The Men With The Pink Triangle (Review)

lgbthistorymonth01
Ever since my first coming out in 1974, I’ve wanted to educate myself about the history of gay people.  The subject had been largely neglected until relatively recent years.  However, I was able to glean small snippets of information from magazine articles and determined searches through book club lists and public library card catalogue files.

Due to the fact that we gay folks are considered controversial in the U.S. and our brothers and sisters are brutally oppressed in many countries, it has been up to members of our own community to gather and publish the histories of the LGBT community.

lgbthistorymonth00Finally, in 1980, a slim book was published about one man’s account of surviving the Nazi persecution of gay men in concentration camps.  I bought a copy of Heinz Heger’s The Men With The Pink Triangle. The autobiographical account describes the inhumane, harsh conditions that inmates had to endure. For my celebration of LGBT History Month, I dug out my tattered, old copy to read again.

Heger was arrested by Hitler’s Gestapo in March of 1939 for violating Germany’s infamous “Paragraph 175” of the criminal code, which outlawed male homosexuality. He was sent to prison, without trial, to serve a six-month sentence. At the end of six months, instead of being freed, Heger was transported to the Sachsenhousen concentration camp, and then transferred to Flossenbürg, where he remained until the defeat of the Nazi Regime in 1945.

Heger’s descriptions of the horrendous abuses he suffered at the hands of the SS overlords are heartrending.  More shocking are the accounts of how gays were treated by their non-gay fellow prisoners.  Because homosexuality was again taboo under Hitler’s decree, gays found themselves at the bottom of the social hierarchy.  Non-gay inmates who, themselves were treated with abuse and neglect often took out their lgbthistorymonth02frustrations and anger on men whose prison garb had the pink triangle sewn onto it.

That said, the Nazis often singled out individual gay men for “special treatment” and often made examples of by public executions or extra work duties.  Homosexuals were segregated and isolated in their own areas and had to sleep at night with the barracks lights left shining.

Near the end of the European war, Flossenbürg prisoners were forced on a death march by the SS guards. This is when prisoners were marched, at gunpoint, on foot towards the Dachau Concentration Camp. Many prisoners perished due to severe exhaustion. One morning, the prisoners awakened to discover that the guards had disappeared. The prisoners escaped to a farm, where they were welcomed and fed.

Unlike other prisoners, men who wore the pink triangle were not compensated for their time in concentration camps as victims of fascism. After allied liberation of Germany, many gays were re-sentenced under the old “Paragraph 175” and went to prison again, after the war. The law was finally abolished in 1994.

Heinz Heger’s book is an important document in the history of LGBT people.  Anyone who is LGBT, an ally, or other interested person should read this sobering book.

{ The Men With The Pink Triangle by Heinz Heger; 117 pages, published in 1980 by Gay Men’s Press. Other editions by Alyson Publications and eBook versions available. }

Ciao
lgbthistorymonth03iconThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes author Ernest Gaines. “Why is it that, as a culture, we are more comfortable seeing two men holding guns, than holding hands?”

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About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Books, cultural highlights, History, Politics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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