On Holocaust Remembrance Day we recall the genocide of 6 million Jews in state-sponsored extermination by Nazi Germany during World War II. The Nazis also murdered millions of people in other groups, including thousands of gay men and lesbians. Holocaust Remembrance Day, also known as Yom HaShoah, is May 1 this year.
One of those killed was an anonymous 60-year-old gay priest, brutally beaten to death because he refused to stop praying at the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen, Germany. Eyewitness Heinz Heger reported that the murder was so brutal that “I felt I was witnessing the crucifixion of Christ in modern guise.”
Here is the beginning of his tragic story, as told by Heger in his book The Men With the Pink Triangle.
Toward the end of February, 1940, a priest arrived in our block, a man some 60 years of age, tall and with distinguished features. We later discovered that he came from Sudetenland, from an aristocratic German family.
He found the torment of the arrival procedure especially trying, particularly the long wait naked and barefoot outside the block. When his tonsure was discovered after the shower, the SS corporal in charge took up a razor and said "I'll go to work on this one myself, and extend his tonsure a bit." And he saved the priest's head with the razor, taking little trouble to avoid cutting the scalp. quite the contrary.
The priest returned to the day-room of our lock with his head cut open and blood streaming down. His face was ashen and his eyes stared uncomprehendingly into the distance. He sat down on a bench, folded his hands in his lap and said softly, more to himself than to anyone else: "And yet man is good, he is a creature of God!"
The book goes on to recount in heartbreaking detail how the Nazis tortured the priest, hurling anti-gay slurs and beating him to death. More excerpts are available at the Queering the Church Blog in a post titled The Priest With the Pink Triangle.
The priest is honored in the icon above, “Holy Priest Anonymous One of Sachsenhausen.” It was painted by Father William Hart McNichols, a New Mexico artist and Catholic priest who was rebuked by church leaders for making LGBT-affirming icons of unapproved saints. His Anonymous Priest of Sachsenhausen icon appears in his book “The Bride: Images of the Church,” which he co-authored with peace activist Daniel Berrigan.
The icon shows the priest wearing the pink triangle, the badge used by the Nazis to identify prisoners sent to concentration camps for homosexuality. Originally intended as a badge of shame, the pink triangle has become a symbol of pride for the LGBT rights movement.
The pink triangle appears in a variety of monuments that have been built around the world to commemorate LBGT victims of the Nazi regime. Since 1984, more than 20 gay Holocaust memorials have been established in places ranging from San Francisco to Sydney, from Germany to Uruguay. Some are in the actual concentration camp sites, such as the plaque for gay victims in Dachau pictured below.
To see powerful photos of all the queer Holocaust memorials and read the stories behind them, visit:
The logo for the Jesus in Love Blog also shows the face of Jesus in a pink triangle. He joins queer people in transforming suffering into power.
Some lesbians claim the black triangle as their symbol. The Nazis imposed the black triangle on people who were sent to concentration camps for being “anti-social.”
We observe Holocaust Remembrance Day here with the prayer “We All Wear the Triangle” by Steve Carson. It appears in the book “Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies, and Celebrations.” Carson was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches and served congregations in New York, Boston and San Francisco.
One: We are in many ways a culture without memory. The Holocaust, a series of events that occurred just over a generation ago, changed the world forever. Yet by some the Holocaust is forgotten, or seen as irrelevant, or even viewed as something that never happened.
All: As people of faith, we refuse to forget. We refuse to participate in the erasing of history. As a community of faith, we decide to remember, as we hear the historical record from Europe a generation ago and reflect upon events in our own time. We dare to listen to the voices of the past, even as they echo today.
One: In this moment, we are all Jews wearing the yellow Star of David.
All: We are all homosexuals wearing the pink triangle.
One: We are all political activists wearing the red triangle.
All: We are all criminals wearing the green triangle.
One: We are all antisocials wearing the black triangle.
All: We are all Jehovah’s Witnesses wearing the purple triangle.
One: We are all emigrants wearing the blue triangle.
All: We are all gypsies wearing the brown triangle.
One: We are all undesirable, all extendable by the state.
…Leader: To God of both memory and hope, we pledge ourselves to be a people of resistance to the powers of death wherever they may appear, to honor the living and the dead, and to make with them our promise: Never again!
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, heroes and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.