Paragraph 175 (2000)

“The loss of civil rights may be imposed.”

The documentary film’s title Paragraph 175 refers to the passage in German law forbidding homosexuality. Paragraph 175 was first introduced into law in 1871, and as a result, homosexuals were subject to criminal prosecution and blackmail. Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, a German Jewish doctor, and a pioneer in the study of Human Sexuality, formed the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee with the goal of repealing Paragraph 175. In Weimar Germany of the 1920s, an enhanced feeling of social and sexual freedom augured well for homosexuals, and Berlin became a “homosexual Eden.” But once the Nazis took power, they enforced anti-gay laws with a vengeance. According to historian Klaus Muller, in Nazi Germany 100,000 men were arrested for homosexuality, and approximately 10,000-15,000 were sent to concentration camps. Of that number, less than 10 remained alive at the time the film was made. The film, gently and non-intrusively narrated by Rupert Everett, is built around interviews with a handful of homosexuals who survived the concentration camps.

Once the Nazis took power, they moved swiftly and systematically against the homosexual community. Survivors detail how they clung to vain hope–one man, for example believed that with known homosexual, Ernst Rohm controlling the Sturmabteilung (SA) other homosexuals would be safe. Another survivor noted the homosexual clubs remained open after the Nazis came to power, and he took this as a positive sign before he realized that “they let us keep our meeting places, so we could be snatched up.”

The survivors tell their painful stories. One man looks through a photo album in which most of the photos have now been removed; another looks at a photo of a large family gathering and is able to pick out the faces of the two relatives who survived. One remembers the screams of those hung from poles. One man spent years in Buchenwald–only to be snatched up and thrown in Dachau. While most of the survivors are unable or unwilling to describe their experiences in the concentration camps, the grief, the anger, and the outrage are just below the surface.

Paragraph 175, directed by Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein is an important, gripping, powerful film–those incarcerated, tortured and murdered for their sexual orientation should not be forgotten. The anti-homosexual movement began as a loss of Civil Rights and devolved into one of the most shameful episodes in history. To quote one of the survivors, “I am ashamed for humanity.” If you are interested in learning more about Magnus Hirschfeld, then seek out a copy of Rosa von Praunheim’s film, The Einstein of Sex (Der Einstein des Sex)–a less-than-perfect film, but worth catching if you want to watch more on that period. Incidentally, if you remember ever seeing any famous book burning scene in Nazi Germany with a bunch of fascists torching a bonfire of books, well that footage was from Hirschfeld’s library.

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