In the early 1990s we started the International Association of Lesbian and Gay Children of Holocaust Survivors because many of the other second-generation Holocaust groups were neither accepting nor respectful of LGBTQ+ second-generation children. I wanted to provide some personal insights on this International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
In the early years, we took on the project -- along with Congregation Beit Simchat Torah -- of demanding that the New York City Department of Parks include five stone markers to memorialize the history and lives of the other victims of the Nazi era in its Holocaust Memorial Park at Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn. The most controversial marker described what happened to the homosexual community during that time.
It took several decades until the city granted permission for the markers to finally be inscribed. You can visit the city park or read about it online. LGBTQ+ history has never gotten the attention it deserves. Germans are doing a better job of exploring the racial theories of the Nazi era and the atrocities committed, while segments of America want all negative parts of our history to be ignored or "whitewashed."
As a child of two German Jewish refugees whose family was enslaved and murdered in the decade before my birth, I want to tell the next American generation that Germany quickly turned from a democracy to a killing machine in only a few years.
One of the earlier agencies that Hitler created was the Committee to Combat Homosexuality and Abortion. Along with Jews, homosexuals were one of the earlier vulnerable minorities subjected to violence and arrests, then death. Parts of my family lived in Germany for hundreds of years, and along with all German Jews lost their citizenship and became illegal aliens living in Germany in 1935 as a result of the Nuremberg Laws. Hitler and his followers accomplished that in only the years.
We should remember how the Nazis developed an ideology that made certain people "undesirable or inferior" and thus expendable. They created a false construct of separate races and put their made-up Aryan race on top. All other people were subordinate, and Jews were at the bottom. It should be noted that Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, the German doctor and sexologist, had moved the government to the point of almost removing its sodomy laws right before Hitler took over.
But then the Nazis created a whole scheme of oppression for the German homosexual community. Sodomy laws were also used in America from colonial times until 2003. Germany expanded its Bismarckian sodomy laws during the Nazi era to increase the arrests, incarceration, and deaths of homosexuals during that time. Even after the war was ended, East and West Germany still re-arrested homosexuals who were arrested under the pre-Nazi Paragraph 175 laws to complete their sentences and did not give them restitution at the time as the governments did other groups.
The right wing of Germany and America shared many of the same prejudices, hatred, and theories of why "whites" (which did not include Jews or Irish and Polish Catholics) or "Aryans" were supposed to be superior to all others. When I was born in New York City, Jews, Catholics, and anyone with darker skin was restricted from living in certain neighborhoods, going to certain hotels, being employed in certain professions, or going to certain schools.
When I came of age, being gay prevented me from being a teacher or a lawyer in New York. It wasn't until the 1980s that I could be admitted into the Bar Association as an openly gay man. The LGBTQ+ community is part of the greater civil rights struggle in America, and I hope that the next generation furthers the American goal of equality for all.
As Jews and as members of this community, we really know firsthand what can happen in a democracy when a segment of angry, hateful people turn on scapegoats and try to make their lives as miserable as possible. I started the Gay Liberation Front in my college in January 1970 and participated in the first Pride March in June 1970.
We have fought for decades to gain our civil rights, just as Jews did (when Germany was first unified in 1871) in order to become full citizens. The next generation must be diligent to make sure that we do not lose our civil rights, including our right to marry. And we must continue to fight for national protections that was begun in Congress by my representative, Bella Abzug, back in 1974 and pass the Equality Act soon.
Rick Landman is the founder International Association of Lesbian and Gay Children of Holocaust Survivors.