Nazis left Dutch gays untouched, says historian

Homosexual detainees in Sachsenhausen concentration camp had to wear a pink triangle on their clothes in 1938.
By Bart Funnekotter

All homosexual acts were considered criminal in the Netherlands during the German occupation. But only men who had intercourse with young boys were prosecuted, says historian Anna Tijsseling.

The Dutch traditionally remember their victims of the Second World War on May 4th. As the queen attends the official ceremonies on Amsterdam's Dam Square, a procession walks to the ‘Homomonument’ near the Western Church. The gay monument was established in 1987 to commemorate the victims of the Nazi regime who were "persecuted because of their homosexual feelings".

In fact, very few of those people were persecuted in the Netherlands, says historian Anna Tijsseling, who obtained her doctoral degree at Utrecht University on Wednesday for her thesis Guilty sex. Homosexual indecency offences around the German occupation. Actually, the legal prosecution of homosexuals was more intense before and immediately after the war, her research shows.

Her conclusions counter the generally accepted view of Dutch homosexuals as victims of the Nazis. Tijsseling calls this image "a persistent fiction, created by the gay-emancipation movement in the 1970s."

Overloaded judiciary

The historian for the International Institute of Social History and the Netherlands' Institute for War Documentation studied the topic for four years. Part of her research involved investigating all the cases brought before the The Hague district court. "The Hague was the gay capital of the Netherlands, the way Amsterdam is now. Moreover, many of the cases the Germans did institute against homosexuals took place in The Hague," she explains.

Share/Save/Bookmark

After the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940, they made homosexuality a crime. Before and after the war, only those who had sex with minors were prosecuted. "Homosexuality was seen as a disorder, with older men infecting younger boys, " Tijsseling said.

In theory, the German legislation made it possible to prosecute all gay people. But that didn't happen. Tijsseling’s research shows all the homosexuals who appeared before the court were there for having sex with young boys.

One reason why fewer gays were prosecuted was the overloaded judiciary. "The system was practically buried in/ up to its ears in financial and political crimes. The The Hague police still had a sex crimes department, but fewer cases came before the court. Those convicted were not imprisoned because of a shortage of cells."

Death camps

Several anecdotes Tijsseling found in court files illustrate the relatively safe position of Dutch homosexuals during the occupation. One The Hague pub became an openly gay bar in 1943. And there was one gay man who organised weekly parties in his attic. These became so popular that even German soldiers started attending them. The host was prosecuted in the end, for serving liquor without a licence.

But even if few homosexuals were prosecuted, couldn't it be that they were simply sent to death camps without any form of trial? Tijsseling doesn't think so. "I searched everywhere for evidence of this, but I couldn't find any."

"Homosexuals in Germany were clearly victims of the Nazi regime. They were one of the first groups to be sent to the death camps," says Tijsseling. "But this wasn’t true for the Netherlands."

Gay presecution in Germany

Between 1933 and 1945 an estimated 100,000 men were arrested as homosexuals, of which some 50,000 were officially sentenced. Most of these men served time in regular prisons, and an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 were incarcerated in concentration camps. It is unclear how many died there.

In the 1950, the emerging gay press wrote mostly about its solidarity with the German victims. In the 1970s a lobby was started to have gays officially recognised as victims of the Nazis. With this status, gay people could apply for reparations. "And although no evidence had surfaced about gay persecution by then, that idea is now firmly established in people's minds."

She realises her conclusions will not go down well with the gay movement. "The people who rally around the victimisation of homosexuals will have to face the facts: the Second World War was a relatively quiet time for Dutch gays."

Gepubliceerd in:
Features
International