By Halley Cohen
Director, GLOE – GLBT Outreach & Engagement
This Thursday, we observe Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, but for decades, LGBT people were not recognized among the groups of victims, and omitted from the Day’s observances. This erasure is why, when we now say, “never forget,” it needs to specifically include those who wore the pink triangle in the camps, the designation of “homosexual.”
The colors were not just for sorting, but rather, each functioned as a quick visual cue of your ranking in the hierarchy of the camps. The ranking had implications for your treatment and the likelihood of your survival. Homosexuals ranked at the bottom with Jews, both receiving the worst treatment and a mortality rate estimated at 50-60%.
However, unlike the Jewish prisoners, at the end of the war homosexuals were not released from the camps.
We never want to weigh suffering among groups to create some kind of hierarchy of pain. Still, for those of us who fall into both of these “worst treatment” categories, Yom Hashoah is particularly resonant, knowing that after the war, as the world “discovered” what had been happening to the Jews in the camps, that the horrors were not yet over for LGBT people.
Still seen as deviants or criminals or ill, gay prisoners often were either not released, or immediately put into prisons for the crime of homosexuality.
These “criminals” were not pardoned by German lawmakers until 2002.
That is, if they managed to survive the war in the first place. Not only were they a favorite of the German soldiers for target practice, for the hardest work details, and for surgical experiments (similar to the Jewish experience), gay men were also routinely beaten to death by fellow prisoners.
It is little surprise that we know much less about their experiences than those of others in the camps:
“Reading the many reports and asking the prisoners’ committees (which still exist today) about the prisoners with the pink triangles, one repeatedly learns that they were there, but nobody can tell you anything about them. Quantitative analysis offers a sad explanation for the extraordinary lack of visibility: the individual pink-triangle prisoner was likely to live for only a short time in the camp and then to disappear from the scene.” -Ruediger Lautmann, in his sociological research
We can only imagine how long those of us who would’ve worn a pink and yellow star would’ve lasted.
In their memory, we can all learn about – and make part of any Holocaust remembrance conversation - what happened to all of those who had another color triangle sewn to their yellow one.