Yom Hashoah and the Pink Triangle

By Halley Cohen
Director, GLOE – GLBT Outreach & Engagement

credit: US Holocaust Memorial Museum

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.

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Bernard-Henri Lévy coming to DC via Tblisi and Gori

UPDATED: This event has sold-out, but you can submit a question for BHL and have it answered online.

This year’s Gerald L. Bernstein Memorial Lecture will be delivered Saturday, September 20 by Bernard-Henri Lévy at La Maison Française at the Embassy of France. His new book, Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism, “scrutinizes the totalitarianisms of the past as well as those on the horizon, and argues powerfully for a new political and moral vision for our times.”

Although BHL (as he is known in France) came to greater American attention only in 2003 for his investigative book, Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, he has for decades been a leading philosopher/journalist in France who cut his teeth covering the 1971 Bangladeshi War of Independence from Pakistan. So perhaps it is not surprising that he was recently in Georgia to observe the situation on the ground in Tblisi and Gori which he recounts in the Huffington Post:

As we approach Gori, the situation is different, the tension is suddenly palpable. Georgian jeeps are sprawled in the ditches on the sides of the road. Farther along is a burnt-out tank. Even farther along is a more important check point which completely blocks the group of journalists we have joined. And it is here that we are clearly told that we are no longer welcome, “You are in Russian territory now,” barks an officer puffed up with importance. “Only those with Russian accreditation may go farther.”

The post ranges from the war-torn streets of Gori and Kaspi to the inner-sanctum of besieged Georgian President Saakashvili to a suprising admission from a Russian General regarding Israel’s support for the Georgian army, “We summoned the Israeli Foreign Minister to Moscow. And he was told that if he continues to supply arms to the Georgians we would continue to supply Hezbollah and Hamas.” BHL concludes his essay with a moral charge sure to resonate with the themes of his talk on September 20, “Either we are capable of raising our voice and saying STOP to Putin in Georgia. Or the man who went, in his own words, “down into the toilets” to kill the civilians in Chechnya will feel he has the right to do the same thing to any one of his neighbors. Is this how we will build Europe, peace and the world of tomorrow?”

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