|March 5th, 2008||#1|
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National Socialist Policy Toward Homosexuals
URI exhibit shines a light on Nazi campaign against homosexuals
March 6, 2008
A 1907 political cartoon depicts sex-researcher [jew] Magnus Hirschfeld drumming up support for the abolition of Paragraph 175 of the German penal code, which criminalized homosexuality. It’s part of “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933-1945” a traveling exhibit at the Main Gallery in URI’s Fine Arts Center.
As gallery exhibits go, it’s hard to imagine a more powerful topic than the Holocaust. Even today, as the rogues’ gallery of genocidal tyrants has grown to include the likes of Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein and the current regime in Sudan, the Nazis’ systematic extermination of some 11 million people [Big Lie] exists in a class by itself. Of all the dark chapters in human history, it remains the darkest.
The vast majority of Holocaust victims — nearly 6 million [Big Lie], according to estimates — were Jews. But there were other victims, too — Communists and socialists, who were persecuted for political reasons; Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were deemed insufficiently devoted to the Nazi cause; Slavs and gypsies, who (like the Jews) were considered racially inferior; and homosexuals, who were attacked both for their sexual orientation and for not doing enough to further Hitler’s dream of creating an Aryan master race.
“Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933-1945,” a traveling exhibit now on display at the University of Rhode Island’s Kingston campus, focuses on this last group. Organized by the Washington, D.C.-based United States Holocaust Memorial Museum., the show features a wealth of historical and archival information, including copies of Nazi-era posters, photographs and government documents.
To help viewers make sense of this material, the show is divided into a series of smaller sub-sections, each dealing with a specific theme or topic. “Germany and Homosexuality Before 1933,” for example, covers the Weimar Republic of the 1920s and early 1930s. Though homosexuality was technically illegal during this period, police often looked the other way, especially in larger cities. That, in turn, gave rise to a lively gay and lesbian social scene, mainly centered around same-sex bars and nightclubs.
Another section, “The New Order, 1933-1939,” shows how things changed once the Nazi Party came to power. In contrast to the relative tolerance of the Weimar era, the Nazis quickly cracked down on people and activities they considered “undesirable.” That included acts of “unnatural indecency” — a euphemism for same-sex relationships. In an eerie echo of contemporary debates over national security, German police were also given broad powers to arrest, detain and spy on “enemies of the state,” including homosexuals.
Once arrested, accused homosexuals had roughly a one-in-three chance of being convicted and sent to prison. From there, many were sent to concentration camps, where they were often given the most grueling and dangerous jobs. Convicted homosexuals were also forced to wear pink triangles on their prison uniforms — a move intended to subject them to further abuse at the hands of fellow inmates. [ordinary lie]
Unfortunately, while the show has an important story to tell, its storytelling skills could use some help. Rather then engaging viewers with firsthand materials and interactive displays, the show consists of a series of free-standing text-and-photo panels that look like pages from a king-size textbook. The panels make it easy to ship the show from venue to venue, but don’t pack much visual or emotional punch.
Instead of being the compelling experience it might have been, “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals” often feels like a super-sized version of a high school history lesson.
To its credit, the show does try to put a human face on the tragic events it describes — notably by focusing on the stories of people such as Richard Grune, a Bauhaus-trained artist who was arrested in 1934 and spent the next five years in a succession of prisons and concentration camps. Copies of Grune’s darkly expressionistic work, including a series of prints depicting life inside the camps, appear on several panels.
Still, for a show that deals with such powerful — and laudable — subject matter, “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals” feels surprisingly static.
“Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933-1945” continues through March 29 at the Main Gallery, URI Fine Arts Center, Kingston. Hours: Tues.-Fri. noon-4 and Sat.-Sun. 1-4. Contact: (401) 874-2775 or online at uri.edu/artgalleries.
Last edited by Alex Linder; March 5th, 2008 at 11:25 PM.