Queer Women and AFAB People During the Holocaust

Women of many ages stand at a barbed wire fence. They are all bundled in winter coats, hats, and gloves. The image is bleak.

Women of many ages stand at a barbed wire fence. They are all bundled in winter coats, hats, and gloves. The image is bleak.

Content warning for sex trafficking, corrective rape, forced pregnancy

Continuing our World War II series, we're looking at the often glossed over experiences of queer women and AFAB people during World War II. This suffering is not to be taken lightly, and it would be irresponsible of us to overlook this part of history. It would be equally irresponsible, however, to go on without warning readers. Take care of yourselves, and if you're unable to continue reading, we'll be discussing the life and work of Josephine Baker next week.

Before the Nazis came to power, Berlin was one fo the safer places for queer people in Europe. A rich queer culture had developed there, one that embraced open-mindedness and the study of queer lives. There were queer bars, clubs, societies, libraries, and so on. Despite the general atmosphere of safety, however, homosexuality was still illegal under Paragraph 175. It's important to note that Paragraph 175 did not make romantic or sexual relationships between women illegal. Additionally, of course, the legal definitions of "man" and "woman" at the time referred only to gender assigned at birth. This is where many historical summaries of the lives of queer women in Germany stop, but it is not where history stops.

Cisgender queer women and AFAB people were excluded from Paragraph 175 because they were still seen as “useful” —they could still theoretically give birth. While transgender women were treated with the same general attitude as gay cisgender men, otherwise "acceptable" cisgender queer women and AFAB people—goyische, white, abled—remained untouched for a period during the Nazis' rise to power. These two groups were able to exist not out of kindness, but because they were fixable and useful; it was hoped that they would produce more Aryan children.

Their "fixable" nature and technical legality did not stop them from being punished; they faced societal ostracization, destruction of their gathering places, and enforced consequences when Nazis came into power. Though very few were sent to concentration camps, their suffering continued at home.

Those who were sent to concentration camps were not sent under the symbol of the pink triangle as gay men and AMAB people were but under the black "asocial" triangle. This makes it difficult for anyone to know the exact number of cisgender queer women and AFAB people in the concentration camps, but it is guessed that the number was comparatively small.

The different classification did, however, lead to different treatment. Queer women and AFAB people were often forced to work in the camp brothels in an attempt to "fix" them. There were many cases of corrective rape against these prisoners, often intentionally ending in forced pregnancy so they could "serve their purpose."

This behaviour was not confined to concentration camps, either. Any cisgender queer woman or AFAB person faced the same danger at home, and many married men in order to avoid these atrocities. Some of the more fortunate individuals found queer cisgender men or AMAB people to marry, protecting both parties. Many did not. Those people often married heterosexual men and denied themselves any agency in order to preserve their safety. Still, others were found out and faced the same fate.

The queer community's continued dismissal of what these groups went through during World War II is sickening. While their numbers were lesser, we cannot allow the suffering of queer women and AFAB people to fall to the wayside. It cannot, and should not, be said queer women and AFAB individuals had it better merely because their suffering was less overt. There is no excuse to ignore what queer women and AFAB people went through, and the fact that places made for queer survivors continue to do so is abhorrent. We have to do better.

[Disclaimer: some of the sources may contain triggering material]

Gerdes, S. (2015, Ferbuary 5.) What happened to gay women during the Holocaust? Gay Start News. Retrieved from http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/what-happened-gay-women-during-holocaust050215/#gs.dR8B00I

Safier, S. (1992). The History of Gay Male and Lesbian Experience During World War II. Retrieved from http://www.pink-triangle.org/

Should Lesbian Women Be Included In Holocaust Memorial´s Gay Kissing Video? (2010, March 26). Queerty. Retrieved from https://www.queerty.com/should-lesbian-women-be-included-in-holocaust-memorials-gay-kissing-video-20100326

Trucker, K. I. (2015, April 16). Life Inside the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp for Women. Slate. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2015/04/16/remembering_the_lesbians_prostitutes_and_resisters_of_ravensbr_ck_concentration.html

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (n.d.). Lesbians and The Third Reich. Retrieved from https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005478