Mayor of Berlin unveils memorial to gay victims of Nazis

Tony Grew May 28, 2008
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The first openly gay Mayor of Berlin has opened a new memorial in the city to the homosexual victims of Nazi oppression.

Klaus Wowerit was joined by representatives of the International Gay and Lesbian Association (ILGA) and the federal minister for culture and media.

Although there are several memorials to the gay victims of the Holocaust, “the Berlin memorial has an important symbolic value” ILGA-Europe said in a statement.

“It is in the centre of the city from where decades ago the policies of extermination of homosexual people along with such groups as Jews, gypsies, Jehovahs witnesses and political dissidents, was conceived and the deadly orders were given.”

It is estimated that 45,000 to 100,000 German homosexuals were arrested under Nazi rule between 1933 and 1945.

Up to 10,000 of them died in concentration camps. Many survivors, far from being liberated, were transferred to prisons.

The laws used against gay people in Germany remained on statute books until 1969.

It was only in 2002 that the German parliament issued a formal pardon for any gay people convicted by the Nazis and in 2003 it approved the construction of the memorial.

The homosexual victims of Nazi Germany remained excluded from the public process of remembrance of past injustices until recent times and were denied compensation for their suffering under Nazi rule.

“This is symptomatic for a society that did not abolish unjust verdicts, but partially continued to implement them; a society which did not acknowledge a group of people as victims, only because they chose another way of life,” said Mayor Wowerit.

The new memorial is situated in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park, close to the Brandenburg Gate and opposite the Jewish Holocaust Memorial.

It consists of a four metre tall grey rectangular block.

One side has a small opening through which viewers can see a black and white art film scene of two men kissing.

A simple kiss could land you in trouble, reads the inscription.

During the opening ceremony, Linda Freimane, a member of ILGA-Europe’s Executive Board, said:

“Today, our continent is a safe place to live if you are homosexual – safe in comparison with many other places on our earth, where homosexuality is still considered a punishable crime.

“Europe has come a long way in its battle for the right of each individual and in dealing with its history of discrimination.

“Today, in many European countries, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people along with other vulnerable groups enjoy the protection of their state against prejudice, discrimination and violence.

“In many places in Europe same-sex partners can register their partnership or get married, in some countries the state also supports our wish to become equal parents.

“We have not yet reached full equality, but we sense the political will to get there.

“But this is not enough. You must now also be the ones who do not stay silent when other countries, which have already entered the EU or are knocking on its door, violate the rights of their own citizens.

“Please remind homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, racist and sexist political leaders that they too belong to a Europe, which is built on the assumption of each individual’s right to freedom, dignity, and respect and to seek his or her own happiness.

“And please, do not forget all those LGBTI people around the world who live in fear and despair, who face persecution, humiliation, imprisonment and death for simply being who they are.

“I hope that the present and future mayors of Berlin and members of German governments will remember to bring their foreign guests to this memorial when they show them the beautiful city of Berlin.”

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