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By the 1920's, Berlin had become known as a homosexual eden, where gay men and lesbians lived relatively open lives amidst an exciting subculture of artists and intellectuals. With the coming to power of the Nazis, all this changed. Between 1933 and 1945 100,000 men were arrested for homosexuality under Paragraph 175, the sodomy provision of the German penal code dating back to 1871. Some were imprisoned, others were sent to concentration camps. Of the latter, only about 4,000 survived. Today, fewer than ten of these men are known to be living. Five of them have now come forward to tell their stories for the first time in this powerful new film. The Nazi persecution of homosexuals may be the last untold story of the Third Reich. Paragraph 175 fills a crucial gap in the historical record, and reveals the lasting consequences of this hidden chapter of 20th century history, as told through personal stories of men and women who lived through it: the half Jewish gay resistance fighter who ... Written by
"An unnatural sex act committed between persons of the male sex or by humans with animals is punishable by imprisonment; the loss of civil rights may also be imposed." (Paragraph 175, German Penal Code, 1871) See more »
"I didn't even know why I was being sent to the camps!"
Paragraph 175 is a powerful documentary that deals with a provocative subject. I just wish filmmakers Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein had fleshed out the subject a bit more. While this film about gay men who were persecuted and imprisoned under the Nazi regime, is in many respects absorbing, the film ultimately suffers from an overly narrow and constricted focus.
Perhaps the problem was that there were just not enough men alive today who were willing to talk about their experiences. From the outset, the pool of interviewees was certainly going to be limited, but also limited is the actual archival footage of life in the concentration camps.
Instead the directors have chosen to pepper the film with well-preserved family photographs, and lively footage of gay and lesbian culture blossoming during the days of the Weimar Republic after WW1. Sensitively narrated by British actor Rupert Everett, Paragraph 175 is all about the German penal code, which was originally enacted in 1871, and later used by the Nazis, to outlaw homosexuality.
The penal code stated: "An unnatural sex act committed between persons of male sex is punishable by imprisonment; the loss of civil rights may also be imposed," But Paragraph 175 was never really enforced until the Nazi's came to power. This documentary centers on six emotional accounts of the most elderly and frail survivors of the concentration camps who, up until now, have repressed their stories.
There's a Jewish gay resistance fighter who posed as a Hitler Youth member to rescue his lover from a Gestapo transfer camp in an ultimately futile effort; a photographer who was arrested and imprisoned for homosexuality, who upon his release joined the army because of the lack of men in his hometown and he "wanted to be with men." There's a young man who was freed from a sentence at Dachau only to be interned again at Buchenwald, and a Frenchman imprisoned from Alsace, who breaks down after telling of being raped and subject to inhuman torture. Their stories are indeed heart wrenching, because unlike the Jews, they have forced to live quietly, unable to share their horrific experiences for so long.
It is interesting to note that the penal code didn't cover lesbians. The Nazis considered lesbians to be "curable." Women were regarded, as vessels of motherhood - increasing the German population was top priority - therefore, they were exempt from mass arrest. Most lesbians went into exile or quietly married gay men. One woman, who tells her story in the film, was given exit papers and was lucky enough to escape to England.
The statistics are staggering: Between 1933 and 1945, some 100,000 men were arrested for homosexuality, roughly half of them were sentenced to prison, and from 10,000 to 15,000 were sent to concentration camps. The camps were used for re-education, slave labor, castration and sadistic medical experiments. It's believed only about 4,000 survived their ordeal.
The situation didn't improve after the war. Paragraph 175 remained in force until the late sixties, so many gay men were re-imprisoned and subject to repeated persecution. In this respect, Epstein and Friedman should be largely commended for bringing this subject to the attention of the world, and telling these powerful personal stories before the last survivors die. Mike Leonard September 05
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