WALTER DEGEN (nr 20285) was born on 4 January 1909 in Mörchingen – between 1871 – 1918 Mörchingen was located in Germany, today it is a commune called Morhange in North East France. Walter was a locksmith. He was transported to the camp within a group of 21 prisoners deported by the Stapo and Kipo from Vienna, Brünn, Prague, Troppau, Breslau, Schwerin, Frankfurt an der Oder and Kattowitz. They were registered in the camp on 29 August 1941. Walter Degen was registered both as a homosexual and a German political prisoner.
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In Auschwitz, prisoners of German nationality designated by a pink triangle were arrested under Paragraph 175 of the German criminal code as “asocial parasites” for “endangering the morality and purity of the German race”. Paragraph 175 made homosexual acts between males a crime. The Nazis arrested an estimated 100,000 homosexual men, 50,000 of whom were imprisoned. The majority of the several thousand homosexuals arrested before the war ended up in concentration camps such as Dachau, Sachsenhausen, or Flossenbürg. According to the current state of knowledge, at least 77 prisoners of Auschwitz were persecuted for their homosexuality, of which at least 43 died. Homosexuals were among the most abused groups in the camps.
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- 175. A male who commits lewd and lascivious acts with another male or permits himself to be so abused for lewd and lascivious acts, shall be punished by imprisonment. In a case of a participant under 21 years of age at the time of the commission of the act, the court may, in especially slight cases, refrain from punishment.
- 175a. Confinement in a penitentiary not to exceed ten years and, under extenuating circumstances, imprisonment for not less than three months shall be imposed:
- 1. Upon a male who, with force or with threat of imminent danger to life and limb, compels another male to commit lewd and lascivious acts with him or compels the other party to submit to abuse for lewd and lascivious acts;
- 2. Upon a male who, by abuse of a relationship of dependence upon him, in consequence of service, employment, or subordination, induces another male to commit lewd and lascivious acts with him or to submit to being abused for such, acts;
- 3. Upon a male who being over 21 years of age induces another male under 21 years of age to commit lewd and lascivious acts with him or to submit to being abused for such acts;
- 4. Upon a male who professionally engages in lewd and lascivious acts with other men, or submits to such abuse by other men, or offers himself for lewd and lascivious acts with other men.
- 175b. Lewd and lascivious acts contrary to nature between human beings and animals shall be punished by imprisonment; loss of civil rights may also be imposed.
English translation by Warren Johannson and William Perry in “Homosexuals in Nazi Germany,” Simon Wiesenthal Center Annual, Vol. 7 (1990).
PERSECUTION OF HOMOSEXUALS
Conditions in the camps were generally harsh for all inmates, many of whom died from hunger, disease, exhaustion, exposure to the cold, and brutal treatment. Many survivors have testified that men with pink triangles were often treated particularly severely by guards and inmates alike because of widespread biases against homosexuals. As was true with other prisoner categories, some homosexuals were also victims of cruel medical experiments, including castration. At Buchenwald concentration camp, SS physician Dr. Carl Vaernet performed operations designed to convert men to heterosexuals: the surgical insertion of a capsule which released the male hormone testosterone. Such procedures reflected the desire by Himmler and others to find a medical solution to homosexuality.
The vast majority of homosexual victims were males; lesbians were not subjected to systematic persecution. While lesbian bars were closed, few women are believed to have been arrested. Paragraph 175 did not mention female homosexuality. Lesbianism was seen by many Nazi officials as alien to the nature of the Aryan woman. In some cases, the police arrested lesbians as “asocials” or “prostitutes.” One woman, Henny Schermann, was arrested in 1940 in Frankfurt and was labeled “licentious Lesbian” on her mug shot; but she was also a “stateless Jew,” sufficient cause for deportation. Among the Jewish inmates at Ravensbrück concentration camp selected for extermination, she was gassed in the Bernburg psychiatric hospital, a “euthanasia” killing center in Germany, in 1942.
Consequently, the vast majority of homosexuals arrested under Paragraph 175 were Germans or Austrians. Unlike Jews, men arrested as homosexuals were not systematically deported to Nazi-established ghettos in eastern Europe. Nor were they transported in mass groups of homosexual prisoners to Nazi extermination camps in Poland.
It should be noted that Nazi authorities sometimes used the charge of homosexuality to discredit and undermine their political opponents. Charges of homosexuality among the SA (Storm trooper) leadership figured prominently among justifications for the bloody purge of SA chief Ernst Röhm in June 1934. Nazi leader Hermann Göring used trumped-up accusations of homosexual improprieties to unseat army supreme commander Von Fritsch, an opponent of Hitler’s military policy, in early 1938. Finally, a 1935 propaganda campaign and two show trials in 1936 and 1937 alleging rampant homosexuality in the priesthood, attempted to undercut the power of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, an institution which many Nazi officials considered their most powerful potential enemy.
After the war, homosexual concentration camp prisoners were not acknowledged as victims of Nazi persecution, and reparations were refused. Under the Allied Military Government of Germany, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment, regardless of the time spent in concentration camps. The 1935 version of Paragraph 175 remained in effect in the Federal Republic (West Germany) until 1969, so that well after liberation, homosexuals continued to fear arrest and incarceration. Source – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Heinrich Himmler on the “Question of Homosexuality”
In May 1942 Walter Degen was transferred to Mauthausen concentration camp. It is not known if he survived.
Editor: Marina Amaral
External Sources: USHMM
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