Holocaust Remembrance: We all wear the triangle
A gay priest killed in the Holocaust appears in the icon
"Holy Priest Anonymous one of Sachsenhausen"
"Holy Priest Anonymous one of Sachsenhausen"
By William Hart McNichols ©
International Holocaust Remembrance Day honors the victims of the Nazi era, including the estimated 5,000 to 60,000 sent to concentration camps for homosexuality. The United Nations set the date as Jan. 27 -- the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.
Established by the UN in 2005, International Holocaust Remembrance Day recalls the state-sponsored extermination of 6 million Jews and 11 million others deemed inferior by the Nazis, including 2.5 million Poles and other Slavic peoples, Soviet prisoners of war, Gypsies and others not of the "Aryan race," the mentally ill, the disabled, LGBT people, and religious dissidents such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Catholics. Holocaust Remembrance Day aims to help prevent future genocides.
Artists who address LGBT deaths in the holocaust (or “homocaust”) include Tony O’Connell, Mary Button, William Hart McNichols, Richard Grune, John Bittinger Klomp and those who designed the world's dozens of memorials to LGBT Holocaust victims. Their art is featured here today.
The world's first LGBT Holocaust memorial was the Homomonument, opened in 1987 in the Netherlands. Queer British artist Tony O’Connell made a photo and video record of his prayers and offerings at the Homomonument in Amsterdam on Christmas Day 2014 as part of his contemporary performance art series of LGBT pilgrimages.
Holocaust Memorial Pilgrimage to Homomonument in Amsterdam by Tony O'Connell
O'Connell visits historical sites such as to the Harvey Milk Metro station in San Francisco, New York City's Stonewall Inn, and the Alan Turing Memorial Bench in Manchester. Democratizing the idea of sacredness and reclaiming the holiness in ordinary life, especially in LGBT experience, are major themes in O'Connell's work. Based in Liverpool, O’Connell was raised in the Roman Catholic church, but has been a practicing Buddhist since 1995. For more info about O’Connell’s art, see my previous post Codebreaker Alan Turing honored in queer pilgrimage by artist Tony O’Connell.
Persecution of LGBT people during the Holocaust is juxtaposed with Jesus falling under the weight of his cross in the image at the top of this post: Station 3 from “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button. The painting features headshots of men who were arrested for homosexuality under Paragraph 175 of the German criminal code and sent to concentration camps between 1933 and 1945.
Jesus falls the first time and Nazis ban homosexual groups in Station 3 from “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button, courtesy of Believe Out Loud
Using bold colors and collage, Button puts Jesus' suffering into a queer context by matching scenes from his journey to Golgotha with milestones from the last 100 years of LGBT history. For an overview of all 15 paintings in the LGBT Stations series, see my article LGBT Stations of the Cross shows struggle for equality.
Richard Grune, a trained artist sent to Nazi concentration camps for homosexuality, also saw a connection between Christ’s Passion and the suffering of people in the camps. After being imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and Flossenbürg, he created “Passion of the 20th Century,” a set of lithographs depicting the nightmare of life in the camps. Published in 1947, it is considered one of the most important visual records of the camps to appear in the immediate postwar years.
“Solidarity.” Richard Grune lithograph from a limited edition series “Passion des XX Jahrhunderts” (Passion of the 20th Century). Grune was prosecuted under Paragraph 175 and from 1937 until liberation in 1945 was incarcerated in concentration camps. In 1947 he produced a series of etchings detailing what he witnessed in the camps. Grune died in 1983. (Credit: Courtesy Schwules Museum, Berlin) (US Holocaust Museum)
The Nazis also denounced and attacked lesbians, but usually less severely and less systematically than they persecuted male homosexuals. Their history is told online in the article Lesbians and the Third Reich at the US Holocaust Museum. 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.”
Identification pictures of Henny Schermann, a shop assistant in Frankfurt am Main. In 1940 police arrested Henny, who was Jewish and a lesbian, and deported her to the Ravensbrueck concentration camp for women. She was killed in 1942. Ravensbrueck, Germany, 1941. (US Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archives)
Nazis used the pink triangle to identify male 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.
A recent painting on the theme is “Pink Triangle” by John Bittinger Klomp, a gay artist based in Florida.
“Pink Triangle” by John Bittinger Klomp, 2012
“The Pink Triangle was part of the system of triangles used by the Nazis during World War II to denote various peoples they deemed undesirable, and included Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals,” Klomp said. The painting is part of his “Gay Dictionary Series” on words and symbols related to being gay.
The pink triangle appears in a variety of monuments that have been built around the world to commemorate LBGT victims of the Nazi regime. In January 2014 Israel'sfirst memorial for LGBT victims of the Holocaust was unveiled in Tel Aviv. 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.
Plaque for gay victims at Dachau concentration camp by nilexuk
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.
The last surviving man to wear the pink triangle in the concentration camps was Rudolf Brazda, who died in 2011 at age 98. His story is told in the video below and in his obituary at the New York Times.
Another of those who wore the pink triangle 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.”
The priest is honored in the icon at the top of this post, “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.
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 award-winning 1979 play “Bent” by Martin Sherman helped increase awareness of Nazi persecution of gays, leading to more historical research and education. A film version of “Bent” was made in 1997 with an all-star British cast including Clive Owen, Mick Jagger and Jude Law. Its title comes from the European slang word “bent” used as a slur for homosexuals.
In recent years new memoirs of gay Holocaust survivors have been published and queer theory has brought new understanding of the Gay Holocaust as not just atrocities, but also a system of social control. New books include:
I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual: A Memoir of Nazi Terror by Pierre Seel (2011)
Lost Intimacies: Rethinking Homosexuality under National Socialism by William J. Spurlin (2008)
An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin by Gad Beck (2000)
The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals by Richard Plant (1988) -- first comprehensive book on the subject
Josef Jaeger by Jere' M Fishback (young adult novel based partly on the life of Jürgen Ohlsen, Nazi propaganda film star who turned out to be gay)
International Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed 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!
Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-45 (US Holocaust Museum)
Lesbians and the Third Reich (US Holocaust Museum)
Pink Triangle (Qualia Encyclopedia of Gay Folklife)
Persecution of Homosexuals in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust (Wikipedia)
Holocaust Memorial Day: The Nazi Bid to Exterminate Gay People by Peter Tatchell (Huffington Post)
The Holocaust's Forgotten Victims: The 5 Million Non-Jewish People Killed By The Nazis by Louise Ridley (Huffington Post)
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.