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Germany

Germany Remembers Gay Victims of Nazis

In a decision that’s been called “long overdue,” the German parliament has approved plans to build a memorial for thousands of homosexual men persecuted or killed by the Nazis.

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The Nazis sent thousands of homosexuals to their death in concentration camps.

The government’s decision is the result of more than a decade of lobbying by Germany’s Gay and Lesbian Federation. “It’s a big success for us,” said, Günter Dworek, one of the federation’s directors. “Germany has always had a hard time dealing with this part of its history in particular. Even after the war, the persecution of homosexuals wasn’t recognized, and gays continued to be treated as criminals.”

Christina Weiss, the government's commissioner for culture and media policies, said the decision to approve a memorial was “long overdue.”

"We want to and we will remember this group of victims, because we must not be allowed to be silent about what price those who revealed their sexual orientation had to pay," she said.

Brutal persecution

Some 50,000 gays were branded criminals and degenerates by the Third Reich, and forced to wear a pink triangle. Between 10,000 and 15,000 gays were sent to concentration camps, and many were castrated or sterilized because their sexual orientation was seen as a threat to the purity of the Arian race. Germany’s law against homosexuality was only repealed in 1969. In 2002, despite objections by conservatives, the German government granted a formal pardon to homosexuals convicted under Nazism.

“That pardon was a breakthrough,” Dworek said. “It represented a clear break with the thinking of the past.”

The government has allotted €50,000 ($61,500) for the building of the memorial, to be located in Berlin’s central Tiergarten park, near the Brandenburg Gate.

Holocaust-Ausstellung, Denkmal getötete Juden

A model of the Holocaust memorial that's currently being built in Berlin.

“It’s an important place near the Brandenburg Gate with all that it symbolizes,” said Dworek. “And it’s going to be across from the site where the monument to the murdered Jews of Europe is being built [photo,] so there’ll be a connection for people going to visit the site.”

There are no design plans for the memorial yet. Instead, there’s to be an open competition where artists can put forward their visions. The only stipulation, said Dworek, is that the design incorporate two elements. “It should remind people of the gay victims of the Nazis, but it should also send a message today that gays and lesbians still suffer discrimination and persecution in parts of the world,” he said.

Conservative objections

The bill approving the monument was passed with the backing of the governing Social Democrats and Greens, as well as the opposition Free Liberal Democrats. The opposition Christian Democratic Union was against it, arguing instead for a memorial commemorating all the victims that suffered persecution under the Nazis.

Greens parliamentarian Volker Beck accused the CDU of using the suggestion of a common memorial to mask their rejection of a memorial specifically for gays. “Homosexual victims of the Nazi regime were mostly shut out of Germany’s culture of remembrance in the past,” Beck said. “That is now over.”

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