Sunday, November 10, 2013

Book Review: Branded by the Pink Triangle

As some of you may remember, I'm very passionate about the "forgotten" victims of the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, such as the Roma and gay men. Thanks to the Jewish Book Council, I got a free copy of the book Branded by the Pink Triangle, which is a very short book about the Nazi experience of gay men. The book is so short, probably because of the fact that gay victims of the Nazis were perceived to be criminals, as homosexual activity was still criminalized in most of the Western world until the last few decades. 

(As this is an orthodox blog, I want to point out that regardless of what one believes the Torah says about homosexuals, it is not inconsistent to believe that a government has no authority to criminalize such behavior or thoughts. But you might be reminded of this current news story: "No gays in my town, thank Gd," Says Orthodox Mayor of Beit Shemesh. Let's just point out that the actual quote was “We have none of those things [gays] here. Thank God, this city is holy and pure.” Glad to know gays weren't created in Gd's image and have no status as a human being. /rant)

In short, the book is interesting, shocking, and a quick read. But I want to take the time to tell you some of the infuriating information I learned.

Like most places, Germany criminalized homosexual behavior under a law called Paragraph 175. The Nazis increased the penalty, making this a felony. They explained their position towards the gay community in 1928:
It is not necessary that you and I live, but it is necessary that the German people live. And it can live if it can fight, for life means fighting. And it can only fight if it maintains its masculinity. It can only maintain its masculinity if it exercises discipline, especially in matters of love. Free love and deviance are undisciplined. Therefore, we reject you, as we reject anything which hurts our people.
Anyone who even thinks of homosexual love is our enemy.
We reject anything that emasculates our people and makes it a plaything for our enemies, for we know that life is a fight, and it is madness to think that men will ever embrace fraternally. Natural history teaches us the opposite. Might makes right. The strong will always win over the weak. Let us see to it that we once again become the strong! But this we can achieve only in one way - the German people must once again learn how to exercise discipline. We therefore reject any form of lewdness, especially homosexuality, because it robs us of our last chance to free our people from the bondage which now enslaves it.
The gays were undesireables. (But hey, at least lesbians weren't as threatening, so they could be considered just "antisocial" when they were sent to the camps - though in much lesser numbers.) Interestingly, that same rationale meant that the Nazis didn't persecute gays "as much" in "non-Aryan" communities because they hoped the gay community would help speed up the internal rot within, say, the Polish community. 

There are no known statistics for how many Jewish victims were gay. However, once the Nazis turned their full attention to the "Jewish Problem," things became somewhat better for the gay community as a whole.

So their intimidation, imprisonment, and suffering in the concentration camps was awful. Sure. So was the Jews' and everyone else's experience. Or as you might say (and as I have heard some in the Jewish community say)... "big deal." 

What really grinds my gears is what happened after the war. Once "liberated," the pink triangle prisoners with time left on their "sentence" were removed from the camps back to the prisons. They're criminals, after all. I guess that liberating armies didn't think the Nazis' policies were ALL bad. While the gypsy populations were actually liberated, they remain stigmatized and treated like criminals even today. But we actually took gay concentration camp victims and placed them in prison. It seems like any victim of a concentration camp has more than served any sentence a court of law could impose. But homosexuality was still a crime in the countries of the liberating armies.

According to the book, the West German authorities arrested "more than 100,000 men" for homosexuality between 1949-1969. Those who were pink triangles in the camps were sentenced more harshly because they were "repeat offenders." These men who suffered the horrors of the camps were considered felons when they went home, and were treated as such. "They were not able to work in the civil service, lost their academic and professional degrees, and were unable to vote. But they were the lucky men arrested under Paragraph 175 - they were still alive."

The German government did not recognize gays as victims of the Nazis until 2001. Until that recognition, gay victims could not claim any compensation for their treatment. Even then, most victims were dead or still unwilling to "out" themselves. The last known Pink Triangle died in 2011, and the last known gay Jewish survivor died in 2012. But it's never too late to acknowledge their suffering and honor their memory.


  1. I had no idea about any of this, I'm horrified. Thanks for sharing this book, I'm going to look it up.

  2. The behavior of the Germans was horrible.

    There is a mishnah in Avoda Zara that states that we are prohibited from helping idolators build high platforms that are used to execute people. Why? Because their judges are corrupt and there is no such thing as due process. One can certainly say that this was the case for gays under the Nazis and afterwards.

    But, you are absolutely wrong when you state, "I want to point out that regardless of what one believes the Torah says about homosexuals, it is not inconsistent to believe that a government has no authority to criminalize such behavior or thoughts." Sodomy between men is prohibited for non-Jews (7 Noachide Laws) and is subject to the death penalty by the Sanhedrin. Another of the 7 Noachide laws requires non-Jews to set up courts to judge the 7 Noachide Laws. Therefore, it is required by halacha for non-Jewish governments to forbid homosexual behavior and to set up courts to punish people who engage in it. Ask your Rabbi....

    1. It is not that clear as you make it seem.

      First, there are various opinions on what is actually prohibited as "mishkav zachar", not only homosexuality, but some say it is castration, some say it is rape of men, and you can find other opinions.

      Second, it is far from clear that what counts as arayot in Judaism should all be forbidden for gentiles. The rules for idolatry are not the same, why should arayot be? There have been many, many different interpretation of the Noachidic rules over time. Don't only read Chabad.

      Third, it is then also required for non-Jewish courts to punish blasphemy or the eating of raw oisters. Do you start a campaign for enforcing that?

    2. Exactly, the Noachide laws are not at all clear and there is much debate over what they include.

    3. There are people who's faith tells them to kill Jews. Therefore, since it is within their faith, should everyone help them do it?

      What a despicable thing to endorse. Shame on you. If your rabbi is endorsing this you should find a new rabbi.

  3. Thank you for this thought-provoking post. Indeed these people need to be remembered just as any other survivor of such atrocities does. I too am going to look up this book.

  4. As someone who is gay, ethnically Roma, and looking into Judaism (though Reform. LOVE your blog, BTW) I find it refreshing to see that you care enough to say something. I've encountered many people in both the Roma and Jewish communities who shrug off what gay men had to go thought because "At least it wasn't a genocide". Of course, I've also seen some heated arguments between Roma and Jews about who has/had it worse. Guess I'm in for a fun ride.