No one much wants to talk about or has ever talked about the Nazi extermination campaign waged against the homosexual population of Germany and Europe.
Now, someone is and has been...in South Africa where treatment of gays is a long way from swell. Currently on display at the Durban Holocaust Center until the end of the month, an exhibition of archival photographs, testimonies and video clips "In Whom Can I Still Trust" explores this largely untold history of the persecution of gay people by the Nazis.
Developed by IHLIA (Homodok/Lesbisch Archief Amsterdam), the exhibition has been redeveloped for South Africa. According to Mamba.online:
...organisers say that in light of continued discrimination, homophobia and prejudice towards members of the lesbian and gay community in South African society, the exhibition has considerable relevance to the country.
Through additional panels, the exhibition will highlight these challenges and the progress that has been made in protecting sexual minorities in South Africa.
Videos from the new ‘It Gets Better South Africa’ project will form an important part of the "In Whom Can I Still Trust exhibition." A diverse group of high profile individuals have teamed up with students from the University of Cape Town and University of Pretoria to create a collection of videos that discourages homophobic bullying. Amongst those inteviewed in the videos are struggle hero Ahmed Kathrada to track superstar Oscar Pistorius.
No one wanted to talk about it. It was considered the past. So is it any wonder that many people, including Mueller and Professor Pierre de Vos who made the opening speech at the exhibition, were unaware of the fate of homosexuals during the Third Reich until well into adulthood?
One can only wonder at the trauma of never being able to speak of what happened after surviving eight years first in prison and then a concentration camp just because of your sexual orientation.
The background to the exhibition In Whom Can I Still Trust? is this. After World War II, homosexual survivors were still considered criminals and there was no compensation for them, unlike other survivors.
It was only in the 21st century that they were finally recognised as survivors of Nazi atrocities. And in the form of an internalised homophobia, they sometimes blamed themselves for atrocities perpetrated against them.
It must be pointed out that before the rise of Nazism, most homosexuals considered themselves Germans first and homosexual second, in the same way that many German Jews felt. Nazism grew in stark contrast to the enlightened Weimar Republic where women could vote and homosexual society flourished. Berlin was considered the gay capital of the world – think Christopher Isherwood’s perspicacious and decadent Berlin stories.
The Nazis considered homosexuality a contagious disease to be corrected in concentration camps as it deprived the German nation of children. And although they were never put into gas chambers, homosexuals were systematically destroyed, worked to death, experimented on and castrated. Of the 100 000 homosexuals arrested, between 10 000 and 15 000 died in camps. And paragraph 175 was revoked a mere 44 years ago.
Just last month gay rights advocates decried the deaths of three teenage boyus who were tortutred to death in a so called "conversation camp" in South Africa. The teens died after being starved and tortured at a camp designed to turn them into ‘men’. One of the teens, Raymond Buys, died two weeks after being put on life support two months into a three-month "training course" provided by Alex de Koker's Echo Wild Game Rangers camp. The 15-year-old Buys had brain damage and a broken arm and bruises at the time, and had emerged severely malnourished, dehydrated and covered in cigarette burns.
Discrepancies between the legislation and the reality within South African society can be explained by the context in which the current South African constitution was drafted, says Noel Kututwa, Southern Africa director for Amnesty International.
After the white-minority rule ended in the 90s and Nelson Mandela's party took power, a new constitution was drafted with a core focus on equality for everyone, with no exception.
"And as part of the fight for freedom, justice and equality that South Africa went through, the African National Congress, then led by former president Nelson Mandela, was anchored around human rights," said Kututwa.
Kututwa says South Africa's LGBT community was included in that concept of human rights, or rather, was not excluded. The debate about their rights came later on, when the constitution was already adopted.
"At the time that it was adopted, it was really futuristic," said Kututwa. "It was even going beyond what even the country was even ready for at that time. And that [became] quite clear when one looks at gay and lesbian rights, that it is a contentious issue. There are certain sections of the society with the South African society who don't accept those rights."
Organized by Amnesty International and the local LGBT rights organization Ekurhleni Pride Organizing Committee (EPOC) a memorial day for those murdered for their sexual orientation was held this April 24. That day marked the two year anniversary of the murder of LGBT activist Noxolo Nogwaza. She was raped, stoned, and stabbed to death in 2011. Two years after the 24-year-old’s death, the investigation into her murder has made no progress, and her killers remain at large.
- REBECCA DAVIS