Branded by the Pink Triangle
by Ken Setterington
A review of the book detailing the gay community within the concentration camps. today, cause no one else will talk about them
<i>Before the rise of the Nazi party, Germany, especially Berlin, was one of the most tolerant places for homosexuals in the world. Activists, including Thomas Mann and Albert Einstein, campaigned openly for the rights of gay men and women, and tried to repeal the old existing law against homosexuality. But all that would change when the Nazis came to power and existence for gay people turned into one of fear. Raids, arrests, prison sentences and expulsions became the daily reality. When the concentration camps were built, homosexuals were imprisoned along with Jews and any other groups the Nazis wanted to suppress.</i>
I read this book last year and I read it very quickly because I simply could not put it down. This book deals with the treatment of gay individuals during the second world war within Germany. This sort of thing has been lost to history because in figures those detained for being homosexual were nowhere near the number of Jews systematically murdered. We are conditioned to think of the holocaust as simply the murder of Jews but that is simply wrong. The holocaust was a mass attempt at genocide against anyone that Hitler and his followers did not deem worthy of life. That included travellers, Jews, homosexuals, communists, political activists, anyone deemed too religious, eastern Europeans deemed less worthy, non-aryans…ie most people. To make the holocaust simply about Jews does a disservice to its other victims of which there were many, hundreds of thousands, if not millions. These victims were the ones that simply didn’t appear on records. We can only guess.
I decided to write this on holocaust memorial day mostly because it reminded me that I had read this book. Then I thought of how most of the documentaries and commentaries will focus on the main group impacted in the Jewish population. I was also outraged that any documentaries talking about it will not appear until late tonight. That strikes me as wrong.
I have a genuine fascination with the Weimar Republic aka the time in Germany before Hitler came to power. They had the most democratic constitution in the world and yet still succumbed to Nazism. I think anyone can see how that alone could be fascinating. But they also had a vibrant society that was so liberal before the Great Depression. Berlin was a hub of accepting people who hung out at clubs and cafes and could be open with sexuality.
I loved reading the memories of that and getting a first person point of view of just how that happened. Berlin was seen as the hotspot of Europe for people just wanting to be themselves and yet it became their prison. Even within the camps they were treated as less than others. Homophobia created a hierarchy of prisoners. No one wants to talk about that though. No one wants to think that maybe the Jews in the camps did something wrong. Stories from others out of the camps show it was a dog eat dog world or perhaps more importantly one dog eats and the other starves.
Not all victims were equal. People did not just forget their upbringing or politics when within the camp. And as the book says gays or those accused of being so were branded by the pink triangle. It is a humanizing piece. Those put into camps with that triangle have never received a pay off. Most of the time they are never even acknowledged. For the most part it is like they do not even exist.
And that is why I take this day to talk about them. Because today will talk about everyone else.