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Paragraph 175

Historical Context

An unnatural sex act committted between persons of male sex or by humans with animals is punishable by imprisonment; the loss of civil rights may also be imposed.

- German Penal Code, 1871

Between 1933 and 1945, according to Nazi documents, approximately 100,000 men were arrested for homosexuality.  Roughly half were sentenced to prison and approximately 10,000 to 15,000 were sent to concentration camps.  The death rate of homosexual prisoners in the camps is estimated to be as high as sixty percent (among the highest of non-Jewish prisoners), so that by 1945 only about 4,000 survived.

That gay men were persecuted by the Nazis and branded with a pink triangle is becoming common knowledge.   Less well known is that many gay survivors were subjected to ongoing persecution in post-Nazi Germany, where they were seen not as political prisoners but as criminals under the Nazi sodomy law, which remained on the books even after liberation. Some were actually re-arrested after the war and re-imprisoned.  All were excluded from reparations by the German government, and their time spent in concentration camps was deducted from their pensions.  Escape by suicide, marriage, or retreat into isolation was common.  In the 1950s and 1960s, the number of convictions for homosexuality in West Germany was as high as it had been during Nazi rule.  The Nazi version of the sodomy law remained on the books until 1969.

When the international community sought atonement for the victims of Hitler's Germany at the Nuremberg Trials of 1946, neither the atrocities committed against homosexuals nor the anti-gay legislation and measures were mentioned.  Homophobia and anti-gay persecution were accepted as normal in post-war Europe and in the United States.   Holocaust research, memorials, and museums likewise ignored the fate of homosexual concentration camp inmates.  Still today, the German government refuses to officially acknowledge homosexual men as victims of the Nazi regime.  Other European countries have similar poicies of exclusion and non-recognition.

In the 1990's, researchers began to document the histories of the men who wore pink triangles.  The first institution to do so was the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, which changed public perceptions by including the Nazi persecution of homosexuals in their exhibits.  Encouraged by historians and the museum, several gay survivors -- some of them in their late 80s and early 90s -- came forward to tell their stories for the first time, ending decades of unnatural silence and isolation.  In 1995, eight survivors issued a collective declaration demanding judicial and moral recognition of their persecution.

2001: German government issues official apology to gay victims of the Nazis!

A little less than one year after the release of Paragraph 175, the German government issued an official apology to gay men persecuted by the Nazis and called for appropriate compensation, according to the Agence France Presse. The issue had been brewing since last March, when the Associated Press reported that "German lawmakers proposed making amends yesterday to a long-neglected group of Nazi victims: thousands of men sent to concentration camps for being gay." The article went on to explain that "their plight has gained attention since the release this year of a U.S.-made documentary, "Paragraph 175," which won awards at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals."

Photo: Pari Garvanos

Paragraph 175 premiered at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival, where it was awarded the documentary jury prize for directing. The European premiere followed in February at the Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the gay Teddy Award for best documentary, as well as a FIPRESCI award (from the Fédération International de la Presse Cinématographique) as best film-fiction or non-fiction, gay or non-gay-in the Panorama section of the festival, "for uncovering amazing stories of courage buried by history".
complete list of awards

Jeffrey's Berlin Diary

Since then, Jeffrey and Rob have presented the film at the Jersualem and Tel Aviv Cinematheques, in Amsterdam, at four gay film festivals in Italy (that's right, four!), one in Hong Kong and two each in Spain and Brazil. The film has been racking up awards, including the jury prize for best documentary (Turin, Milan), and audience awards for best documentary (Turin), and for best feature film (Barcelona, Madrid, Sao Paulo). The San Francisco premiere was in June at the S.F. Lesbian and Gay Film Festival at the Castro Theater, our home-town movie palace, where it played to an enthusiastic, packed house (and won another audience award); it then screened at Outfest, the Los Angeles gay and lesbian festival in July. Rob and Jeff were honored with the Outfest Achievement Award, which was presented on opening night of the festival by Celluloid Closet narrator Lily Tomlin. Paragraph 175 is being released theatrically by New Yorker Films.

 

 

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