1933 and 1945, an estimated 100,000 homosexuals were arrested and prosecuted under Paragraph 175 of a revised version of the German Penal Code. Between 10,000 and 15,000 of these Holocaust victims died in Nazi internment camps.

Summary of Event

Soon after Adolf Hitler took office in 1933, his storm troopers raided gay institutions and gathering places, closing all gay bars and social organizations as part of his campaign to rid Germany of those perceived to threaten Nazi beliefs. Nazi ideology centered on male dominance and racial purity, Racial purity, Nazis and and homosexuality was inconsistent with those ideals. The Nazis hoped to combat the declining birth rate through selective reproduction Eugenics, Nazis and and to increase the purity of its citizens’ bloodline by eradicating all people deemed undesirable or those considered enemies of the state. Official Nazi policy was to not eradicate homosexuals but to transform them into heterosexuals through “re-education” or to isolate them from the rest of society. [kw]Nazis Persecute Homosexuals (1933-1945) [kw]Persecute Homosexuals, Nazis (1933-1945) [kw]Homosexuals, Nazis Persecute (1933-1945) Nazi Germany;persecution of homosexuals Homosexuality;and Nazi Germany[Nazi Germany] World War II[World War 02];and Nazi persecution of homosexuals[Nazi persecution of homosexuals] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;1933-1945: Nazis Persecute Homosexuals[0330] [c]Government and politics;1933-1945: Nazis Persecute Homosexuals[0330] Hitler, Adolf Himmler, Heinrich

Homosexual men were marked with the “pink triangle” badge in the concentration camps of the Holocaust. This undated chart is titled, in translation, “Distinguishing Marks for Protective Custody of Prisoners.” Variations of the pink triangle were issued to homosexuals who also were Jewish, repeat offenders, or prisoners in punishment battalions. Lesbians were marked with the black triangle.

(Courtesy, USHMM)

On June 28, 1935, Hitler sanctioned the revision of Paragraph 175, a portion of the German Penal Code that had been on the books since 1871. Paragraph 175 originally prohibited “unnatural fornication, whether between persons of the male sex or of humans with beasts.” The newly amended statute included arrest on the grounds not only of homosexual behavior but also gossip, innuendo, gestures, touches, and looks. Under this expanded law, prosecutions increased dramatically. All local police departments were required to submit lists of suspected homosexuals to the Nazi authorities. It quickly became dangerous for homosexuals to meet in public or even to recognize each other publicly.

As police Police abuse and harassment;Nazi Germany raids increased, address books of arrested men were seized and a network of informers was created to compile lists of names and make arrests. Those arrested were beaten and tortured in order to secure additional names of suspects. Many were given no trial and were sent to prisons, mental hospitals, or internment camps or were “voluntarily” castrated. Although numbers are unsubstantiated, an estimated 100,000 gay men were arrested and prosecuted; 10,000 to 15,000 of these men were sent to internment camps, where they were starved, beaten, or died from disease, exhaustion, exposure, brutality, and medical experimentation.

Heinrich Himmler, head of the Schutzstaffel Schutzstaffel, Nazi Germany (SS), the elite Nazi bodyguard forces that controlled the police and concentration camps, was the person most responsible for the Nazi persecution of homosexuals and for much of the antigay propaganda. His hatred for homosexuality directly influenced the purging of gays from the Nazi ranks. He ordered that gay SS men be expelled, court-martialed, and imprisoned for the maximum period allowed by Paragraph 175. Privately, he instructed his generals to take these soldiers to concentration camps, where they were to be “shot while attempting to escape.” On April 4, 1938, the Gestapo Gestapo (state police) issued a direct decree allowing for incarceration of men convicted of homosexuality. In 1941, Himmler sent a confidential order to the SS generals and police stating that “any member of the SS or the police who engaged in indecent behavior with another man or permits himself to be abused by him for indecent purposes will be condemned to death and executed.”

Using a system of color-coded patches worn on prisoner uniforms, the Nazis were able to identify different groups of prisoners. The symbols for homosexuals were varied—including a large black dot and a large “175” drawn on the back of a prisoner’s jacket. Later, a pink triangle Pink triangle, Nazi Germany patch was used. Fearing that homosexuality would “spread” to other inmates and guards, prisoners bearing the pink triangle were often segregated, singled out for harsher treatment, given dangerous and deadly work assignments, and humiliated by guards. Because the homosexual community outside the camps had been virtually destroyed, communication and support among those wearing the pink triangles was nearly nonexistent. Other prisoners, indoctrinated by Nazi propaganda, treated homosexuals with disgust, making those bearing pink triangles the “lowest” prisoners in the camps.

Believing homosexuality was a sickness that could be corrected, Reparative therapy;and homosexuality[homosexuality] the Nazis devised methods for “curing” gays of their supposed illness through harsh treatment, exhausting work, cruel experimentation, and castration. Castration was used first as a voluntary measure but ultimately at the discretion of Nazi leaders. The life expectancy of a pink-triangle prisoner in an internment camp was only three months.


After the war ended, homosexuality remained a crime, and many convicted under Paragraph 175 were sent directly to prison. Homosexual prisoners of concentration camps had not been acknowledged as victims of Nazi persecution until 2002, and they have yet to receive reparations for their time in the camps. The 1935 version of Paragraph 175 remained in effect until 1969, when the law was revised to decriminalize homosexual relations between men over the age of twenty-one.

Many homosexual survivors of the Nazi persecutions never discussed their experiences, and some entered into heterosexual marriages. In May, 2002, the German government pardoned convicted “175ers,” and gay victims of the Holocaust were finally recognized in 2004 at a memorial service held at the site of the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Little was said or written about gay Holocaust survivors until the early twenty-first century when, through continued efforts to make their suffering known, the few remaining survivors began to speak out about their experiences. Nazi Germany;persecution of homosexuals Homosexuality;and Nazi Germany[Nazi Germany] World War II[World War 02];and Nazi persecution of homosexuals[Nazi persecution of homosexuals]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Epstein, Rob, and Jeffrey Friedman, producers and directors. Paragraph 175. Documentary film, narrated by Rupert Everett. New York: New Yorker Films, 2000.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gellately, Robert, and Nathan Stoltzfus, eds. Social Outsiders in Nazi Germany. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Grau, Gunter, ed. Hidden Holocaust? Gay and Lesbian Persecution in Germany, 1933-45. Translated by Patrick Camiller. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1995.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Heger, Heinz. The Men with the Pink Triangle: The True, Life-and-Death Story of Homosexuals in the Nazi Death Camps. Translated by David Fernbach. Introduction by Klaus Müller. Boston: Alyson, 1994.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Herzog, Dagmar. Sexuality and German Fascism. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Johannson, Warren, and William Percy, trans. “Homosexuals in Nazi Germany.” Simon Wiesenthal Center Annual 7 (1990). http://www.ushmm .org/research/library/bibliography/gays/ paragraph175.htm.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lautmann, Rudiger, Erhard Vismar, and Jack Nusan Porter. Sexual Politics in the Third Reich: The Persecution of the Homosexuals During the Holocaust. Translated by Page Brubb, edited by Jack Nusan Porter. Newton, Mass.: Spencer Press, 1997.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Plant, Richard. The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals. New York: Henry Holt, 1986.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933-1945.” homosexuals_02/.

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