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Monday, June 2

Der Untermensch lives on

I was talking to a blind friend today and she told me that, following my suggestion, she'd given a speech to our local Holocaust memorial day about what the Nazis did to the disabled.

Basically, the disabled were the 'practice run' for the ensuing holocaust.

She needed to do the speech to remind people of what the holocaust was really about.

Last week an appalling thing happened around these issues, this memory.

Israel Gutman of the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem said that the Nazis only targeted German gay men, and that they were the victims of political battles within Hitler's National Socialist Party rather than a campaign of homophobia.

(This is an old slander).

Talking about the newly opened memorial to gay victims in Berlin, close to the Jewish memorial, he told Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita, "the location was particularly poorly chosen for this monument,"

"If visitors have the impression that there was not a great difference between the suffering of Jews and those of homosexuals, it's a scandal."

Gutman speaks to the two different definitions of the Holocaust: Simon Wiesenthal's one that includes 5 million gentile victims of the Nazis along with the 6 million Jews, and Elie Wiesel's one that restricts the term Holocaust to Jews only. The latter definition is called by Berenbaum the Judeo-centric one.

When I spoke to our local memorial day last year ('Remembering Sachsenhausen') at the top of my conscientiousness was that I would have to remind people that gays were at the bottom, that jews (and communists and others) participated in this order. I could not have been more, well, relieved, with the reception I received.

It is history which is very difficult to talk about but all the more important to talk about. It was not only that I could put myself personally into the 'pit' those queers were in but also that I know virtually no-one survived to tell this history. It must be retold.

Much has been lost, or lost in practice. Poles and other slavs were and were to be exterminated. Britain and America sent many hundreds of thousands to their deaths by the hands of the Soviet secret police at war's end. After 1945 Buchenwald survived as a Soviet extermination camp. This is also 'lost'.

People with disabilities were first but there were also assorted political opponents of the Nazis exterminated, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Roma, the latter being the victims of the Nazis' other attempted genocide. There were black victims too.

And then there were the homosexuals. The ones who wore the pink triangles in the death camps, after being offered a choice of castration or imprisonment. The ones subjected to hideous medical experiments. The ones deemed illegal under the infamous Paragraph 175 of the Nazi penal code - a provision that stayed in force in West Germany until 1969. The surivivors, some of whom, after liberation, were forced to serve out their prison sentences for homosexuality under the Allied Military Government of Germany.

Gays, too, were Holocaust victims. Yes, the Nazi policy was never one of blanket extermination in their case - how would they be identified? Yes, far fewer of them perished in the camps than did Jews - many were shot on the Eastern Front as drafted German soldiers. But surely we cannot make our moral judgements solely on the basis of numbers.

Hence a modest monument to the gay victims of the Holocaust has just been erected in Berlin. But it's being protested - by Israel Gutman of the Yad Vashem Institute (Holocaust memorial) in Jerusalem. "A sense of proportion must be maintained," says Gutman.

Fuck you Gutman.

Here's a very Jewish joke from Christopher Isherwood, in conversation with two producers in Hollywood.

"You may forget but Hitler killed 600,000 homosexuals." said Isherwood.
"Sure, but he killed 6 million Jews." said one of the producers.
"What are you, in real estate?" replied the incredulous Isherwood.

Later edit: A reader corrected me:
It's Untermensch - unter = under; Mensch = person e.g. sub-human; "inferior person"


  1. Good article with valid points pointing out the injustice to Gays and that the Jews do not have a holocaust monopoly. By the way it's Untermensch - unter = under; Mensch = person e.g. sub-human; "inferior person",

  2. Thanks Axel, I've corrected this.