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Museum documents persecution of gays in Nazi Germany

The persecution and killing of gay men in Nazi Germany will be the focus of a traveling museum exhibit this month in Wilton Manors.

Thousands of gays were thought to have perished in Germany during the Nazi regime. The Third Reich considered homosexuals a threat because they “did not produce offspring for the fatherland,” says Jake Newsome, spokesman for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Newsome specializes in gay research during the Hitler era.

Between 1933 and 1945, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested for violating Nazi Germany’s anti-homosexuality law. Of these men, about 53,000 were convicted and sentenced to prison, Newsome says. About 10,000 men were sent on similar charges to concentration camps, where about 65 percent of them died.

Because some of them were classified as criminals because they broke a national law, exact numbers of those who were arrested or perished aren’t available.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s traveling exhibition “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945” will be displayed July 19 to Oct. 14 at the Stonewall National Museum and Archives, 2157 Wilton Drive, in Wilton Manors. Admission to the exhibition is free.

Items on display include three pink-triangle armbands worn by homosexual prisoners incarcerated at the Buchenwald concentration camp, near Weimar, Germany.

The exhibit will delve into Nazi beliefs, which included “curing” homosexual behavior through labor and “re-education.” Their efforts to eradicate homosexuality left gay men subject to imprisonment, castration, institutionalization and deportation to concentration camps.

In 1933, the year Adolf Hitler assumed power, an estimated 1 million homosexual men lived in Germany. Newsome says there was a “vibrant gay community,” with gay bars and publications, in the big cities of Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich. It was common for gay men to emigrate from New York, Paris and London to Berlin “because they knew they could be accepted,” Newsome says. “Literally within months it was destroyed.”

Gays in other countries that Germany occupied were not deported. “They were only wanting to ‘clean up’ Germany,” Newsome says.

The law did not criminalize homosexuality among women. “Women weren’t in leadership roles, so their ‘deviance’ posed no threat to the state,” Newsome says. Still, these woman masked their identity.

Five million non-Jews were killed under Hitler’s rule, including gays, the physically and mentally disabled, Roma (Gypsies), Jehovah's Witnesses and members of political opposition groups (which includes Soviet prisoners of war). Another 6 million Jews were systematically killed in Europe.

lhuriash@sunsentinel.com, 954-572-2008 or Twitter @LisaHuriash

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