Monument to Gay Victims of the Nazis to Be Unveiled in Berlin

Inauguration ceremony, which follows years of controversy, will be attended by Berlin's openly gay mayor.

News Agencies
Assaf Uni
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News Agencies
Assaf Uni

A monument with the video footage of two men kissing will be unveiled Tuesday in Berlin in memory of the thousands of homosexuals persecuted, tortured and murdered by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945.

Laborers completed the last preparations around the memorial, an imposing gray concrete slab about four meters high near the Brandenburg Gate, opposite the main Holocaust memorial. At eye level inside the monument, designed by Norwegian-Danish duo Ingar Dragset and Michael Elmgreen at a cost of 450,000 euros, is a gap containing a television screen showing two men kissing.

Tuesday's official inauguration ceremony follows years of controversy. The commemoration of homosexuals' persecution, the monument's location near the Holocaust memorial and its design has all been subject to public debate in Germany in recent years.

The monument's unveiling will be attended by Berlin's openly gay mayor Klaus Wowereit, Culture Minister Bernd Neumann and representatives of Germany's Jewish and Roma communities.

No survivors will attend, however. The last known survivor, Pierre Seel, a Frenchman deported in 1941 when he was 17 years old, died in November 2005. He described in his memoirs how his first love, 18-year-old Jo, was torn apart by dogs in front of other prisoners.

Police will be on hand at the unveiling to prevent any trouble by radical right wingers.

In two years and after more than half a million public kisses, the two Danish models in the looped video will be replaced by two women.

The monument's unveiling date is significant. Seventy-five years ago, in May 1933, Nazi stormtroopers burst into the Institute for Sexual Research in Berlin, founded by Magnus Hirschfeld, a German physician, sexologist and gay-rights advocate. They took the institute's books to nearby Opera Square and burned them. This was one of the first stages of the Nazis' persecution of homosexuals.

The Gestapo had lists of homosexuals, arrested them, forced them to recant officially and sent them to labor and extermination camps. Historians estimate that thousands of homosexuals were murdered in World War II. Ironically, Ernst Roehm, commander and co-founder of the SA stormtroopers who burned the institute's books, was a homosexual himself, which enabled Hitler to justify his execution in 1934.

The main controversy regarding the new monument was over whether to commemorate all the Nazis' victims together or grant each persecuted group representation. The German parliament's decision in 1999 to allocate a generous area in the capital to commemorate the Holocaust gave the go-ahead to other groups to demand their own monuments. In 2003 the Bundestag decided to put up a monument for the homosexuals' persecution, and in 2006 a competition was held to select its designer.

On the facade is a text detailing the suffering of homosexuals under Hitler, who outlawed homosexuality in 1936 and convicted around 50,000 people for "unnatural" behavior deemed unbecoming of the "Aryan master race."

"What we wanted to emphasize is that the different groups the Nazis persecuted experienced the same horrors," said one of the artists. This is why their monument's concrete slab resonates with the theme of the Holocaust memorial across the road.

"This is the correct way to commemorate the persecution," says Volker Beck, a Green Party representative in the Bundestag and a gay-rights activist throughout Europe. "Visitors to Berlin will see the huge Holocaust monument on one side, the much smaller one for gays on the other side and understand that we've learned something in Germany about human rights from World War II."

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