It is the first time that queer victims are the focus of the Holocaust Remembrance Day, which the Bundestag celebrates every year with an event on January 27th.
With a solemn hour of remembrance, the German Bundestag commemorated the Holocaust Remembrance Day of the victims of National Socialist persecution on Friday. For the first time, the focus was on persecuted homosexuals and other members of sexual minorities. This group of victims “had to fight for their recognition for a long time,” said Bundestag President Bärbel Bas (SPD) in her speech.
A sign against discrimination
Many homosexual men were sentenced to long prison terms during the Nazi era, forced to be sterilized and often murdered in concentration camps, Bas recalled. But “even lesbian women were by no means safe from persecution,” she added.
In addition, the end of National Socialism did not bring an end to state persecution for queer people, the ban on homosexuality continued to apply. It was not until 1994 that paragraph 175 of the criminal law was completely deleted. “It took many years before all judgments were overturned,” said the President of the Bundestag. It was also late in remembering this part of the history of the persecution.
“We commemorate all the people who were persecuted, robbed, humiliated, marginalized, disenfranchised, tortured and murdered by the National Socialists,” emphasized Bas. Specifically, she named Jews, victims of German occupation and the policy of extermination, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, Sinti and Roma, victims of euthanasia, people being persecuted because of their political convictions or beliefs, members of sexual minorities, those defamed as “asocial”, prisoners of war, resistance fighters and fighters, forced laborers.
“Many of the victims of the German war of annihilation in the east were Ukrainians,” said Bas. She was shocked that “Holocaust survivors were also killed by the current Russian attacks on Ukraine”. Holocaust survivor, chairman of the All-Ukrainian Union of Jews and current war refugee Boris Zabarko attended the memorial event.
“Never again” – that is an order
Bas urged commemoration of the crimes committed in the name of National Socialism. “I am also concerned about attempts to relativize the uniqueness of the Holocaust,” said the President of the Bundestag. “There can be no line,” she clarified.
“Anti-Semitism and antiziganism, racism and other forms of group-related enmity are increasing,” she said, also against current discrimination – against Jews, but also against homosexuals. “It’s a shame for our country,” Bas pointed out. “Never again” – that is an order. For all of us. Every day,” she clarified.
The Jewish Holocaust survivor Rozette Kats told the memorial event about the fate of her family who were murdered in Auschwitz. She expressly welcomed the commemoration of the queer victims of National Socialism, because “I see important similarities with my own life”. Kats herself survived under a false identity in Amsterdam.
Other speeches recalled the fates of victims of National Socialism, whose life stories are exemplary for the persecution of sexual minorities – Mary Pünjer and Karl Gorath for the time of National Socialism and Klaus Schirdewahn for the time afterwards.
January 27th is the day the concentration camp Auschwitz in Poland was liberated by Soviet troops in 1945. 1.3 people were deported there by the National Socialists and mostly murdered immediately after their arrival, including around a million Jews. Auschwitz is “the epitome of the Holocaust,” said Bas.