The word “Holocaust” calls to mind horrific images or thoughts for even those who were not alive during World War II. But the word “Homocaust” may not ring as many awful bells.
Associate Professor Emeritus Geoffrey Giles of the UF Department of History denounced the term as fictitious and an exaggeration of the nature of prosecution of homosexuals in his speech “Persecution but no Homocaust: The Homosexual Problem in Nazi Germany” at this year’s Jack Chester Foundation Symposium at USF.
Giles spoke to a nearly full Traditions Hall at the USF Alumni Center on Tuesday about what exactly the “problem” was with homosexuals during the Third Reich.
However, Giles, the director of the Holocaust Educational Foundation’s regular study seminars in Eastern Europe, said that the extent of the persecution of homosexuals would not warrant the term “Homocaust.”
“The Nazis never tried to wipe out every homosexual in Germany,” he said. “(Though), they might have liked to do that.”
The issue began with the German states that had decriminalized sodomy after being overcome by Napoleon. The Weimar Republic, Giles said, was somewhat of an “El Dorado” for homosexual Germans.
Gay bars abounded, and reasonable doubt was as much defense against accusations of homosexuality as one needed, even when the Reich Penal Code was amended to include a section known as Paragraph 175, which outlawed “unnatural indecency between men …”
“They couldn’t ever really figure out how to identify who was a homosexual,” he said.
Unlike in the case of the Jewish people, there were not large volumes of written records by which homosexual individuals could be identified, much to the dismay of Heinrich Himmler.
The Reich Leader of the SS, Himmler was staunchly anti-gay and opposed the proposal to appoint Ernst Rohm, co-founder of the Nazi militia, the Storm Battalion, to lead the Hitler Youth.
Another huge part of the problem was that many Nazi soldiers and officials were homosexual. Among this number was Rohm, who was openly gay and a close confidant of Hitler’s.
Interestingly, Giles said, Hitler was not openly opposed to homosexuals in the Third Reich. Until homosexuals began to be portrayed as a threat to the Aryan race because they “threatened” the rates of reproduction, homosexuality was not a terrible crime.
In fact, until 1935, the German courts only recorded about 2,100 convictions on the grounds of homosexuality. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “100,000 men were arrested as homosexuals.” Half of these men denied the accusations, but most spent some period of time in prison, and between 5,000 and 15,000 were incarcerated in concentration camps.
Giles pointed out that, though these numbers were drastically higher during the war than before or long after, the persecution of gay men and — to some extent —women was far from systematic.
Accusations of homosexuality served much the same purpose as accusations of communism during the Red Scare. Giles spoke of one case he had researched where a young German college student was expelled and dismissed as Treasurer of the Nazi organization on his school’s campus when some of his rivals suggested that he brushed against them in a suspicious way.
Near the end of his speech, Giles made a point to state that the homosexual community would likely have been the next large group targeted by the Nazi, had they won the war.
“There might have been — if we had not defeated the Nazis — a ‘Homocaust,’” he said.
Giles’ speech was sponsored by a grant received by Matt Knight, the coordinator of special collections at the USF Library.
The grant, an $8,000 allocation from the Jack Chester Foundation, was to be spread over two years for “Holocaust education.”
“Last year, we had four Holocaust survivors … talk about how educating the public had change them over the years,” Knight said. “This year we decided to, in October, have an LGBT event that coalesced with the Holocaust and Genocide studies center.”
The symposium was the result of a collaboration between the Jack Chester Foundation, the USF Library Holocaust and Genocide Studies Center, and the Florida Holocaust Museum.