It is a single gray cuboid that references the 2,700 gray slabs across the road. As per its official description, it reflects how “we are the same .. human beings, yet we are also different from each other. And therein lies the challenge to our tolerance and acceptance.”
Located across the road from the much larger Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe), it honours the tens of thousands of gay men and women who were persecuted and murdered during the Nazi period. It is also a symbol opposing hatred and discrimination against homosexuals.
But not everyone agreed with it.
Within three months of the officiating of the memorial in May 2008, vandals struck. Two more violations of the memorial followed in the next six months. All three acts targeted the memorial’s video display. The video shows a gay couple kissing and loops endlessly.
I had heard about the vandalism of the memorial in the same breath as of its existence. For me, it spoke volumes about how deeply ingrained intolerance continued to be if such acts could occur in Berlin.
This was not only because of how this memorial was an actual outcome of Germany’s struggle to face its troubled history. It was also because Berlin is one of the most gay-friendly capitals in the world, with a gay mayor as well as host of one of Europe’s largest LGBT rights events, the Christopher Street Day parade.
Nazi Germany made male homosexuality a crime in 1935, deeming it “unbecoming” of the master “Aryan race”. Over 50,000 were convicted. Punishment ranged from imprisonment to castration and deportation to concentration camps, where many died. Lesbians, too, lived under repression and in fear.
After WWII, Paragraph 175, the legal provision criminalising homosexual acts, was amended but remained in the German Criminal Code.
Pre-unification East Germany voided it in 1988. West Germany never voided it. It was only in 1994 that the united Germany struck out the provision altogether.
In 2002, on the symbolic date of “17.5” (17th of May), Nazi-era convictions of homosexuals were vacated. The government approved a memorial for victims a year later – 53 years after the end of WWII. ω
» Official Pamphlet for the Denkmal für die im Nationalsozialismus verfolgten Homosexuellen (Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted under the National Socialist Regime)
» Homepage of the Stiftung Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe Foundation)
» Deutsche Welle article – ‘Holocaust Academic Pans Monument to Nazis’ Gay Victims’
» Wikipedia entry on Vandalism of the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted under the National Socialist Regime (German)
» Wikipedia entry on Paragraph 175 in the German Criminal Code