Background on Our Visit to the Memorial
by Arielle Ingrassia
A group of college students from New York travelled to Berlin, in part, to observe and remember victims of the Holocaust through various monuments dedicated to their memory. As students of the collective memory of post-war Europe, The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was prioritized as a site to see. This vast field of grey stone slabs was abstract, eye-catching, and centrally located just outside of Brandenburg Gate. The group was relieved to find that The Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted under Nazism was accessible, not roped off due to World Cup activities in the area. The Memorial, a single concrete block, shows a video through a tinted window of both gay and lesbian couples intimately kissing in a public area. This tribute to the ‘forgotten victims’ of the Holocaust is in danger of being forgotten itself, hidden away in the trees.
This memorial commemorates the homosexuals who were persecuted under the Third Reich. Under section 175 in the German penal code, a mere kiss in public could lead to the imprisonment or even castration of homosexuals. Section 175 had been in existence since 1871, but was strengthened and strictly enforced with more severe punishments upon the rise of Nazism in 1933. Between 1933 and 1945, there were roughly 50,000 convictions, almost exclusively males.
The immense suffering of so many was put to an end in 1945, but the pain and losses endured by the homosexual community were not yet acknowledged. Sentiments toward homosexuals remained largely the same, and Section 175 was not taken out of the penal code until 1969. It wasn’t until the 1980s that discussion opened about homosexuals as a victim group. In 1993 an organization known as Der homosexuelle NS-Opfer gendenken became the first group to advocate for the creation of a monument. In 2003, after ten years, permission was granted by the Bundestag to commission a piece of active memory and Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset were the artists chosen for this task. The grand opening of the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted under the National Socialist Regime finally took place in 2008. A large crowd, including the openly gay mayor of Berlin, turned out to witness the artistic representation of the ‘forgotten victims’.
by Quinn Cahill
After spending a great deal of time at and within the comparatively massive Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, my tour group ventured across the street and behind the woods diagonal from the Information Centre. At the time of our visit the FIFA World Cup was taking place, so there were barriers around the city to keep out the fans from certain places. The Jewish memorial, however, was left completely accessible to the public. We were able to find a small crack in the gate to get to the Homosexual Memorial, despite our tour guide’s concerns of accessibility. Behind a more permanent gate, practically under a bush, and far from the Memorial, was a plaque describing the memorial that lied ahead. Walking down a dirt path, I saw a slanted rectangular concrete block, with no people around or near it.
Through a small, darkly tinted peeping window, was a film of lesbian and gay couples kissing. I personally viewed this window as a window to the past. The film inside is in black and white, and the clothing of the couples and the settings in which the clips take place certainly do not resemble modern times. This was heartbreaking to me; it was as if the Memorial was showing that Adolf Hitler won in his quest to exterminate all homosexuals, and that we were now staring at some “grotesque” horny zoo creatures from the past. The window is located in such a way that children and those using wheelchairs are unable to view the film inside. Why should a community of victims be memorialized through images that shows what normally takes place in the privacy of people’s homes? The current film is also historically inaccurate, because female homosexuality was not persecuted, as the Nazis did not find it threatening.
According to an agreement between the Federal Governments Commissioner for Culture and Media, Minister of State Bernd Neumann and the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, the film was to be changed every two years, to have the “character of a living organism subject to dynamic change rather than a static and final statement.” Since it’s opening in 2008, however, the film was only changed once in 2012.
As a gay male myself, I felt very unwelcomed and uncomfortable at the Memorial. I would prefer no memorial to one that is so humiliating and disrespectful to the second largest group of human beings murdered during the Holocaust. Although gay men and women designed and approved the Memorial, I believe that action needs to be taken to properly and respectfully remember those who died under the Nazi regime for simply sharing a kiss.