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Journal of the History of Sexuality 11.1 and 2 (2002) 105-130

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Homophobic Propaganda and the Denunciation of Same-Sex-Desiring Men under National Socialism

Stefan Micheler
University of Hamburg

Because after all it had been made explicitly clear to us that we must do away with such things.

Testimony of Else K. to the criminal police, July 10, 1934

In 1935, under the guise of wide-ranging legal reforms, the National Socialist regime in Germany stiffened the provisions of Paragraph 175 and introduced a new subclause (Paragraph 175a) that laid the legal groundwork for increasingly radical measures against homosexual behavior. Such behavior became subject to harsh persecution, as many thousands of men were sentenced to prison terms or penal servitude, incarcerated in psychiatric institutions, and castrated or murdered in concentration camps.

The radicalization of the Nazi regime's persecution of male homosexual behavior took effect at different rates across the various regions of the German Reich. In Prussia the homosexual movement was dealt a crippling blow as early as 1933, when the government banned the Freundschaftblätter (friendship bulletins) that had been published in Berlin for same-sex-desiring men and women and disbanded the Berlin-based homosexual organizations. This had the effect of undermining the communication network that was essential to the organizational efforts of associations of same-sex-desiring persons across Germany. 1 In that same year, in urban areas of Prussia, many pubs frequented by same-sex-desiring persons were shut down. In [End Page 95] Hamburg, on the other hand, similar pubs remained in business until the summer of 1936. However, by 1936 at the latest, a harsh and comprehensive policy of persecution had taken hold across the German Reich. Its aim was to eliminate homosexuality from the public sphere. Bars and public lavatories in a number of cities were raided by the police. Police permission for cross-dressing in women's clothing was withdrawn, and transvestites and male prostitutes were subjected to internment in concentration camps.

The National Socialist regime's professed goal was to eradicate homosexual behavior and not the "homosexual" per se, although the end result was often the same. 2 Like other minorities, "homosexuals," who were deemed degenerate and unhealthy, could not be assimilated into the Aryan German ideal. 3 "Alien to the species," they were excluded from the Volksgemeinschaft (Volk community) and exposed to slander and persecution. Homosexual behavior was regarded as inconsistent with National Socialist population policies on several grounds. Men who engaged in it were unlikely to fulfill their duty to reproduce and were thus "population policy zeros"; such men might pass on to their offspring a "constitutional predisposition to homosexuality"; 4 and such men were the antithesis of the National Socialist masculine ideal, which linked manliness to physical and mental strength, heroism, and a capacity for self-sacrifice—an ideal that achieved its apotheosis in the figure of the soldier. Unlike this ideal figure, "homosexual" men were soft, effeminate, and unable to exert the control over physical urges that was necessary to uphold civil society. 5

These ascriptions were not new but had their basis in traditional stereotypes that date back to late-nineteenth-century constructions of the [End Page 96] "homosexual personality." However, while many same-sex-desiring men in Wilhelmine and Weimar Germany had developed and articulated a variety of models of subjectivity and identity that survived into the Nazi era, the stereotype of the "homosexual" as "effeminate and degenerate," "depraved," and "corrupt" became the unifying view of the "homosexual personality" and a focus for homophobic hostility. 6 So too did another common stereotype, that of the "seducer" and "corrupter" of youth (Jugendverführer and Jugendverderber), a uniquely dangerous figure who lured "normal" young men into depravity and thus spread the "epidemic" of homosexuality. 7 In addition, after the overthrow of Ernst Röhm and his associates within the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the attendant rise of Heinrich Himmler and the Schutzstaffel (SS) in 1934, the rumor that "homosexual cliques" planned to seize power took hold, giving "homosexuals...


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