Gay German Men Arrested in post-Nazi Era to Be Exonerated, Compensated

Affects estimated 100,000 victims, but only 5,000 still alive

This file photo taken on June 27, 2015 shows participants attending the Christopher Street Day (CSD) gay parade in Berlin
ADAM BERRY/AFP

Thousands of gay German men who were prosecuted and arrested for their sexual proclivity after World War II – during the country’s post-Nazi period – will be exonerated and compensated financially.

Last week the German parliament approved a historic, dramatic decision which for many came decades too late.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas called the decision “belated justice,” saying the country had caused many people “immeasurable suffering.” Axel Hochrein, a board member of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, added: “It was a very long struggle to exonerate gay men who were convicted by democratic Germany – not by Nazi Germany.”

The new law provides that every gay German man who was persecuted by the government after the war will receive 3,000 euros ($3,360) and another 1,500 euros for each year spent in prison for sexual orientation. An estimated 100,000 gay men were prosecuted and about 50,000 convicted after the war. It is not known how many are still alive and will receive the money. The German Justice Ministry estimates their number at 5,000.

The new law refers to gay men who were persecuted by the government from after World War II until 1994, when the discriminatory law was overturned. German men who were persecuted earlier by the Nazi regime have already received recognition and compensation.

The German law forbidding sexual relations between men has undergone several changes since being passed in 1851. Originally it called for imprisonment and cancellation of rights for “unnatural acts” between men or between men and animals. In 1935 the Nazis expanded the law and the punishment, and prohibited any intimacy between men. Gay men had to wear a pink patch, were persecuted, arrested and murdered. The law remained in place both in West and East Germany after the fall of the Nazis.

Some victims committed suicide

In the 1950s and 1960s West Germany, though a democratic country, continued to try, convict and arrest homosexuals only for their sexual inclination. Police would raid pubs where gay men met and thousands were arrested. For many it was a stain for life, and they lost their jobs, were separated from their families and some committed suicide.

In 1969 there was a reform and only a few types of homosexual relations remained a criminal offense, including relations between an adult and a minor – although gay men were considered minors until a later age than straight men, so the law still discriminated against gays.

Only in 1994 was the law finally erased from the books. Six years later the Bundestag (parliament) apologized to those who had suffered because of it. In 2002 the German government did the same. Monuments to the victims of the law are found everywhere in the world, including Berlin. One was built in Gan Meir in Tel Aviv in 2013. But while those who were persecuted by the Nazis were exonerated and compensated, those persecuted after the war were considered criminals until now.

One provision of the new law has cast a shadow over the sense of vindication in the gay community and for many others in Germany. The restriction states that men who were convicted of homosexual relations with a man under the age of 16 won’t receive compensation. This is considered discriminatory, because the age of consent for heterosexual relations in Germany is 14.

Similar discriminatory laws against gays existed in other countries too, including Israel, where the prohibition against male homosexual relations was overturned only in 1988, and in many other countries the law is still in force. In England the government decided last year to pardon thousands of men accused of homosexual acts. The law was named after Alan Turing, the famous mathematician and one of the fathers of computing, who committed suicide in 1954, two years after being convicted of homosexual acts. In 2013 he was pardoned by Queen Elizabeth.