There should be no denial of the fact of the genocide of Jewish people during the regime of Adolf Hitler and his diabolical political machinations. Last year marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps. The commemorations renewed global awareness of the attrocities of the Nazi era.
While the persecution and mass killings of Jewish people have been rightfully the main focus of Holocaust Memorial Day observances, people of other persecuted minorities have felt left out. This is a touchy subject because the suffering and death were not restricted to only one or a few categories of people.
The appalling tragedy also affected some 5,000,000 non-Jewish people. There have been calls from many groups to give more equal recognition to all the targeted groups who were tortured and murdered because of their race, nationality, belief, and other factors that “violated” the Nazi “ideal” archetype.
The list of deaths encompasses priests, gypsies, people with physical or mental disabilities, socialists, trade unionists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anarchists, Poles, other Slavic peoples, resistance fighters, LGBT people, and more.
The Romani Gypsies were the second-largest group who were killed for racial reasons. These people have been singled out for persecution long before the Nazis and remain outcast to this day in much of Europe. Some 1,500,000 gypsies were sent to death camps, immediately killed, or used for slave labor. Many scholars ignored their suffering until the 1980s.
People with physical or mental handicaps and individuals with mental illnesses were regarded by the regime as unworthy of life. Approximately 300,000 people were systematically eliminated because of these reasons.
The Catholic Church was suppressed in Poland. About one-fifth of all priests were killed in concentration camps. Eventually, some 3,000 Catholic priests were murdered. Church leaders were targeted as part of Hitler’s plan to “Germanize” Poland and Eastern Europe. Nazis aimed to “kill without pity or mercy, all men, women, and children of Polish descent or language.”
The Nazis regarded homosexuals as the “lowest of the low” in their obsession with eliminating “impure” peoples. Gay men, and sometimes lesbians, were rounded up for violating the old criminal code known as Paragraph or Section 175. This infamous statute had been in effect in Germany since 1871. It was not cancelled until 1994.
Around 100,000 non-Jewish LGBT were arrested and sent to prisons and camps. Some 60-percent of the detainees perished during the Nazi period. Gays not only suffered the depravations inflicted by the Gestapo and SS, but were tormented by other prisoners. LGBT were the bottom of the hierarchy and became the scapegoats for everyone else.
In a cruel twist of fate, after the defeat of Nazi Germany, many gays were rearrested under Section 175, and sent back to prison. For many years, LGBT victims of Nazism were totally excluded from the public process of compensation and remembrance of past injustices.
So, in effect, there were two holocausts. The massive Jewish Holocaust was shadowed by a “Gentile Holocaust”. Neither holocaust should ever be forgotten. On this Holocaust Memorial Day we pause to pay respect to all the various victims of Nazi attrocities.