This powerful visual testimony to both oppression and resilience, which explores the Nazi persecution of homosexuals in Europe, will open in Johannesburg on Sunday, 21 July at 14h30 at the Women’s Jail at Constitution Hill and runs until 25 August.
Developed by the Homosexual and Lesbian Archive in Amsterdam, the exhibition has been redesigned and developed for South Africa. It makes use of archive photographs, personal testimonies and video clips detailing the largely untold history of homosexual oppression in Nazi Germany and relates the historical narrative to the prejudices that still exist today.
Through additional panels and the screening of the South African version of the global “It Gets Better” advocacy campaign, the exhibition aims to highlight the progress made, and challenges faced, in ensuring the protection of sexual minorities in South Africa.
Constitution Hill and the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre are committed to using the platform of history to engage with contemporary issues and are providing NGOs, academics, educators, learners and the general public with an opportunity to discuss and raise awareness of discrimination based on sexual identity.
Delivering the keynote address at the opening will be Dr Lutz van Dijk – historian writer and teacher, who has extensively studied human rights and crimes committed against sexual minorities during the Nazi regime. Dr van Dijk has also co-edited Challenging Homophobia – Teaching about Sexual Diversity which will have its Johannesburg launch at the exhibition opening.
Also speaking will be representatives of the South African Human Rights Commission, the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre, Constitution Hill and the South African Holocaust and Genocide Foundation.
In Whom Can I Still Trust is on from 21 July to 25 August and will feature an ancillary programme including an educator workshop, a schools’ programme, a panel discussion and film screenings.
The exhibition was hosted in Cape Town earlier this year and received wide acclaim and interest.
It is a little known fact that between 1933 and 1945 gay men were especially targeted by the Nazi Government. As many as 10 000 homosexuals died as a result of murder or ill treatment and starvation in the Nazi Concentration Camps. Homosexuals were regarded as undesirables in society as they were associated with a decadent lifestyle and failing to further the aims of the Aryanisation of Germany.
Although historically the target of laws outlawing homosexuality, they had enjoyed a certain tolerance in the era of the Weimar Republic in Germany. This changed dramatically when the Nazi party came to power and arrests became commonplace.
In 1935, Nazi Germany tightened its laws against male homosexuality. The mere suspicion of homosexuality was reason for arrest. If homosexuals were charged, they could lose everything: their jobs, their homes, their honour, their freedom. Men identified as gay were forced to wear pink triangles.
Neighbours, colleagues and passers-by in the street readily reported their friends and colleagues to the police in Germany. Homosexuals were thus forced into lying and secrecy for their own protection. They no longer knew who they could trust.
The persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany was possible on such a large scale because of the ready complicity of society. In Berlin, half of the inquiries in the period 1933-1945 were the result of reports from private individuals. A small proportion of reports came from colleagues, employers or public sector employees such as care workers. One-third of charges followed police investigation. Only six percent resulted from reports by Nazi organisations.
After the war, the prejudice against the survivors continued as European governments enforced the homosexual laws on the statute books. Many surviving homosexuals were re-imprisoned after the war and made to serve out the remainder of their sentences. Because of the attitudes that prevailed in society, homosexuals were largely unable to talk about their experiences or obtain any sort of compensation.