And Then They Came for the Gays: Paragraph 175 and the Pink Triangle

Gary G. Kohls, MD

The famous poem above was written by the courageous German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller in the years after he was liberated from one of Adolf Hitler’s concentration camps. As was the case with most conservative Protestant clergymen and their congregants, Niemoller despised the Weimar democratic republic during its crippled 14 years of existence. Most German Christians were angry that the Weimar liberals had overthrown the authoritarian monarchy in 1918. Neimoller was no exception.

In 1933, before the true agenda of Hitler became obvious, Niemoller, a U-Boat commander “hero” in World War I, published his best-selling autobiography, “From U-Boat to Pulpit.” He and his patriotic, pro-German book were often praised by the Nazi press, but it didn’t take too long for Niemoller to realize that he, like so many other well-meaning Germans, had been duped into believing Hitler and his “peace and justice” campaign promises.

The Easy Nazification
of the Homophobic
Christian church

Reverend Niemoller had been a vigorous detractor of liberalism during all the years of the Weimar Republic (1918–1933), and therefore he had supported, often from his pulpit, Hitler’s rise to power. But when the Nazis began usurping the power of the traditional hierarchical leadership of his church, he was upset enough that he couldn’t keep himself from defying the Nazi agenda from the pulpit. Sadly, it was too late for him or anybody else to do anything about the Nazification of German Christianity.

Niemoller was one of the rare Protestant clergymen who dared to publicly resist the repressive fascist tactics of the Nazi Party, and he was soon arrested and thrown into a concentration camp. Because of his previous war service, his earlier naive patriotism, his bestselling book, and his relative celebrity, Niemoller was treated relatively humanely and managed to survive his seven years of captivity.

In 2012, we have all been hearing increasingly extremist right-wing rhetoric from increasingly demagogic candidates who espouse increasingly right-wing political and theological ideologies. And now these entities are trying to dominate Congress, the court system, and the elections. Niemoller’s important poem deserves serious study, for history may be repeating itself in the alleged “home of the free and the brave.”

There were many minority groups targeted in Germany, but the homosexual minority is the subject of this essay. That group has been misunderstood and tyrannized in so-called civilized Europe for centuries. It has been treated ruthlessly in many different cultures, but never so cruelly as it was during Hitler’s reign. And history seems to be repeating itself, for the denial of the civil rights of gays and lesbians continues in the increasingly barbaric US of A. In the spirit of Pastor Niemoller, the following verse could justifiably be added to his poem:

“And then they came for the gays, but I didn’t speak up because I was straight.”

A Brief History
of Germany’s
Criminalization of

81 years ago, Heinrich Himmler, the sadistic head of the SS and Gestapo, issued the “Fuhrer’s Decree Relating to Purity in the SS and Police.” In that decree, any SS member or police officer caught in same-gender sexual acts was arrested and was at risk of being summarily executed, no matter who seduced whom.

A couple of months later, that decree was also extended to any and all civilian males caught in homosexual activity within Nazi Germany’s domain. The Gestapo was so swept up in their campaign to stamp out these victimless “crimes” and go after the nonviolent offenders that they kept arresting suspected homosexuals until Hitler’s, Goebbels’, and Himmler’s suicides were being planned out and the end of German fascism was a certainty. The Russian army had actually encircled Berlin in May of 1945 before the Gestapo actually stopped with their pogrom against the homosexuals and the Jews.

But that aggressive behavior was not unusual, for blind obedience to authority is expected of all bureaucrats, cops, and soldiers around the world. Orders from headquarters are to be blindly obeyed.

Himmler’s 1936
Security Office for
Combating Abortion
and Homosexuality

On September 27, 1939, Himmler, the most viciously homophobic Nazi of them all, issued the order to reorganize the Federal Security Office for Combating Abortion and Homosexuality in order to move it from the Gestapo office in Berlin to the Federal Security Bureau.

After the 1936 Olympics ended and the American black athlete Jesse Owens had kicked sand in the face of the racist Fuhrer and his second place “Ubermenschen”  Aryan runners, the Gestapo were given orders to resume arresting anyone caught in same-sex activity. Even if the courts found the accused not guilty of the “crime,” the Nazis often re-arrested them as they left the courtroom and put them in concentration camps anyway.

But the punitive agendas against homosexuals didn’t just start with Hitler and his amoral empire, nor did the typically right-wing Christian churches defend the human rights of homosexuals. The Fuhrer and his vicious henchmen deliberately enlarged the scope of the 1871 law that criminalized homosexuals, with the silent consent of the conservative church leadership.

Such homosexual “criminals” were cast out, considered unworthy of life, and therefore could have their voting, civil, and human rights taken from them. That judgment was justified by the ruling elite partly because such “vermin” didn’t marry and therefore they couldn’t do their patriotic duty to father future Nazi soldiers for the expansion of German territory. They couldn’t be counted upon to “go forth and multiply.”

Interestingly, the Nazi Party didn’t criminalize lesbians, because they were still physically capable of getting pregnant and producing children for the Reich. German women, no matter their sexual orientation or marital status, were encouraged, and sometimes actually coerced, to have sex with sociopathic, abusive, combat-traumatized Nazi soldiers in the expectation of population growth. These killing soldiers were “honored” as war heroes and idealized as members of the pure Aryan race and therefore ideal sperm donors, no matter their past history or likelihood of becoming abusive, dangerous fathers and husbands.

