Gays Excluded From Auschwitz Commemoration
A thousand Holocaust survivors, the Presidents of Israel, Russia, France, Germany and Poland, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, and Prince Edward of the United Kingdom, attended the Auschwitz ceremony.
Israeli President Moshe Katsav called the camp "the largest graveyard of the Jewish people." Between 1.1 million and 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, were put to death in Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi death camps.
Alongside Jews, gays, Gypsies (Roma and Sinti), Soviet prisoners of war and Poles were killed at Auschwitz. Partial analyses of official Nazi records indicate that as many as 15,000 gay men perished in concentration camps. But independent scholars think this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The director of the Museum of the Former Camp of Auschwitz did not reply to a request from Poland's gay activist NGO Campaign against Homophobia to lay a wreath to the gay victims. Neither was the Campaign's delegation officially admitted to the ceremony of commemoration.
"Homosexuals are the only group murdered at Auschwitz whose representatives were not invited to the ceremony of the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the camp," reported next day Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's biggest daily.
In Brussels, members of the European Parliament stood in a minute of silence to pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust and to mark the anniversary. The European Parliament also passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and racism and paying tribute to the victims of Nazi Germany, including gays.
The draft resolution said: "(...) the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where hundreds of thousands of Jews, Roma, homosexuals, Poles and other prisoners of various nationalities were murdered, is not only a major occasion for European citizens to remember and condemn the enormous horror and tragedy of the Holocaust, but also for addressing the disturbing rise in anti-Semitism, and especially anti-Semitic incidents, in Europe, and for learning anew the wider lessons about the dangers of victimizing people on the basis of race, ethnic origin, religion, politics, or sexual orientation."
Poland's European Parliament members immediately protested against the list of Auschwitz victims, where gays preceded Poles. Polish deputy Wojciech Roszkowski told the Brussels body: "The life of every human is equally important, but when we speak of big numbers, putting the Jewish, Roma, homosexual and Polish victims together borders on the absurd." Poland's largely chauvinistic and homophobic media echoed the protest. In the final text of the resolution approved by the European Parliament, gay victims were placed at the end of the list. At this week's ceremony at Auschwitz, on Polish soil, gay victims were not mentioned at all.
But history cannot be erased: "The Nazi campaign against homosexuality targeted the more than one million German men who, the state asserted, carried a 'degeneracy' that threatened the 'disciplined masculinity' of Germany," according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Gay men were stripped of their civil rights by the Nazis in 1935 and forced to wear pink triangles to identify them. Lesbians were also persecuted, but less severely, in part because Nazis considered women inferior to men and dependent on them, and did not see lesbians as a threat.
"Denounced as 'antisocial parasites' and as 'enemies of the state,' more than 100,000 men were arrested under a broadly interpreted law against homosexuality. Approximately 50,000 men served prison terms as convicted homosexuals, while an unknown number were institutionalized in mental hospitals. Others perhaps hundreds were castrated under court order or coercion," concludes the Holocaust Museum.