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Germany remembers Nazi persecution of sexual minorities

January 27, 2023

In its annual recognition of victims of the Nazi era, the German parliament is remembering the persecution of sexual minorities. The commemoration comes as the world observes International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Pictures Karl Gorath are displayed during a memorial ceremony commemorating the victims of the Holocaust on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day
The testimony of Karl Gorath was among those read by actors at the Bundestag ceremonyImage: Michele Tantussi/REUTERS

Germany's lower legislative chamber, the Bundestag, on Friday was commemorating those who were murdered by the Nazis, with a particular focus on people who were persecuted because of their sexual orientation.

German lawmakers gathered to observe an hour of remembrance.

It is the first time that LGBTQ victims are a special focus of the parliament's annual commemoration of victims of the Nazi regime, which comes as the world observes International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

What was said in the parliament

Bundestag President Bärbel Bas said in Berlin on Friday that there should be no end to remembering all the victims who were persecuted, threatened, disenfranchised and murdered by the Nazis.

"The victims of the Holocaust remain unforgotten," she said.

"Today we remember the people who were persecuted because of their sexual orientation and gender identity," Bas said, noting that many had been deported to concentration camps. "Many were abused for medical experiments, she said. "Most of them perished after a short time or were murdered."

The legislature's president added that the end of the Nazi era was not the end of state persecution for this group of victims. Prosecution of sexual acts between men was only decriminalized in both East and West Germany in 1968 and 1969 respectively.

A survivor's testimony

Holocaust survivor Rozette Kats, whose Jewish parents were deported from the Netherlands to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp, was among those to speak at the event.

She told of her childhood with foster parents, trying to assimilate and not to draw attention to herself for fear of suffering a similar fate. Kats drew parallels with her own experience and those of gay and lesbian people who were forced to hide their identity.

"Every person who was persecuted at that time deserves respectful remembrance," she said. "Every person who is persecuted today is entitled to our recognition and protection."

Stories that still carry weight

Also speaking was Klaus Schirdewahn, who was convicted in 1964 — long after the Nazi period — for having sexual relations with another man.

Schirdewahn, from Mannheim, said the community was still exposed to threats and discrimination.

It was not until 2017 that the sentences against gay men were overturned, he added. "Until five years ago, I was considered as having a criminal record," said Schirdewahn

Actors Jannik Schümann and Maren Kroymann read texts about two victims whose life stories provide examples of the persecution of sexual minorities during the Nazi era.

DW correspondent Hans Brandt said those testimonies, like those of Kats and Schirdewahn, had been moving. 

"These stories that are so old, that took place such a long time ago, still remain shocking to this day and I think that is the point — that these stories should not be forgotten, that we  should listen to them and that we should draw our lessons from them for today," said Brandt.

The commemoration came on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the day that Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet forces on January 27, 1945.

In the Holocaust, some 6 million Jews were wiped out by the Nazis and their allies.

Thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people were imprisoned and murdered by the Nazis. Germany only publicly recognized their fate decades after the end of World War II. Other minorities, such as the Roma and Sinti ethnic groups and mentally disabled people, were also systematically murdered by the Nazi regime.

rc/kb (dpa, AFP)