From a man who wore a pink triangle

Adam Griffiths

In 1971, a gay Austrian man who survived the Holocaust came forward to share his experiences living in Nazi hell. He did so anonymously – because even though the mass genocide of those deemed “degenerates” by the Third Reich was decades past, Paragraph 175, which made sexual acts between men a crime in Germany, had only been abolished two years prior.

This man told his story to German writer Heinz Heger, and, in 1980, Heger published, “The Men With the Pink Triangle: The True Life and Death Story of Homosexuals in the Nazi Death Camps.” Now I’ve been fascinated by the Holocaust since I first learned about it as a child. I first visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum when I was in middle school. I toured it entirely, captivated by the history and overwhelmed by the somber reality more detailed around every corner.

At the end of the life story this man tells, he notes “scarcely a word has been written on the fact that along with the millions who Hitler had butchered on grounds of ‘race,’ hundreds of thousands of people were sadistically tortured to death simply for having homosexual feelings.”

Today is Yom Hashoah – the internationally recognized Holocaust Remembrance Day on the Hebrew calendar. I could’ve prepared a history lesson chronicling German persecution of gays and lesbians in the decades before the Holocaust, but I really have no authority to speak for something I have absolutely no understanding of.

What I present you is an excerpted moment from this man’s story. I must warn you: After reading this passage for the first time, I had to close the book and leave it for a while as not to become physically ill, an experience I had never before or have ever since encountered.

“While I was there, a prisoner with a pink triangle … was tortured to death in the bunker. He was stripped naked and his hands tied to a hook in the wall so that his body hung in the air and he couldn’t touch the ground with his feet.

“…The first ‘game’ that the SS sergeant and his men played was to tickle their victim with goose feathers, on the soles of his feet, between his legs, in the armpits, on the soles of his feet, between his legs, in the armpits, and on other parts of his naked body … After this tickling torture, they let the lad hang there for a little, while a flood of tears ran down his cheeks and he cried and sobbed uncontrollably.

“The bunker Capo (officer) had to bring two metal bowls, one filled with cold water and the other with hot. ‘Now we’re going to boil your eggs for you, you filthy queer, you’ll soon feel warm enough’ … The prisoner let out a shattering scream for help, the pain hurt him so much…

“‘Give him the cold water, then, he’s already hot, the filthy swine,’ one of the SS men laughed brutally…

“This procedure was repeated several times, until the tormented victim lost consciousness, after he had screamed himself hoarse and could now only emit a kind of gurgle. A bucket of cold water was thrown over him to bring him round, then the torture was started again, with bits of skin now hanging visibly down from the victim’s scalded scrotum.

“‘He’s a butt-fucker, isn’t he, let him have what he wants,’ growled one of the SS men, taking up a broom that stood in the corner and shoving the handle deep into the prisoner’s anus. He was already incapable of screaming anymore – his voice had simply seized up with pain -but his body jerked and tore at the chains; there was still a lot of life left in the lad.

“…Finally they cut the fainting man down and let him fall to the floor, where he lay in a heap without stirring, his limbs bent under him…The drunken SS men staggered out into the open, but the last of them stumbled over the martyred prisoner who was still lying on the ground…

“‘This filthy queer’s still alive,’ he burbled, taking up a wooden stool that was standing next to the wall and bringing it down with all his force on the victim’s head…”

Adam Griffiths is a junior visual journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].