Through September 5, a special exhibit at the Dallas Holocaust Museum is dedicated to some of the lesser-known victims of the Holocaust: gay men.
Paragraph 175 was a provision of the German Criminal Code that made homosexual acts between men illegal, and roughly 140,000 German men were convicted under this law. At least 10,000 men were sent to concentration camps and died there. The exhibit traces the devastating effects of Paragraph 175 on German men. We caught up with Alice Murray, President and CEO of the museum, to ask a few questions about the exhibit.
What's the reaction to the exhibit been like so far? Really good. We've doubled our attendance over last year in the three weeks since it's been here. A ton of the people that come in come in specifically to see that exhibit.
What do you think accounts for such intense interest? The gay/lesbian community has embraced it and started talking about it. It's not often that you see a mainstream museum discussing a gay/lesbian topic. But at the same time, we're not noticing the visitorship being specifically just the gay and lesbian community.
We've only known about [the Nazi persecution of homosexuals] since the '90s. This exhibit pulls together hundreds of documents, arrests warrants, mug shots and statistics about what was happening to homosexual men then.
My understanding is that most of the documentation of what happened comes from records kept by the Nazis. The Nazis did keep very good records. A lot of the evidence comes directly from their record-keeping.
Ten to 11 million total people were murdered in the Holocaust. By the time they liberated the camps, there were only about 50,000 left to liberate. Many of the survivors were either killed on the way back to their hometown by people who still hated Jews or homosexuals, or ate themselves to death because they were so hungry. So there weren't a whole lot of eyewitnesses, and none of them wanted to talk about it. They were humiliated.
It was [not until] 1959 they really started using the word "Holocaust." No one was interested, no one believed it. It was too far-fetched to be real. Then people started turning in their photographs, people who didn't even know each other were telling the same story, and evidence started to build.
The real trial that put it on the world scene was the Eichmann trial. It was 50 years ago that happened. That's when the world started hearing about it. That's when people realized this was real.
It took a long time for people to find the strength in each other to say, "We should talk about this."
Why were gay men targeted in Nazi Germany, while lesbians were generally spared? The lesbians were spared because the Germans still felt like they were able to bear children. They were trying to increase the numbers as fast as they could of the Aryan race. They didn't think they should be killing anyone who was a woman who could be bearing children, so they didn't arrest any lesbians.
Is there any way to estimate the number of homosexual prisoners who died in the camps? It's probably somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000, which still pales compared to the six million Jews. It's hard to piece that together, though, because those records evidently aren't as precise as Jewish ones were.
Everything the Nazis did, they made sure was legal. Paragraph 175 gave them the license to imprison homosexuals in the camps. Once they were there, they just had to break a few rules to get them murdered in the camps.
What was the treatment of gay men and lesbians like in pre-Nazi Germany? I don't know that there were a lot of openly gay people. [In] the cabarets in Germany, there was open homosexuality as part of the decadence of cabaret. They were also doing drugs, drinking and having sex with a lot of other people. It wasn't necessarily authentic homosexuality, and it was confined to the interior of cabaret. One the street, there wasn't a lot of open homosexuality, or open heterosexuality either, for that matter.
In fact, one of Hitler's leaders, General Rohm, the general in charge of the SA, was homosexual. They caught him in bed with other men. But he wasn't doing it openly. He ended up getting murdered by Hitler and the army because they thought he was attempting a coup.
But from what I understand, no one was openly gay, or demonstrably so. They barely are now, almost 75 years later.
A message board on a white power website has linked to the description of the exhibit, basically to make fun of it. Were you aware of that? Have you been facing any harassment because of the nature of this exhibit? No, I wasn't aware of it. We haven't faced any harassment, not at all. We are occasionally targeted for crank phone calls, though, just from being a Jewish organization.
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The worst I've heard that's happened, one elderly couple came in, saw what the exhibit was about, and just threw their hands up and said, "Let's not go in there."
How are you linking the historical material in the exhibit with a discussion of the modern LGBT community? It's not linked in the exhibit. The exhibit is strictly 1933-1945. The gay and lesbian community can do that on their own. We're encouraging them to reserve the exhibit room for their own receptions if they'd like to bring their own information to that. Last week we had Texas Instruments' diversity council. They had a two- or three-hour reception and conversation about it. That's the best way, when a group gets together and says, "Let's talk about this."
We never try to make our own conclusions from what people see. It's up to them to make the conclusions. We just want to make sure the intolerance and the discrimination ends.
Call 214-741-7500 or visit dallasholocaustmuseum.org for more information.