Berlin has an incredible number of memorials, museums, and “documentation centers” that address the history and consequences of the Nazis but one that can be easily overlooked is the “Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism” (Denkmal für die im Nationalsozialismus verfolgten Homosexuellen) installed in the Tiergarten (Berlin’s Central Park) in 2008. From a distance, it looks like a grey concrete slab. It’s not until you walk around it that you notice a small window in which a short video plays in a loop. Even after watching it, you wouldn’t be sure what you’ve experienced until you found the low interpretive panel placed off to the side. It reads:
In German: Im nationalsozialistischen Deutschland fand eine Homosexuellen-Verfolgung onhe gleichen in der Geschichte statt. . . .
In English: In Nazi Germany, homosexuality was persecuted to a degree unprecedented in history. In 1935, the National Socialists issued an order making all male homosexuality a crime; the provisions governing homosexual behavior in Section 175 of the Criminal Code were significantly expanded and made stricter. A kiss was enough reason to prosecute. There were more than 50,000 convictions. Under Section 175, the punishment was imprisonment; in some cases, convicted offenders were castrated. Thousands of men were sent to concentration camps for being gay; many of them died there. They died of hunger, disease and abuse or were the victims of targeted killings.
The National Socialists destroyed the communities of gay men and women. Female homosexuality was not prosecuted, except in annexed Austria; the National Socialists did not find it as threatening as male homosexuality. However, lesbians who came into conflict with the regime were also subject to repressive measures. Under the Nazi regime, gay men and women lived in fear and under constant pressure to hide their sexuality.
For many years, the homosexual victims of National Socialism were not included in public commemorations—neither in the Federal Republic of German nor in the German Democratic Republic. In both East and West Germany, homosexuality continued to be prosecuted for many years. In the Federal Republic, Section 175 remained in force without amendment until 1969.
Because of its history, German has a special responsibility to actively oppose the violation of gay men’s and lesbians’ human rights. In many parts of the world, people continue to be persecuted for their sexuality, homosexual love remains illegal and a kiss can be dangerous.
With this memorial, the Federal Republic of Germany intends to honour the victims of persecution and murder, to keep alive the memory of this injustice, and to create a lasting symbol of opposition to enmity, intolerance and the exclusion of gay men and lesbians.