A Haunting Exhibit Looks Back At The Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals

At least 100,000 gay men were arrested during the Nazi regime, with thousands sent to concentration camps like Dachau, Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen.

Now a new exhibit is trying to share their tragic story.

“Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933-1945,”  at Lake Worth, Florida’s Compass Gay and Lesbian Center through January 25, was originally created by the United States Holocaust Museum some years back. But with barbaric anti-gay legislation cropping up in various corners of the globe, it’s as relevant as ever.

“Few people recognize the role laws, specifically Paragraph 175, had in justifying the dehumanization and murder of thousands of homosexuals during the Holocaust” says Compass Center CEO Tony Plakas. “There are historic lessons to be learned for sure, but there are present-day applications too: Political currents aimed at denying gays and lesbians employment protections, hate-crime legislation, and the denial of equal recognition of marriage illustrate how legislation and law-enforcement can be used to forward harmful political and social agendas.”

Filled with hundreds of archival photos, the exhibit traces the history of persecution from Weimar Era Germany, when gay people could live somewhat freely, to the height of the Third Reich, when they were exterminated alongside millions of Jews and other “undesirables.”

When the Nazis first took over, homosexuals were deemed “sick” and forced into a brutal version of conversion therapy.  “It had nothing to do with morality or religion,” says the Holocaust Museum’s Ted Phillips, who created the exhibit a number of years ago. “[Gay men] were a brake on the growth of the German Aryan population. So the emphasis was to re-educate them to be productive dads. And if they contacted another male, they were spreading the contagion.”

The policy didn’t address lesbianism, explains Phillips. “Women were not very important in society—mainly as wives and mothers to support men,” he says. “The policy denied women’s sexuality and personhood.”

The another section, “Radicalization,” addresses the virulent persecution that came in the run-up to WWII. Expanding the scope of Paragraph 175, the section of the penal code that addressed homosexuality, the Nazis started staging raids on gay clubs and shutting down queer newspapers. Even the suspicion of homosexuality was enough to get you arrested, and more than 50,000 gay men were sent to prison.

Because so many records were destroyed, it’s hard to say exactly how many gay men were sent to concentration camps—the best estimates are between 5,000 and 15,000.  Once there, they were made to wear pink triangles and placed in forced-labor gangs with hardened criminals.

According to press notes, some men were castrated, brutalized or marked for “extermination through work.”

At a granite quarry, gays from the Mauthausen camp were often chosen to plant explosive charges, and the Nazis enjoyed setting off the charges before they escaped. At the Flossenburg camp, a commandant gave gay inmates extra-large pink triangles.

“He liked them for target practice,” Phillips says.

Phillips says he hopes the exhibit shows visitors how any group can be targeted: “It shows how easy it is to erode public opinion of a minority, make them outcasts and create the indifference that allows persecution.”

As we in America move toward true equality, let us not forget the lesson of the Holocaust: “Never again.”

“Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945” is at Compass Gay and Lesbian Center in Lake Worth, FL, through January 25.






Get Queerty Daily

Subscribe to Queerty for a daily dose of #compass #concentrationcamps #gayholocaust stories and more


  • Spike

    Curious how/why those of Jewish decent continue to receive reparations from Germany, yet gays, got nothing, nor have they continued to use their victimization to guilt the World community into letting them do anything they want and continue to collect billions in foreign aid all the while ignoring UN mandates.

  • tdx3fan

    @Spike: Same reason that Native American people are less vocal about their treatment at the hands of the founders of this country while other minorities continue to use their oppression as an excuse for anything they ever desire to get away with. There are simply less Native Americans so their voice can not possibly be as loud.

  • Little-Kiwi

    it’s frankly stunning that the gay aspect is left out of nearly all teachings on WWII in history classes.

    not only did an openly gay man play one of the biggest roles in ENDING WWII, his life after the war is all but ignored.

    Alan Turing. created the enigma device. cracked the nazi code. invented the modern computer. and later committed suicide after the war, as he was so hounded and persecuted for being gay.

    the gay men freed from the nazi deathcamps, who where then thrown into JAIL by the allied forces.

    “hey! we’re gonna stop you from being gassed! oh, wait. you’re gay? off to jail”

    when we forget or ignore our collective history we are doomed to repeat it.

  • fagburn

    Turing didn’t “crack” the Enigma code – he invented a way of speeding it up.
    Gay men were sent to prison and concentration camps.
    Jews were sent to death camps – to pretend otherwise is morally obscene.

