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In a moment of disturbing irony, the death last week of the last known gay survivor of Hitler’s concentration camps coincided with a cultural event that highlighted the fragility of LGBT people’s foothold on civil rights in modern society.
Rudolf Brazda, who, according to the Los Angeles Times, spent three years in Buchenwald wearing prison garb marked with a pink triangle to indicate he was gay, died last Wednesday at 98.
On Saturday – just one day after the Times published Brazda’s obituary – Texas Gov. Rick Perry led a prayer rally sponsored by American Family Association, an anti-gay hate group whose most prominent public face last year said that gays were responsible for the Holocaust.
“Homosexuality gave us Adolf Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews,” Bryan Fischer, the AFA’s director of issue analysis for government and public policy, said in May 2010.
As “proof” of this breathtaking claim, Fischer cited The Pink Swastika, a 1995 revisionist history of the Holocaust by fundamentalist activists Scott Lively and Kevin Abrams, of the Temecula, Calif.-based Abiding Truth Ministries, an anti-gay hate group. Drawing on decades of pseudo-scholarly research, the book claims that, rather than being victimized by the Nazis, gay men in Hitler’s inner circle actually helped mastermind the Holocaust.
“While we cannot say that homosexuals caused the Holocaust, we must not ignore their central role in Nazism,” wrote Lively and Abrams. “To the myth of the ‘pink triangle’ — the notion that all homosexuals in Nazi Germany were persecuted — we must respond with the reality of the ‘pink swastika.’”
In 2009, Lively encouraged Ugandan authorities in drafting some of the world’s most draconian anti-gay legislation – including provisions that would have subjected people who had gay sex more than once to the death penalty. (The bill has been set aside for now.)
Credible historians agree that Lively and Abrams’ assertions are utterly false. In fact, records show that between 50,000 and 100,000 men were arrested for being gay (or suspicion of it) under the Nazi regime. They were routinely sent to concentration camps and, like Brazda, marked with a pink triangle on their prison garb.
The Times’ story notes that even though gay sex between men was illegal in Germany in the early 1930s, there was a “climate of relative tolerance” that allowed Brazda to live openly with his partner and mingle with others in the gay community. The Nazis began enforcing and strengthening anti-gay laws soon after coming to power in 1933. On October 11, 1936, Hitler’s security chief, Heinrich Himmler, went further, announcing that homosexuality was to be “eliminated” in Germany.
Homosexuality was made a capital offense in 1942, and offenders in the German military were routinely shot. “That wasn’t a punishment,” Himmler explained, “but simply the extinguishment of abnormal life. It had to be got rid of, just as we pull out the weeds, throw them on a heap, and burn them.”
Fischer also has an opinion on gays in the military. On June 1, he predicted that repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) and allowing gays to serve openly in the military would result in “virtual genocide, military genocide, career genocide, for people of faith in the military, perpetrated by the homosexual lobby.”
Brazda moved to France after the war and lived with a partner from 1950 until the latter’s death in 2002. He made his sexuality public in 2008 when he learned that a memorial to gay Holocaust victims was to be unveiled in Berlin. He once commented that his oppressors “were never able to destroy me. I am not ashamed.”
“I have no more fears,” he told German reporters in 2009.
LGBT people in United States could be forgiven if they lack his confidence. They remain the minority most targeted by hate crimes. They are more than twice as likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime as Jews or blacks, more than four times as likely as Muslims, and 14 times as likely as Latinos. In the last few weeks, two violent incidents targeting transgender women in a northeast Washington, D.C. neighborhood have brought back harrowing memories of the murders of four Washington transgender women, two of them teenagers, in 2002 and 2003.