This film, from the Oscar winning team of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, focused on a 'wartime generation that is fading away'. True if these stories are not told now, they may never be told, but it does not make for easy viewing. In this culture, one 'constructed of memories', a Canadian production and research team found five men who had survived. I say survived, but it seems like a strange word to apply. Oh it's sure that they did, but they are equally crushed and angered by their experiences.
The film was the usual blend of black and white film of quaint looking German hometowns, news footage of the Hitler rallies, and slow pans of the camera over personal photographs, and the men seen as talking heads. While normally, I find this style of presentation staid, it paled as these men revealed their ordeals.
Heinz Doemer, born in 1912, told of his time as a scout master. Backed with a sepia-tinted film of scouts gambolling at camp, he told how he was beaten by members of the Hitler Youth, who were wearing heavy knuckle dusters. Pierre Seel, now 76 years old, explained how most homosexuals believed themselves to be safe as some of Hitler's highest ranking officers were gay. 'Oh everybody knew,' he said, pointing to Ernst Rein, the leader of the Brown Shirts, who was killed - 'justifiably on account of his homosexuality' - during the Night of the Long Knives. And Gad Beck, also 76, recalled how pupils in his class continually referred to the smell of garlic around him, 'the first level of insinuation of being Jewish.'
While Hitler was carefully stating that 'Private life cannot be an object of scrutiny' - unless of course, it conflicted with Nationalist Socialist ideology - the lesbian and gay bars were being closed down, followed by the first transports to Dauchau, and then the book burnings. Propaganda leaflets from anti-Nazi groups, well aware of the superior ranked homosexuals at Hitler's right and left hand, showed them inspecting soldier's backsides and mincing on parade. But the Nazis - particularly Himmler - stepped up persecution, claiming that 7-8% of German men were gay and if homosexual sex was allowed to continue, 'the nation would fall to pieces because of that plague.'
The actual pink triangle that gay men were forced to display on their uniforms was only briefly mentioned. Homosexuals were 'most often classified as Aryan' but considered to be diseased. The 'cure' for this disease was torture, castration and in many cases, death.
While Paragraph 175 was extended in 1935, lesbians were left off the Nazi's wish list, 'disappearing quietly from view, undocumented and untraced.' As the Nazis only saw all women as 'reproductive vessels' I was surprised to hear that lesbians simply evaporated. Surely for the Aryan race to grow and eventually conquer, they wanted as many women producing perfect little German Children of the Damned. And the Nazis needed the gay men to resign to heterosexuality in order to father these children, hence a number of 'reeducation programmes'. It seems odd that the Nazis just ignored this equal 'threat', one which would certainly 'deny German the children' that citizens 'owed', and simply did not document lesbians in the way they did gay men.
Para 175 wasn't repealed until 1968-9. No-one persecuted by the Nazis has received any form of reparation or legal recognition as a victim. And does the Shoah Institute - Stephen Spielberg's project to record every possible testament - recognise gay men or lesbians? The answer's no.
Maybe wisely, the full horrors were restricted for the viewing audience. The stories were told mostly in quiet tones, as the men struggled for words or wrestled with their minds to forget the images that accompanied them, or fought against the biting loss of those close to them who were exterminated. 'It had a different value then, love. A night of love,' said Seel. 'We said goodbye to someone daily.'
Gad Beck told of dressing as Hitler Youth to rescue his lover, only to watch him walk back into custody for the sake of his family. 'I knew,' Beck said, staring into the distance and straining to speak without sobbing, 'that something was forever broken.' One chap (unnamed by the film captions) told of how his lover was eaten by dogs in front of 300 prisoners. Doemer told how SS guards 'stuck 25cm of wood up my arse. Do you think I can talk about that?' he asked, shaking with 40 years' worth of pent up anger. 'That it's good for me? My nerves can't stand it. I'm ashamed for humanity. Ashamed.'
And so much remains untold.
©Megan Radclyffe Publ. Millivres 1998
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