The History of the Gay Male and Lesbian Experience during World War II



"The non-criminalization of female homosexuality meant that lesbians were not intensively prosecuted in the same way or to the same degree as homosexual men. But they did suffer, for example, the same destruction of clubs and other organizations of the homosexual subculture, the banning of its papers and magazines, the closure or surveillance of the bars at which they met. This led to a dispersal of lesbian women and their withdrawal into private circles of friends. Many broke off all contacts for fear of discovery and even changed their place of residence. A collective lesbian life-style and identity, which had begun to take shape since the turn of the century and especially in the years of the Weimar Republic, was destroyed when the Nazi's came to power, and the effects would last well beyond the end of the 'Third Reich'.

"The exemption of female homosexuality from penal sanctions was one major reason why the registration and prosecution bodies set up within the Gestapo and the Criminal Police in the wake of Roem's murder in June 1934 mainly concentrated on the male homosexual 'enemy of the state'. The paucity of sources makes it impossible to gauge the extent to which lesbian women were also being compulsory registered -- for example, as a result of denunciation to authorities. Scattered evidence indicates that reports were collected about lesbians by the police, and also by other organizations such as the Race Policy Bureau of the NSDAP. But the scale of this is not known -- nor, above all, the consequences which followed from it.

"In only a few cases can it be demonstrated that women were tried on the pretext of other offenses but in reality because of their homosexuality. In one documented instance female homosexuality was cited by the administration of the Ravensbruck concentration camp as the grounds of detention. Thus, on 30 November 140 the transportation list for this women's camp names the day's eleventh 'admission' as the non-Jewish Elli S., exactly 26 years of age. The term 'lesbian' actually appears in the entry as the reason for detention. Elli S. was apparently put among the political prisoners, but nothing further is known of her fate.

"Other cases are known in which lesbians were punished as 'subversive of the military potential.' And, where a so-called relation of dependence existed between a superior and a subordinate or between a teacher and a school girl, the provision of paragraph 176 of the penal code would apply." [Hidden Holocaust? pg 12-13].

According to the documentary 2000 Paragraph 175, there are only five known cases of women being imprisoned solely because of their lesbianism, although other researchers have documented more cases. The experiences of Annette Eick were reported by in that film:

Annette Eick

Born in 1909 to an educated, Jewish family in Berlin, Annette discovered her lesbian identity when she was ten: "We had to write a composition about how we imagined our later life would be, and I wrote: I want to live in the country with an elderly girlfriend and have a lot of animals. I don't want to get married and I don't want to have children, but I'll write." In the 1920s, Annette was active in lesbian cultural life in Berlin, spending time in women's clubs and occasionally writing poetry and short stories for a lesbian journal. As the Nazis gained power, Annette managed to emigrate to England, with the help of an older woman she had met at a bar and whom she had a crush on. She later learned that her parents had been killed at Auschwitz. She eventually settled in the English countryside with her lover of many years, and wrote poetry.

Henny Schermann and Mary Punjer were arrested in the raid of a lesbian bar in 1940 and taken to Ravensbruck. Both women were Jewish, and while their internment documents listed their Judiasm, it also noted the Schermann was a "compulsive lesbian" and Punjer as a "very active (sassy) lesbian". They were gassed to death in early 1942 in the Bernburg Nursing Home near Dessau, which had been adapted as a death factory.

Austrian writer and lesbian Grete von Urbanitzky propagated Nazi ideology in her writings as early as 1920, but did not escape their persecution. In 1936, she was forced to emigrate to France and then to Switzerland. In 1941, all her books were banned in Germany.

Other collaborators with the Nazi's experienced similar fates. For example, only a few months before the end of the war, a local leader of a Nazi women's organization in a small German city was arrested in January 1945 for lesbianism. She was interned in Ravensbruck and her ultimate fate is unknown.

PHOTO Annette Eick and friend from Paragraph 175 Official website of the documentary.

PHOTO Henny Schermann, internment photograph from Ravensbruck. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum