Sunday, September 27, 2020

A Known Destruction - They Put Him in a Concentration Camp

In Brideshead Revisited, a novel written in 1944, Evelyn Waugh describes the suicide of one of his characters, Kurt, in a German concentration camp, during the late 1930s. The writing is fiction, and like all fiction, it is created out of the reality of the world around us. Though the full extent of these prisons as death camps would not be known for another year, neither was their existence unknown at the time.

Kurt – He Hanged Himself

Sebastian went after him, and for a year could find no trace. Then in the end he ran him to earth dressed as a storm trooper in a provincial town. At first he wouldn't have anything to do with Sebastian; spouted all the official jargon about the rebirth of his country, and his belonging to his country and finding self-realization in the life of the race. But it was only skin-deep with him. Six years of Sebastian had taught him more than a year of Hitler; eventually he chucked it, admitted he hated Germany, and wanted to get out. I don't know how much it was simply the call of the easy life, sponging on Sebastian, bathing in the Mediterranean, sitting about in cafés, having his shoes polished. Sebastian says it wasn't entirely that; Kurt had just begun to grow up in Athens. It may be he's right. Anyway, he decided to try and get out. But it didn't work. He always got into trouble whatever he did, Sebastian said. They caught him and put him in a concentration camp. Sebastian couldn't get near him or hear a word of him; he couldn't even find what camp he was in; he hung about for nearly a year in Germany, drinking again, until one day in his cups he took up with a man who was just out of the camp where Kurt had been, and learned that he had hanged himself in his hut the first week.

Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder
A novel by Evelyn Waugh
Book Two - A Twitch Upon the Thread
Chapter Four
Pages 306 - 307
Little, Brown and Company 1945

Monday, September 14, 2020

Gay Berlin - Long Night after the Knives

From Robert Beachy's Gay Berlin

Gay Berlin
Gay Berlin is a deeply researched history of the emergence of a modern Gay identity in Germany, beginning in the late 1800s and through the early 1930s. The book ends with a short summary of the sharp swing from celebration (or at least toleration) to persecution. 

What follows are quotes from pages 243 through 245.

Gay Berlin, Birthplace of a Modern Identity
by Robert Beachy (2014/2015)

Homoeroticism and Anti-Democratic Politics

There were homosexuals within the Nazi movement ... Consider too that the popular Männerbund ideology of the Weimar period helped to assimilate homoeroticism to a nationalist, anti-democratic politics. 

[See also Judith (Jack) Halberstam: The Queer Art of Failure (2011) - Chapter 5, "The Killer in Me Is the Killer in You": Homosexuality and Fascism]

Perhaps the best example -- or best known, in any case -- was Ernst Röhm, a decorated veteran of the war, a member of the Freikorps, and an alte Kämpfer ("old fighter") from the Munich beer-hall days of the early Nazi Party. Moreover, Röhm was Hitler's closest friend among the Nazi elite, and the only one with whom he used the informal German address (du as opposed to Sie). In 1930 Röhm, at Hitler's behest, became leader of the SA [Sturmabteilung], the party's brownshirted militia. In the summer of 1931, however, Röhm was forced to defend himself in two highly publicized trials held in Munich. He had been caught with male prostitutes and was accused of violating the anti-sodomy statute. Through the course of the trials the prosecution managed to produce some of Röhm's private letters and correspondence. The trials also established that Röhm had actually joined the largest of the three homosexual rights organizations the Human Rights League, in the 1920s. Despite Röhm's scandals, Hitler refused to sack him, and claimed blithely that Röhm's personal life was a private affair.

