Ignore Everything They Say, Pay Attention To What They Do

[DISCLAIMER: This post is about the 1930s, which includes the rise of the Nazi party and the creation of the concentration camp system in Germany. There exists, herein, some unpleasant things. You have been warned.]

The 1930s started dismally, and ended with a declaration of war. 29 October 1929 saw the most devastating crash of the stock market in modern history. Its effects would be felt for years to come, both economically and socially. Although economic turmoil was prevalent to the Great Depression, many places saw increased political and social turmoil; none more so than Germany.

The economic woes hit Germany hardest. Inflation uncertainty, and memory of a war that had ended only a decade before all resulted in political turmoil. The Nazi party, which had been a fringe party only a year earlier, used the turmoil to insert itself on the front line of German politics. Between 1929 and 1933, the Nazi Party went from a small inconsequential party, to the leading party in the Reichstag. On 30 January 1933, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor, solidifying the Nazi’s rise to power.

In February 1933, the Nazis began purging Berlin of all gay clubs, outlawed all homosexual publications. and banned all homosexual related organisations. Seeing the future they had in a Nazi run Germany, many homosexuals who had means began fleeing Germany…although by 1939, that was no longer a possibility. In March, the administrator for the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft. Kurt Hiller, was arrested and sent to a concentration camp. On 6 May 1933, the Nazi Youth raided Institut für Sexualwissenschaft and ordered its closure. On 10 May, they publicly burned the contents of the institute’s library, which included over 20,000 books and journals, and over 5,000 images. The raid also gave the Nazi party the largest list of known homosexuals in Germany. In response, Nazi propaganda boss Joseph Goebbels used the opportunity of the public burnings to give a political speech denouncing homosexuality, and proclaiming homosexuals a public danger, and declaring that “homosexuals must be eliminated.”

The purging of homosexuals began within the Nazi party itself. Known homosexuals within the party were routed and murdered during the Night of the Long Knives (30 June to 2 July 1934). The Gestapo compiled lists of homosexuals, some of whom weren’t, and ordered all men to conform to German social standards. Those who didn’t were arrested. After the Night of The Long Knives, the Gestapo established a special division whose sole purpose was compiling lists of homosexuals. In 1936, Himmler created the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion.

In January 1934, the Soviet Union began mass arrests of homosexuals in Moscow and Leningrad. In March, they criminalised all sex acts between men as a crime against the State. The penalty for conviction was five years hard labour, most often in Siberia. On 28 June 1935 Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code was expanded to cover, ostensibly, all physical contact between men. The new expanded law saw arrest for homosexuality sky rocket; there were less than 1000 arrests for homosexuality in 1932, and over 8,000 in 1938.

By 1937, Hitler’s propaganda machine was in full swing…and so was the buildup to what would become the holocaust. The political problems Hitler faced at home were well trampled by Goebbels, and in reality Hitler didn’t face many issues at home. The most important thing to remember about Nazi Germany is that everything Hitler did up until 1939, was legal. Hitler was legally appointed chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg (after two successive parliamentary elections hadn’t returned a majority…Germany at this time was a parliamentary republic). Hitler, through the Enabling Act, was legally allowed to pass laws without the the Reichstag, and upon von Hindenburg’s death 2 Aug 1937, legally became führer of Germany. Although Hitler had opponents on home soil, in 1937 the majority of Hitler’s opponents were international…although it would take another year for Hitler to be on an inevitable path to war, most countries realised the foreign policy consequences of what Hitler had achieved so far. Having rearmed Germany against the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, withdrawn from the League of Nations (of with the US was never a part), and reoccupied the demilitarised zone of the Rhineland, Hitler was actually quite popular at home. Germany’s victories during the 1936 summer Olympics only re-enforced Hitler’s propaganda. Hitler’s popularity allowed many to ignore the obviousness of Hitler’s purges. In 1938, Hitler issued a directive which allowed any man convicted of gross indecency to be sent directly to a concentration camp.

