Hitler considered homosexuals “infectious” and sought to isolate or exterminate them to ensure his pure German master race. Most of what the Nazis called “die Rosa-Winkel” (the Pink Triangles), died – possibly up to 15,000 of them – either from exhaustion or starvation in the camps or on long marches led by the Nazi SS as allied forces closed in.
Shortly after the Nazis became the only legal party in the Third Reich, homosexual men and women became the target of police raids and interrogation. Under a section of the existing 1871 German Penal code, known as Paragraph 175 (§ 175), homosexual men could be arrested and tried. Paragraph 175 made sexual acts between men a punishable act.
Although the code was operational prior to 1933 it was largely ignored throughout Germany. The ‘unnatural’ sexual act of sodomy itself was difficult to prove unless actually caught while still in progress, making criminal charges cumbersome in many cases.
Before Hitler became Chancellor, the act was almost repealed in parliament as a result of the pioneering campaigning by sexologist Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld.
When the Nazi party came to power the act was adjusted to include further punishment for homosexual men and the code was used as the main instrument to arrest both known homosexuals and later, men suspected of homosexual acts. The photo below is a police identity picture showing a German man arrested in October 1937 for violating Paragraph 175.
By June 28th 1935, and in effect from September 1st 1935, the new § 175 had been revised to include indecency and two further additions: 175a and 175b.
By 1944 a suggestion of homosexuality was all that was required for an arrest and many more men found themselves arrested and imprisoned.
To differentiate between the various groups in the camps, the Nazis devised a simple system of easy identification. Besides the individual numbering system of tattooing each prisoner on entry, various cloth symbols and letters were sewn onto uniforms and worn at all times to aid instant recognition.
Initially homosexuals were identified by the letter ‘A’, which was sewn on to their left breast or trouser leg. The ‘A’ stood for Arschficker, which is the German word for ‘Ass-F*cker’. Later replaced by a triangle system as shown in the chart above recovered from the Dachau camp in Germany.
The Nazis soon developed a system of several different coloured triangles: yellow for Jews; red for political ; green for criminals; purple for Jehovah’s Witnesses; black for a-socials; brown for gypsies; blue for emigrants and pink for homosexuals. Jewish homosexuals were made to wear both the yellow triangle and the pink triangle, which undoubtedly left them feel ‘the lowest of the low’.
In some of the early concentration and ‘security camps’ a blue bar worn on the breast and sleeve identified homosexual inmates. It also identified catholic and political prisoners
The pink triangle, or Rosa Winkel, was the most associated symbol for men held under § 175. Inmates were made to wear a large piece of pink cloth on the breast side of their clothes and a larger one across their backs. The pink triangle was made 2cm larger than any of the other identification triangle so that guards and other prisoners could clearly see when a homosexual prisoner was approaching.
Prisoners with the pink triangle made little contact with other prisoners for fear of further persecution. By associating with the pink triangles, other detainees would have almost certainly drawn unwanted attention on to themselves and the best way of avoiding further abuse was clearly to remain as invisible as possible.
In the Berlin Nollendorfplatz subway station, a pink triangle plaque honors gay male victims.
Between 1933 and 1945, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested as homosexuals, of whom some 50,000 were officially sentenced.Most of these men served time in regular prisons, and an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 of those sentenced were incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps.It is unclear how many of the 5,000 to 15,000 eventually died in the camps, but leading scholar Rüdiger Lautmann believes that the death rate of homosexuals in concentration camps may have been as high as 60%. Homosexuals in the camps were treated in an unusually cruel manner by their captors.