Homosexuality was classed as a “degenerate form of behaviour" in Nazi Germany that threatened the nation’s “disciplined masculinity". Under Nazi law, homosexuality was deemed non-Aryan and as such homosexuals were far more persecuted in Nazi Germany than under the Weimar regime. Ironically it had been the support of Ernst Rőehm, a known homosexual, and his SA followers that had greatly helped Hitler gain power on January 30th 1933.
In June 1935, Paragraph 175 was changed so that it referred to “any unnatural sexual act" with “unnatural" ultimately being determined by the Nazi courts. This change led to a major rise in the number of men arrested. Many were charged with crimes that had previously not been a criminal offence.
Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels made the party’s policy very clear on the night of May 6th 1933:
“We must exterminate these people root and branch; the homosexual must be eliminated."
Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, estimated that there were 2 million homosexuals in Nazi Germany. In a speech given to SS men in February 1937, he compared the campaign against homosexuals to be no different from digging up weeds in a garden. During the speech, Himmler made it clear that if any SS man was found to be homosexual, he would be arrested, publicly humiliated, sent to a concentration camp where he would be shot trying to escape:
Between January 1933 and June 1935, 4,000 men were convicted under the old Paragraph 175 – around 4 a day. From June 1935 to June 1938, 40,000 men were convicted of an “unnatural sex act" – around 54 men each day. Another 10,000 men were arrested from June 1938 to June 1939. By the end of World War Two, it is thought that 100,000 homosexual men had been arrested with 50,000 sent to prison. While figures are vague, it is thought that between 5,000 and 15,000 were sent to concentration camps.
In June 1935 a new law was passed titled: ‘The Amendment to the Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases". This law defined homosexuals as “asocial" and a threat to the moral purity of the Third Reich. If someone was found guilty under this law, a judge was given the right to order the castration of that person. Anyone found guilty of “chronic homosexuality" was sent to a concentration camp.
Under Nazi law the man arrested as a “seducer" was deemed more guilty than the “seduced" and received a longer prison sentence. Those sent to concentration camps had to wear a pink triangle on their clothing. The “seduced", it was believed by the Nazis, could be won round by the use of ‘psychological therapy’. What were called ‘Research Institutes’ were established for this purpose.
Trumped up charges of homosexual behaviour could also be used against someone who had upset the Nazi Party hierarchy. This happened against Helmut Brűckner who was a party regional leader in Silesia. He complained about the activities of the SS in his area, especially their brutality, and was promptly arrested on the orders of Himmler, head of the SS, and charged with gross indecency with an army officer. He was sacked from his post and sentenced to 18 months in prison. The charge simply was not true but no one challenged the veracity of it in the court.
On October 1st 1936 the Nazi Party introduced a new department – the Reich Central Office for Combatting Homosexuality and Abortion. The Gestapo was given the task of hunting out homosexuals – a task it carried out with vigour – and an assumption was made that homosexual behaviour equalled dissidence and opposition to the Reich. Some senior Nazi leaders also believed that homosexuality was contagious and could undermine the Third Reich. Those not imprisoned were sent to state-run mental institutions so that they could be “cured of their illness". Most arrested homosexuals were sent to prison but between 5,000 and 15,000 were sent to concentration camps where they faced a torrid time, more so, according to some survivors, than other inmates. It is thought that proportionate to their numbers in these camps, homosexuals suffered a higher death rate than any other ‘small victim’ group – about 60% according to scholar Rudiger Lautman. During the war, homosexuals were part of the “Extermination Through Work" policy and work camp survivors claim that homosexuals were frequently given the most difficult and dangerous tasks by their SS guards.
During World War Two, experiments were conducted on homosexuals arrested in Occupied Europe. These experiments tried to isolate the “gay gene", as the Nazis called it, in an attempt to find a ‘cure’ for homosexual behaviour. Once these experiments were finished, the victims were invariably castrated.
Lesbians were not widely persecuted by the Nazis as their behaviour was classed as “anti-social" as opposed to “degenerate".
Ironically, after the end of World War Two, homosexuals in the now occupied Germany who had somehow managed to survive their treatment were afforded little if any support as homosexual behaviour was still deemed a criminal offence. In West Germany the law against homosexuals remained in place until 1969.