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Gay and Lesbian Life under Nazi Rule: The Legacy of Paragraph 175

Overview

This outline focuses upon the legacy of Paragraph 175 of the German Constitution, used by the Nazis to systematically persecute gay and lesbian peoples. It is closely based on the acclaimed documentary Paragraph 175 and also makes use of readings from Holocaust and Human Behavior.

 

Learning Outcomes

Students will:

  • Examine personal testimonies in order to understand what conditions were like for gay and lesbian people living in Nazi occupied Germany before and during WWII.
  • Recognize and analyze the ways in which gay and lesbian people in Nazi occupied Germany responded to persecution and repression.

Historical Context

It is important to establish the appropriate historical context of Paragraph 175 for students before proceeding with this lesson outline. Paragraph 175 was initially added to the German Constitution in 1871. The film, Paragraph 175, is essential in contextualizing both the contributions and persecution of gay and lesbian people in Germany between 1919 – 1945.

 

Materials

The following readings from Holocaust and Human Behavior can be used as homework assignments or in class readings:

  • Chapter 1, The Individual in Society: “Conformity and Identity”
  • Chapter 3, Germany in the 1920s: “Anger and Humiliation,” “Inflation Batters the Weimar Republic,” “Hard Times Return”
  • Chapter 4, The Nazis Take Power: “Killing Ideas,” “Eliminating Opposition,” “Isolating Gays”
  • Chapter 9: Judgment: “Making Good Again”
  • Paragraph 175

Videos:
For information about these videos and others, as well as how you can borrow audio-visual resources, go to the Facing History Lending Library.

 

Websites:

 

Activity

Part I: Gay and Lesbian Identity during the Third Reich

1. Introduce the video, Paragraph 175, by telling students they will meet several individuals in the film who would become victims of the Nazis. As they watch the video, have students select one of the individuals and pay attention to what his or her childhood/adolescence was like. (They will be asked to write about it after the clip).

2. View the first 10 to 15 mins of Paragraph 175, providing enough background to introduce each one of the interviewees.

3. Have students write in their journals about the individual they selected. Have them create an identity chart for their individual. Read more about the use of identity charts in the classroom.

4. As a whole class, invite a few students to share their charts or descriptions with their peers.

5. Discuss the following questions:

  • Based on your observations, how are these individuals similar or different than other adolescents / young adults?
  • What do these individuals have in common with each other?
  • Were these individuals discriminated against, victimized or persecuted at this stage of their lives? Why? Why Not? In what ways? By whom?

 

Part II: Gay and Lesbian Culture in the Weimar Republic

1. Review the social conditions that existed in Germany during Weimar Germany. For this important background, refer to Holocaust and Human Behavior: Chapter 3, Germany in the 1920s: “Anger and Humiliation,”“Inflation Batters the Weimar Republic,”“Hard Times Return,” as well as the video: Hitler: Anatomy of a Dictatorship.

2. Let students know that they will now focus on what life was like for gays and lesbians during this time period. View the excerpt fromParagraph 175 which starts with the segment titled: “1920’s Berlin known as homosexual Eden.” (This except covers Paragraph 175, Magnus Hirschfeld, the Institute for Sexual Science, Ernst Rohm and Hitler’s rise to power). Stop the tape after the Institute for Sexual Science is destroyed and a special department for homosexuals is created.

3. First, in small groups, and then as a whole class, discuss the following questions:

  • What was life like for gay and lesbian people living in Germany during the 1920’s and 1930’s?
  • What challenges did they face? What opportunities existed for them?
  • Why was Berlin described as the “homosexual Eden”?
  • Why did Hitler consider gay and lesbian people a threat to Germany’s national identity and the Nazi concepts of race and gender?

 

Part III: Persecution and Survival: The Fate of Gay and Lesbian People in Nazi Germany

1. View the last segment of Paragraph 175.

2. In their journals, have students describe the treatment of gay and lesbian people in the camps: was this treatment different than the treatment of others? If so how?

3. After students have finished this first writing prompt, have students write another response to the following prompt:

  • Select a person from the video and compose a letter to him or her in which you inquire about their experiences under the Nazis and how they responded to the Nazi regime.

4. Have students share their journal writings, either in small groups or with the whole class.

 

Extensions

1. An in-depth study of the lives of Gad Beck and Manfred Lewin in Berlin during the Nazi regime can provide students with an additional understanding of the challenges facing gay men in Nazi Germany. The site, Do You Remember, When, offers a glimpse into the daily experiences and thoughts of two companions during the late 1930s and early 1940s.

2. An excerpt from the video Before Stonewall could also be used to compare the culture and life styles of homosexuals in the United States and Germany.

3. The collected short stories Am I Blue? offers insight into the challenges facing gay and lesbian adolescents, with contributions from Lois Lowry and other leading writers.

 

Contributor

Jennifer Jones-Clark, Facing History and Ourselves