History reveals that homosexuals have long been a part of the Nazi party and were major players in its formation. Hitler's relationships with gay men offer profound lessons for today's gay community.
"Every revolution devours its own children."
-- Ernst Röhm
Once upon a time -- a day in 1999, to be exact -- a young gay American and young gay Canadian shared a dream of founding an organization which united gay and straight skinheads, creating a new era in tolerance and compassion between racist heterosexuals and homosexuals in their war against non-whites. From this dream emerged the American Resistance Corps (ARC), an organization with two purposes: to inform "straight skinheads that there were decent gay skinheads already among them in the movement who didn't want validation but simply wanted acceptance for their common goals", and to build "the framework for cultural recovery and a brighter future for the white race where all white people can live and work in harmony together without the interference and hinderance (sic) of the selfish interests of other races."
For most, the existence of a group such as ARC is puzzling. Gay Nazi, Gay Aryan, Gay Supremacist … the terms seem like oxymorons. How can people join an organization that has sought to suppress or eradicate them? It's illogical. Nonetheless, across the world, groups of gay and lesbian individuals embrace ideologies that are bigoted and seek to oppress others in much the same way that LGBT persons have traditionally been oppressed: exclusion, vilification, even murder.
In all fairness many skinheads, gay and straight, do not subscribe to the racist views with which this movement is frequently associated, but a significant portion do. Political scientists and psychologists have studied this phenomenon, with various theories proposed. Some argue that participation in a group that fails to have one's own interest in mind is a form of self-loathing and punishment, while others maintain it stems from a desire to transfer their pain onto others. (Wyatt Powers, Executive Director of ARC, argues on the ARC website that gay membership in anti-Semitic and racist groups is a natural response to the Jewish and black communities' efforts to subjugate gays.)
Understandably, the extremism of the views supported plays a role in motivation. Members of the Log Cabin Republicans, LGBT persons who support the Republican Party, are often criticized for supporting a party that opposes equal right protections for the community. Still, the views they support are largely mainstream and hardly militant, as is the case with Gay Nazis.
According to Rosa von Praunheim's documentary Men, Heroes, and Gay Nazis (see excerpt on page 2 of this essay), 10 to 15 percent of Germany's Nazi extremists are gay. The documentary, in part, chronicles the rise and fall of Michael Kuhnen, a neo-Nazi leader for much of the '80s. At the time, Paragraph 175, the German law criminalizing homosexuality, was still in effect -- it wouldn't be repealed until 1994.
Kuhnen's announcement that he was gay, along with his publication of a pamphlet advocating for the inclusion of gays in the neo-Nazi movement, sparked a division in the ranks of the various Nazi groups gaining strength at the time. Associating with known homosexuals was just another reason for police interference. The schism remains today, as some Nazi groups openly embrace gay members while others repudiate them. History, however, reveals that homosexuals have long been a part of the Nazi party and were major players in its formation.
Typically though, when one hears the words ‘Nazi’ and ‘homosexual’ in conjunction, one thinks of the atrocities gays were forced to endure under Hitler's regime. Even today, there is no clear number of how many gay people were killed; no count was taken, so historians can only estimate based on arrest numbers and concentration camp occupations. That historians and researchers ignored for decades the plight of homosexuals during the Nazi reign allowed important records to be lost and recollections to become cloudy.
Further, homosexuality was illegal in Germany before Hitler rose to power, so many who died in the camps could have long been in the closet, even to their death. What is clear is that Hitler and the SS launched a serious offensive in the mid-‘30s to eradicate "degeneracy", and gays were considered degenerates. Arrests for homosexuality rose from around 2,000 between 1931 and 1933 to over 24,000 between 1937 and 1939, according to David Fernbach's introduction to The Men with the Pink Triangle.
The book is the story of Heinz Heger, a gay man who survived internment. His story makes clear the vile treatment to which homosexuals were subjected, often worse than the treatment of other prisoners. Fernbach's research shows that SS leader Heinrich Himmler issued orders that homosexuals were not to be killed outright, but worked to death. As such, they were not shipped to concentration camps, but sent to "death pits" with other undesirables. These camps were classified as Level 3 camps that operated under the rule that prisoners must be dead from overwork within a few months of arrival.
While still alive, the men had to live under rigid conditions. They were allowed no human contact, and rules governed how close they could get to other prisoners, guards, and fences between camps. Heger describes how the men were not allowed to put their hands or arms under their blankets at night, so there was no chance of masturbation, even when winter temperatures in the bunkhouse were below freezing. Those who failed to comply in winter were taken outside, doused with cold water, and made to stand in the freezing weather for an hour. Most, already weakened, died quickly.
Each moment of every day was governed by rigid rules with sadistic consequences for noncompliance. In summer, workdays started at 7AM and lasted until 8PM; winter hours were 8 to 5. Rules in the bunkhouse were enforced by "greens", criminals who were also prisoners. In 1941, Heger's camp got a new commander, nicknamed "Dustbag" by the prisoners, who broke up the "gay" bunkhouse and dispersed gay prisoners into the rest of the population, but his persecution of gay prisoners was worse than his predecessor's. Even after the war ended and the camps were liberated, many gay men remained imprisoned under the old German law outlawing homosexuality.
Heger's tale is horrifying, and shows the deep hatred that the Nazis had for gays. (Lesbians were similarly persecuted, but seldom arrested for lesbianism; instead, they were charged with prostitution or similar crimes.) The atrocities endured were brought to life again in Martin Sherman's 1979 play Bent, made into a film by Sean Mathias in 1997. In the most memorable scene, Max and Horst, two gays imprisoned in Dachau, must stand in the sun side by side without touching or looking at one another. Still, they manage to bring one another to climax through the power of their words. Bent is not a romance, though -- true to the Nazi reign, there are no happy endings.
It would be absurd, then, to suggest that the same Nazi party that tortured and killed so many gays could have been founded with the help of an army run by gay men or that Hitler himself was gay.