In Nazi Germany,
marriage was to be
between a white pure
Aryan man and a pure
white Aryan woman

In Nazi Germany, women were there for the purpose of procreating, and most “good” conservative German clergymen preached that marital sex was for the sole purpose of procreation. In Nazi Germany, interracial marriage was verboten. Marriage was to be between a white pure Aryan man and a white pure Aryan woman. If anyone suggested legalizing marriage between two homosexuals in Nazi Germany, he would have been stoned to death on the spot.

Nazi ideology excluded women from politics and confined them to domestic activities that involved children, kitchen, and church. This concept was nicely summarized by the phrase “Kinder, Küche, Kirche.” That German-style KKK approach that repressed women would certainly have been endorsed by America’s own Ku Klux Klan, not to mention some fundamentalist churches that I know about in America.  
In Nazi Germany, having an abortion (at least for Nazi-approved women) was a criminal act. The death penalty was prescribed for abortionists, there were severe penalties for the pregnant woman, although enforcement varied considerably.

Good German women were encouraged stay in the home to raise their offspring. Significantly, they did so with traditional punitive child-rearing tactics because child-rearing books in Germany had long promoted the notion that obedience was akin to godliness. That widespread use of harshness in child-rearing was a perfect recipe for creating compassionless, angry, vengeful, and unthinking soldiers who were easily trained, through the threat of punishment, to obey their commanding officers without questioning orders.

Paragraph 175 and
the Pink Triangle

For centuries, legal authorities in Europe held that homosexual activity was somehow abnormal and therefore deserving of some type of punishment. Homosexuality was officially criminalized in Germany soon after the nation was unified under Bismarck after the Franco-Prussian War was won by Germany in 1871. On May 15 of that year, Bismarck’s administration inserted into the new German penal code a provision called Paragraph 175. It said:
“Unnatural fornication, whether between persons of the male sex or of humans with beasts, is to be punished by imprisonment; a sentence of loss of civil rights may also be passed.”

The provision that made homosexuality a criminal act was not uniformly enforced until the Nazis seized power in 1933. Indeed, there were several attempts during the earlier Weimar years to rescind the provision. But the conservative political parties, especially the Nazi Party, had other ideas.

Following Hitler’s 1933 power grab and the drowning of democracy in Germany, the Nazis began taking away the human rights of any number of minority groups, entities that had not previously been victimized during the Weimar years. A series of increasingly punitive laws were rather rapidly instituted during the first few years of Hitler’s dictatorship, including the expansion of the notorious Paragraph 175 to make homosexuality a felony offense that, in the case of the military and  the police, was a capital crime.

Wikipedia has this to say about the revised provision: “In 1935, the Nazis broadened the law so that the courts could pursue any ‘lewd act’ whatsoever, even one involving no physical contact, such as masturbating next to each other. Convictions multiplied by a factor of ten to about 8,000 per year. Furthermore, the Gestapo  could transport suspected offenders to concentration camps without any legal justification at all (even if they had been acquitted or already served their sentence in jail). Thus, between 5,000 and 15,000 homosexual men were forced into concentration camps, where they were identified by the pink triangle. The majority of them died there.”

For readers of this column, it shouldn’t be necessary to point out once again the many similarities between the fascism of 1920s and 1930s Germany and the ascendant right-wing extremists in America. Most of the 14 characteristics of fascism can be readily identified in the expressed political and theological statements of many American right-wing extremists and their supporters. And I’m not just talking about the neo-Nazi militia groups, white supremacist groups, and the KKK that most everyone seems to despise. Indeed, the similarities extend to many mainstream stealth political candidates who have more than their share of media exposure. It extends to major political parties and their wealthy, corporate puppeteers and paymasters.

Fascist authoritarianism supported by the multinational corporations have exerted a lot of power in America for generations. The only thing missing is a shrieking dictator and scowling faces. These authoritarians all seem to have smiley faces, which is a major reason that most people don’t recognize them for what they are or may become. Perhaps the most common characteristic of these extremist groups is that they have long had the goal of quietly weakening democracy in order to achieve their nefarious goals. One of them admits that his organization wants to make democracy so enfeebled that he can drag it into a bathtub and drown it.

Do not be deceived into appeasing proto-fascist ideologists. That is the lesson that we progressives and pro-democracy types should have learned from Chamberlain at Munich in 1938, when the gays with their mandatory pink triangles and the Jews with their yellow stars, with the prisons already overflowing with other enemies of fascism, started being led off to the prisons and the concentration camps, with all the yet-to-be-fingered for persecution straights and gentiles passively standing by, hoping against hope that the ones taking orders from the ruthless ruling elite wouldn’t be coming for them next.

Dr. Kohls occasionally wakes up in the middle of the night with a sense of impending doom. A believer that history tends to repeat itself and that those who ignore history are forced to repeat it, he has long studied the history of European fascism, militarism, religion, psychiatry, peace and justice. In the last decade of his 40-year rural family practice career, he concentrated on the practice of holistic mental health care and therefore saw firsthand the disastrous long-term health consequences of many types of violence (both domestic and military), including discrimination, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, deprivations, poverty, malnutrition, and institutionalized societal violence.