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The Denial of Homosexuality:
Same-Sex Incidents in Himmler's SS and Police
Geoffrey J. Giles
University of Florida
In public, Heinrich Himmler minimized the existence of same-sex sexuality within the elite Schutzstaffel (SS). "In the whole of the SS there occur about eight to ten cases per year," Himmler announced to his senior SS generals in February 1937, clearly satisfied that the "problem" of homosexuality was almost solved. Soon he hoped to reduce the number further by sending miscreants to concentration camps and having them "shot while trying to escape." Their fate would serve as a dire warning. 1 Himmler's estimate of the prevalence of homosexuality in the ranks of the SS was hardly accurate. In the city of Leipzig alone, four SS men were arrested for homosexual offenses in 1937 and 1938. 2 Burkhard Jellonnek's calculation that 57 percent of those arrested in Düsseldorf on such charges during the Third Reich belonged to one or another Nazi organization makes it likely that there were SS men among them, too. 3 In 1940, sixteen cases of homosexuality were brought before the internal SS courts, and in [End Page 256] the first quarter alone of 1943, no fewer than twenty-two convictions were recorded. 4 Richard Plant's proposition, that from the time of the Röhm Purge, "no halfway intelligent gay was likely to join the homophobic SS," seems to stand confounded. 5
While these figures are modest when compared to the thousands of ordinary Germans convicted every year by Nazi courts for homosexual offenses, it is nonetheless instructive to focus on the incidence of such "crimes" in the SS and police. The SS was the organization meant to embody the highest National Socialist values, and it played a central role in the most public homosexual scandal of the entire regime, the murder of the chief of staff of Hitler's Sturmabteilung (SA), Ernst Röhm. As the leader of the SS and the police, Himmler himself deserves special attention. His speeches and writings dealt more obsessively with homosexuality than did those of any other Nazi leader, and his comments were broadly consistent in their sharp condemnation of homosexuality. On several documented occasions between 1934 and 1943, Himmler spoke or wrote of the acceptability, even the desirability, of killing homosexuals. However, the actual disciplining of suspected homosexuals in the SS and other organizations under Himmler's control was far from uniform or consistent. Since punishment for those convicted of homosexuality did not become increasingly severe, even after the legal enactment in November of 1941 of capital punishment for such offenses among the SS and police, the model of "cumulative radicalization" does not accurately describe Nazi policy on homosexuals. The precise nature of the offense was no predictor of the outcome of a trial. SS courts did not usually make snap judgments but weighed the evidence quite carefully and sometimes approached the evidence with a little common sense. When the death penalty was prescribed, appeals against the sentence were occasionally successful. Even Himmler's own position vacillated: while he was all for summary justice in 1943, he showed at least partial lenience in the winter of 1945 by sending convicted men to the front to prove themselves instead of ordering their executions. This essay suggests why he made such decisions at particular moments and examines them in the broader context of wartime policy and cultural fears. [End Page 257]
In a recent article, Peter von Rönn posits an orderly, logical, and consistent development of Himmler's responses to same-sex sexuality. His argument parallels the intentionalist thesis of Hans-Georg Stümke, who saw the central reason for the Nazi persecution of homosexuals as the regime's obsession with boosting population growth. However, I contend that this explanation is only partial. 6 Von Rönn sees a decisive shift to a political problematization of homosexuality and interprets Himmler's efforts as part of his...