Honoring the Pink Triangle

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On January 27, people around the world commemorated one of the saddest events in history: International Holocaust Remembrance Day recalled the millions upon millions who were killed during Adolph Hitler's reign of terror.

The Holocaust is generally associated with the Jewish people. In his quest to create and perpetuate a "master race,” Hitler and the Third Reich sought to wipe the Jews from the face of the Earth. Six million Jews — entire towns — were slaughtered in death camps like Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen.

As it's now documented in many films and at museums around the Globe, Hitler had his eyes on anyone he viewed as "undesirable.” Gypsies and the disabled were among the groups he targeted. It's believed that 100,000 LGBT people were arrested at the hands of the Nazis, with 15,000 of those sentenced being incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps. During the Holocaust, LGBT people were required to wear a prominent pink triangle as an identifying symbol.

Historians now claim that the total number of Holocaust dead, all groups combined, is 11 million, but many believe the number to be much higher. We may never know the actual body count.

Here are two films, which recall the fate of LGBTs during the Third Reich.

Cabaret (1972) 124 minutes

Warner Home Video

This dark, Oscar winning musical is set in 1931 Berlin. The Wiemar Era, that glorious time in between the World Wars when artists, bohemians, and gays converged on Berlin to live open, authentic lives, is drawing to a close. The Nazis are beginning their stranglehold on German society.

As the culture of art, music, dance, and free love begins to collapse, the dark cloud of the Third Reich looms on the horizon.

Sally Bowles (Liza Minelli) is a free spirited prostitute and showgirl at the Kit Kat Club. She strikes up a close friendship with Brian (Michael York), a conservative academic. She tries to seduce him, but he's gay.

At a wildly decadent weekend they spend with wealthy, bisexual Max (Helmut Griem), it becomes unclear who's seducing who.

Cabaret isn't a traditional musical: the characters don't burst into song in the middle of scenes. The highly stylized musical numbers are set on stage at the Kit Kat Club: they stand as a metaphor for what's happening in the world around them. As Sally gleefully flaunts her bohemian lifestyle, the Nazis slowly close in.

Cabaret is a brilliant and unforgettable portrait of a society in turmoil. We see what Germany briefly was, and what it was about to become.

Paragraph 175 (2000) 81minutes

New Yorker Video

Paragraph 175 was the provision in the German penal code, which criminalized homosexuality. Passed in 1871, it was largely ignored during the Wiemar era.  In 1935 the Nazis expanded the law's scope in order to justify the imprisonment of "perverts.”

Haunting and unforgettable, Paragraph 175 the film gives gay survivors of the Holocaust a rare opportunity to share their stories.

Through the use of countless archival photos, the filmmakers recall the glittering gay community, which flourished in 1920s Berlin. More than a half century later, gay men in their 80s and 90s recall the unimaginable horrors they endured. These men are tortured by their memories. Yet they persevere, determined to make sure that the world knows what happened.

One man wipes away tears as he remembers the last time he saw his lover, who was killed at Dachau at age 21. Another recalls the physical and emotional wounds he endured: after the war he retreated to the closet, marrying and raising a family. As his life draws to a close he can finally admit without fear that he's a gay man.

We learn that Paragraph 175 wasn't repealed until 1994. In 2000, Germany's gay community finally received a formal apology for what was done to them.


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