Campaign for a Clean Reich - February 1933

Of course, the SA provided boots on the ground for the Nazi movement, and after Hitler came to power, they were largely responsible for shoring up Nazi control, at least in the first eighteen months of the regime's rule. The fact that a high-ranking Nazi -- at this point Röhm was arguably the second most powerful man in the Third Reich -- was openly homosexual did not shield the institute [Institut für Sexualwissenschaf, Institute for Sexual Research]. Nor did it prevent the repression of the homosexual rights movement. The Nazis’ "Campaign for a Clean Reich," inaugurated in February 1933, shut down Berlin's homosexual press and closed some fifteen of the most prominent bars. The last publications appeared in March. By summer, the three homosexual rights organizations, including the SHC [Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee, Scientific Humanitarian Committee], had destroyed their membership lists and begun the process of disbanding. Yet these actions were less a singling out of homosexuals than an extension of the more general "coordination," or Gleichschaltung, of German civil society. Most non-Nazi groups during the first months (or in some cases years) of Nazi rule, including those on the right, experienced similar repression or were forced to merge with Nazi organizations. Despite the Gleichschaltung, the vast majority of the estimated eighty to one hundred gay and lesbian bars and clubs in Berlin remained open well into 1935. At this stage the Nazis targeted homosexual men and women only if they were Jewish or leftists. 

Night of the Long Knives - June 30 - July 2, 1934

The fate of Röhm changed all of this, though not because his presence somehow shielded homosexuals, but rather because his murder allowed Heinrich Himmler -- Röhm's arch-nemesis among the Nazi elite – free reign to implement a more systematic repression. Röhm’s career (and life) came to an abrupt end on July 2, 1934, in the purge of the SA leadership known as the Night of the Long Knives. It was widely rumored that Röhm and many of his associates were discovered in bed with young boys or with each other. The number of those killed is fairly murky, but estimates now hover around eighty-five. Most of the known victims were SA leaders or close Röhm associates. Some had no ties at all to the SA, however, and were simply targeted opportunistically. In a radio address delivered on July 2, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, explained that Hitler had preempted a putsch attempt planned by Röhm and his henchmen. This was a fiction. The real reason was Hitler's need to appease the military, which feared Röhm and his militia. Once Röhm was gone, Hitler was finally able to command the loyalty of the German military and complete the consolidation of his power. Of course, subsequent Nazi propaganda also emphasized Röhm's homosexuality -- in addition to his alleged perfidy -- and the Nazis commitment to traditional morality.

An Ideology of Homophobia

Röhm's elimination cleared the way for a more systematic persecution of homosexuals. This campaign was led by Himmler, head of the SS and the ideologue of Nazi homophobia. In 1935 Himmler championed a new, draconian anti-sodomy statute, which criminalized all erotic contact between men. One year later Himmler established the Reich Office to Combat Homosexuality and Abortion. Nazi officials now had the tools to arrest and imprison large numbers of homosexual men on the flimsiest of evidence. This policing reflected Nazi views that male homosexuality was a contagious perversion and that homosexual conduct, like disease, might be cured. The persecution that followed had two major objectives. Nazi officials hoped to curb and redirect the majority of those who had fallen into homosexual "vice with a variety of treatments, and, if necessary, incarceration. Of these, a small minority of "incorrigibles" -- those with "hereditary" conditions who were deemed responsible for "seducing" others would be exterminated to stop the spread of "infection." During the Third Reich more than 100,000 German men were charged under Paragraph 175, and of these an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 perished in prisons and camps. As Dagmar Herzog has argued, "Many Nazi 'experts' advanced a social constructionist view of sexuality that sexual identity was variable and vulnerable." This was in part an anti-Semitic rebuke of the theories of the "Jewish" Hirschfeld and "his" SHC, but it also persisted long after 1945.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Ocean Vuong - Art for Our Lives on Fire

That Urgent Open Bandwidth

On August 28, 2014, The Rumpus published an essay by Ocean Vuong: The Weight of Our Living: On Hope, Fire Escapes, and Visible Desperation

Death Waking Us Up to Living

Ocean Vuong's uncle died by his own actions on New Year's Eve 2013. This death of a loved one opens into an exploration of the importance of art to share our pain and help us live.

"I wish I could've found a way to share ... with him ..., to have the courage to communicate on that urgent and open bandwidth. That we could have trusted each other with our frailties knowing that, as humans, we are, at our best, partially broken."

