On the fourth floor of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, the story of Nazi persecution begins, including harassment of non-Jewish "victim groups," including homosexuals. In Boston, organizers of Gay Pride Day will hold their first event this June on the grounds of that city's new Holocaust memorial. And as a Holocaust memorial rises in Manhattan's Battery Park City, its program office is mulling how it will treat Nazi persecution of German homosexuals.
The memorials have become a new focus of homosexual-rights groups seeking to increase their profile in Holocaust memory They, in turn, have become a target of traditionalists who protest giving homosexuals the status of Nazi victims. "Homosexuals seek inclusion in the [New York City] Holocaust museum because it would help them gain acceptance of their sexual behavior," Howard L. Hurwitz, head of the Family Defense Council, said at an April protest there. "Homosexuals were never walled in ghettos ... or targeted for extermination."
On the other side, gay-rights groups have raised money to support Holocaust memorials and to fund exhibits and research on homosexual persecution. "Gay men were imprisoned just because of who they were, with no wrongdoing" says Roberta Bennett a Los Angeles lawyer who leads the Gay and Lesbian Campaign to raise $1.5 million for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial. "The Jews were persecuted for who they are. The Gypsies were persecuted for who they are. And gay people were persecuted for who they are."
Between 1933 and 1945, when Germany had an estimated 1.2 million homosexuals, about 100,000 were arrested under antisodomy laws which were drafted in 1871 and remained on the books until 1969. Half of the homosexual arrests led to sentences in German prisons, which differed from concentration camps. From 5,000 to 15,000 homosexuals were sent to those camps, which had gas chambers, and one scholar estimated that 60 percent of them perished. After the war, many homosexuals were imprisoned again under the antisodomy laws.
Historian Raul Hilberg, author of Destruction of the European Jews and a former member of the U.S. rnemorial council, warned against defining "holocaust" too broadly. "I don't want to minimize what happened to the gay community," he says. "On the other hand, we have a number of complications. They were arrested for conduct. That should have been their private business, but it was conduct compared to Jews and others with a certain status."
As for interpreting the current scholarship, the U.S. memorial is considered the standard. …