  • Mooz

    @Little-Kiwi: Side note:
    Turing broke the Enigma encryption, he did not invent the machine. He created a scientific model for a Turing Machine (a general purpose computer).

  • Little-Kiwi

    where did i pretend Jews weren’t sent to death camps?

  • Mooz

    @fagburn: He (and his team) did crack the code, otherwise they would still be deciphering those messages now.

  • Little-Kiwi

    a gay man was as responsible for ending WWII as any heterosexual member of the Greatest Generation. and his being gay led him to the persecution that caused him to end his life.

    and this should utterly be taught in schools.

  • 2eo

    @Mooz: I don’t mean to brag but I’ve seen the original blueprints and gotten to see the machine [original and re-built] at Bletchley Park.

    Also on a topical note, isn’t it pathetic that the Allies jailed homosexuals after the war, and left thousands to die of starvation and disease yet rushed to pardon thousands of Nazi doctors and scientists.

    We were kinder to the enemy than we were to our own, what a criminal indictment of humanity.

  • Mooz

    @2eo: I’m jealous :)

    On topic: I hope all we realize that this story is not unique for gay men. Any society that allows bigotry against a group of people is eventually capable of doing horrendous things. “Kick’em while they’re down” is a nasty human trait. History has taught us that much.

  • tidalpool

    While it is true jews were killed in numbers almost impossible to comprehend, gay men, along with Romas, Jehovah’s Whitnesses, retarded people, poles, eastern europeans, clerics and catholic nuns were imprisoned, forced to work in labour camps and factories and most , if not all, ended up in the death camps. Spike somehow has equated the death of perhaps 6 million or more with perhaps 50,000 assorted others as some how comparative. Many homosexuals were not only admired in the third reich, many benefited in ways we some how over look. Factory owners,entertainers, club owners, designers, architects, musicans all flourished under the reich. My point is some homosexuals suffered horribly under the nazis, all jews that could be identified suffered, all, not some, notjust the ugly ones, notjust the religious ones, all of them. Genocide is a word we are much more casual about today. If we learned nothing following WW2, it must be , “NEVER AGAIN!’

  • alterego1980

    Watch the movie Bent with Clive Owen & Lothaire Bluteau. It depicts this exact situation. From what I’ve read, it did the truth a sad painful justice…

  • fagburn

    @Little-Kiwi: PS It’s also unclear if Turing committed suicide, but carry on with your gay histronics…

  • andy_d

    Then there is the little known gay leader within the Dutch underground killed by the Nazis. The Holocaust Museum made mention of him during a lecture on Gays in the Holocaust. There are also Gays and Lesbians included in the “identity cards” handed out at the museum.

    IMO, the National Holocaust Museum is a true national treasure and deserves every penny of support it receives.

  • nawinter77

    It’s pretty well recognized that Alan Turing committed suicide, it’s also well accepted that his suicide, despite the fact that there is the possibility of accidental ingestion of cyanide, was most likely due to the brutal treatment he received after being tried criminally for being a homosexual.

    Regardless if Turing’s death was suicide or accident, he *was* and still is a national hero and his treatment by the UK is unconscionable. Ask any woman who has had to deal with debilitating depression from hormonal birth control and she’ll tell you… hormone therapy is no laughing matter. I cannot even begin to imagine what the doses Turing had to endure were like.

  • Provine

    Meanwhile, we’re all living through the ongoing Christian persecution of homosexuals.

  • Michael


    While you make many good points, no, most gay men did NOT “end up in the death camps.” Most were sent to “work camps,” although perhaps 9000 died there. Yes, “dead is dead,” but there is a HUGE difference between being sent to the type of camp where you would be put to death as soon as possible, and those in which your death was the result of a variety of barbaric circumstances. As bad as it was, and as much as its stories must be told again and again, anyone who speaks of a “Gay Holocaust” doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Thank you.

  • Scott Rose

    At the link below is the full text of the “Reichskonkordat,” the political treaty between the Vatican and Adolf Hitler. At the time this treaty was signed, the anti-Jewish racial laws were already in force in Nazi Germany:
    Here is an example of what is in the treaty:
    Article 3
    In order to foster good relations between the Holy See and the German Reich, an apostolic nuncio will reside in the capital of the German Reich and an ambassador of the German Reich at the Holy See.

Comments are closed.