May 20, 2018

Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted by National Socialism

Students at the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted by National Socialism.
15 May 2018

“The Federal Republic of Germany shall erect a memorial in Berlin to the homosexuals persecuted under the National Socialist regime. 

With this memorial, the Federal Republic of Germany intends

            to honour the victims of persecution and murder,

            to keep alive the memory of this injustice, and

            to create a lasting symbol of opposition to enmity, intolerance and the exclusion of gay                             men and lesbians.”

                        – Resolution of the German Bundestag, 12 December 2003

 

Tired and jet-lagged, we visited the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted by National Socialism in addition to other memorial sites in Berlin.  The memorial, designed by Michael Elmgreen of Denmark and Ingar Dragset of Norway, specifically acknowledges those who fell victim to German Criminal Code Section 175 under the Nazi regime.  A kiss was enough to prosecute somebody for homosexuality; imprisonment was common, and many gay and lesbian people even perished in Nazi concentration camps.

 

The memorial seems remarkably simple at first glance, a grey, 3.6-meter high rectangular prism, yet the large stela seems to be crooked on the ground and there is a clear, single indent in the slab. There is a film inside the indent that depicts two men kissing for over a minute – the focal point of the memorial.  This film is not viewable from afar; you must view it intentionally by looking into the indent.

 

The Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted by National Socialism is a physical representation of how this victim group relates to the victims of the Holocaust as a whole: homosexual victims of the Nazi terror are different, but in many ways, they are similar.  The singular large slab that is the memorial bears striking similarity to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – only it has just one slab rather than the latter’s 2,711.  Given the memorials’ close proximity to one another, the memorial to homosexual victims seems to be a different cut of the same material, larger, and a little more crooked, but the same material as used in the monument to all the Jewish victims nonetheless.

The memorial artfully makes its visitors think about the persecution of homosexual people around the world as well as acceptance and tolerance generally.  Such persecution is not a thing of the past, and the memorial is a homage to just that; it is intentionally dynamic.  In many ways, the memorial’s opening raised issues with contemporary social equality within Germany.  It was not a smooth battle – some groups did not understand any reasoning for a separate, special memorial for gay and lesbian victims of the Holocaust, while others thought there was still too much focus on male homosexuality and not enough on lesbians.  At the unveiling, it was very much noticed that there was a lack of high-ranking German government officials – nothing comparable to the ones that were present at unveilings of larger or more prominent memorial sites.

Identity is integral to memory.  This memorial makes great strides at just that – remembering the gay and lesbian victims of the Holocaust – but we have far yet to go to achieve total equality.

 

 

Group 2: Alyssa Pauly, Isabel Carleton, Steven Kish (Author: Steven Kish)