The impact of the Depression in the US, UK and rest of Europe was not any less horrific, however, no other country saw the massive political changes that Germany saw. Society demands that its normalcy be maintained, especially in times of political and economic upheaval. The beginnings of freedom that many homosexuals found in the cafes of Paris and London and Edinburgh during the 1920s evaporated in the wake of the Great Depression.

In December 1933, the passage of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution repealed prohibition in the United States. Although alcohol was now legal, except a few local areas that were still dry, it didn’t diminish the social impact morality laws had on the nation. Hollywood saw the biggest moral outcries during the Depression. The Catholic Church, in 1933, called on Catholics to launch a campaign for the purification of cinema. This resulted in the formation of the Legion of Decency, which would boycott films that their ratings board condemned. In 1934, the Hollywood producers’ associated created the Breen Office, which reviewed every scripts optioned by major studios before it was filmed and every film before it was released to confirm it didn’t violate the Code to Govern the Making of Talking, Synchronized and Silent Motion Pictures. Although Hollywood provided a form of escapism from the every day horrors of depression-era America, it was still required to accede to the moral wishes of society.

In the US, the impact of the Depression cemented of the need for moral laws, particularly in rural areas. The areas hardest hit by the Depression saw increasingly conservative, often Christian-based, attitudes solidify in political circles. Cities, which were less devastated, saw an increase of much more liberal social attitudes. Although the rural vs urban political based voting schism could be seen prior to the 1930s, the Great Depression helped to solidify the political patterns that would become important to American politics in the 1950s.

On 1 September 1939 Hitler did the unthinkable, he invaded Poland. The appeasement policy followed by the UK and the rest of Europe during Hitler’s rise to power had been a waste…in hopes of avoiding another war, they inadvertently caused one. The world’s underestimation of the German leader resulted in what no one ever wanted to see again: all out war in Europe. On 2 September, the UK and France issued an ultimatum to Germany: leave Poland by 1100 the next day, or else. At 1115 BST, UK PM Neville Chamberlain announced on BBC Radio that the deadline had passed, and as a result, the UK was at war. Within hours, Australia, New Zealand and India had declared war. At 1500 BST, France declares war. On 4 September, the first offensive of the war begins. War, once again, had come to the world and would, once again, change the political face of Europe.

Part XIV:World at War…again.

[History Note: Once again, I’ve glossed over the details of things….mostly because the details would make this post about the size of 3 posts, AND because the details are less important. Normally, I’d not be so lax, but needs must. ALSO: The pink triangle that would become synonymous with the early gay rights movement was first used by the Nazis to delineate gay men in concentration camps. The triangle was attached, point down, on a camp badge.]

[Point of Fact: Between 1933 and 1945, approximately 100,00 men were arrested, 50,000 officially sentenced. Many served time in regular prisons…between 5,000 and 15,000 were sent to concentration camps. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know how many of those who were sent to concentration camps died, but a leading German scholar, Rüdiger Lautmann, believes it was as many as 60%. What records have survived show that, often, homosexuals were treated even more cruelly than other groups imprisoned in the same camps (details I will NOT post). Some men who survived the camps were re-arrested after the fall of the Third Reich and re-imprisoned by the occupying nations under gross indecency laws, or forced to serve out sentences regardless of time spent in the camps. Some of those who had been incarcerated in regular prisons, and released, were given life long records for ‘immorality convictions’ and were unwelcome in other nations. Some who survived the camps, and weren’t immediately re-arrested, would be arrested at a later date for ‘repeat offences’ and were kept on a list of sex offenders. An indeterminate number of men who evaded the concentration camps, but didn’t evade arrest, were castrated. Not all those who were arrested, convicted, and sentenced to either prison or concentration camps were homosexuals; but those for those who survived and weren’t, it was too late. They were forever labelled.]


10 May 1933 burnings


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