On the rituals of death: "the sounds of the Lotus Sutra ... its deep droning rises from our collective despair." "the dead can still be nourished by our offerings and goodwill"

On the illusion of safety in a fire escape: "That one can indeed escape the fire, and still perish through the means of that escape." 

On the potency of walking, and opening to our perceptions, to further thought and deepen experience: "something about movement that helps me think."

Art, Our Most Necessary Communications (and the fire escape as architecture and metaphor)

I speak of poetry only because it is the medium that I am most intimate with. But what I mean to say is that all art, if willing, can create the space for our most necessary communications. 
I want to believe that there are things we can say without language. And I think this is the space the fire escape occupies, a space unbounded by the genre or the physical limitations of the artist's tools. A space of pure potential, of possibility, where our desires, our strange and myriad ecstasies can, however brief, remain amorphous and resist the decay actualized by the rational world.

... it has become more and more difficult for us to say aloud, to one another: I am hurt. I am scared. What happens now?, the poem, like the fire escape, as feeble and thin as it is, has become my most concentrated architecture of resistance. A place where I can be as honest as I need to be - because the fire has already begun in my home, swallowing my most valuable possessions - and even my loved ones. 
My uncle is gone. I will never know exactly why. But I still have my body and with it these words, hammered into a structure just wide enough to hold the weight of my living. I want to use it to talk about my obsessions and fears, my odd and idiosyncratic joys. I want to leave the party through the window and find my uncle standing on a piece of iron shaped into visible desperation, which must also be (how can it not?) the beginning of visible hope. I want to stay there until the building burns down. I want to love more than death can harm. And I want to tell you this often: That despite being so human and so terrified, here, standing on this unfinished staircase to nowhere and everywhere, surrounded by the cold and starless night - we can live. And we will.

Ocean Vuong

The Weight of Our Living: On Hope, Fire Escapes, and Visible Desperation (2014)

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Theory and Practice of Hell - The Homosexuals

Homosexuals in the Concentration Camps

In addition to these main categories of prisoners, the SS made a number of other distinctions. Of these the homosexuals deserve special mention. This group had a very heterogeneous composition. It included individuals of real value, in addition to large numbers of criminals and especially blackmailers. This made the position of the group as a whole very precarious. Hostility toward them may have been partly rooted in the fact that homosexuality was at one time wide spread in Prussian military circles, as well as among the SA and the SS, and it was to be mercilessly outlawed and erased. The Gestapo readily took recourse to the charge of homosexuality, if it was unable to find any other pretext for proceeding against a Catholic priest or irksome critic. The mere suspicion was sufficient. Homosexual practices were actually very widespread in the camps. The prisoners, however, ostracized only those whom the SS marked with the pink triangle.

The fate of homosexuals in the concentration camps can only be described as ghastly. They were often segregated in special barracks and work details. Such segregation offered ample opportunities for unscrupulous elements in positions of power to engage in extortion and maltreatment. Until the fall of 1938 homosexuals at Buchenwald were divided up among the barracks occupied by political prisoners, where they led a rather inconspicuous life. In October 1938 they were transferred to the penal company in a body and had to slave in the quarry. This consigned them to the lowest caste in the camp during the most difficult years. In shipments to extermination camps, such as Nordhausen, Natzweiler, and Gross-Rosen, they furnished the highest proportional share, for the camp had an understandable tendency to slough off all elements considered least valuable or worthless. If anything could save them at all, it was to enter into sordid relationships within the camp, but this was as likely to endanger their lives as to save them. Theirs was an insoluble predicament, and virtually all of them perished. 

Eugen Kogan, Chapter 3: The Categories of Prisoners, pages 35 - 36

Paperback The Theory and Practice of Hell : The German Concentration Camps and the System Behind Them Book
Eugen Kogon,
The Theory and Practice of Hell
(1950, 2006)

The Theory and Practice of Hell: The German Concentration Camps and the System Behind Them

by Eugen Kogon (1950)

Translated from the German by Heinz Norden (1950)

Introduction by  Nikolaus Wachsmann (2006)