Israel’s first monument to homosexuals persecuted by the Nazis will be erected in central Tel Aviv’s Meir Park (Gan Meir) later this year, near the headquarters of the Gay Center.
At the center of the monument will be a concrete triangle containing a pink triangle, the symbol used by the Nazis used to mark homosexuals. A bench and plaque beside the monument will give information about the persecution of homosexuals during the Holocaust.
The monument, costing NIS 150,000, was the idea of attorney Eran Lev, a member of the municipal council from the Meretz party. He began working on the project after receiving support from Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai. Landscape architect Professor Yael Moriah, who was responsible for the park’s renovation over the past years, was put in charge of the planning.
“This will be the first and only memorial site in Israel to mention the victims of the Nazis who were persecuted for anything other than being Jewish,” Lev told Haaretz. “As a cosmopolitan city and an international gay center, Tel Aviv will offer a memorial site that is universal in its essence. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not a monument, but a place — a place of quiet that will invite visitors to sit, contemplate, reflect and be in solitude.”
The erection of the monument is highly significant for Lev. “One of the first restrictions the Nazis imposed on the Jews was against going to public parks. We’re bringing that memory back into the public space. It’s very moving,” he says. “We felt it was important to present it as part of the park. It’s close to the Gay Center, but not inside it. It’s a public Israeli monument, erected by the municipality, and not something that belongs only to the gay community,” he said.
Memorials to the gay victims of Nazi persecution exist in Berlin, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Sydney and San Francisco. Most of them contain the triangle. The planners of the monument in Tel Aviv encountered many obstacles similar to the ones faced by the planners of the monument in Berlin in 2008. At the top of the list was the fact that, at least officially, the Nazis persecuted only gay men, and not lesbians, as homosexuals. But as Professor Moshe Zimmermann, a Hebrew University historian, pointed out, “The persecution of lesbians was often concealed using other pretexts. Lesbians were persecuted as ‘asocials,’ a group that included unemployed people and alcoholics.”
About 50,000 homosexuals were convicted under the notorious Paragraph 175 of the Nazi penal code, which banned homosexual relations between men and between 7,000 and 10,000 were murdered in the camps. “The numbers aren’t ‘official,’ unlike those for Jews and Gypsies, but the deportation of 15,000 people to the concentration camps for homosexuality was a deliberate act of persecution. It was not incidental or trivial,” Zimmermann said.
“The persecution of lesbians was not nearly as widespread as that of homosexual men, which the Nazis perceived to be the main problem,” Zimmermann says. “Still, the great advantage of the monument being built is the ability to reflect on discrimination in its broadest form and not make it subordinate to the definitions of the Third Reich.” The inscription on the monument will explain the difference between the persecution of gay men and lesbians during the Holocaust, but will commemorate them in a single place. According to Zimmermann, this is being done to emphasize that “the biggest problem is discrimination and its social and political consequences.”
Another issue that was debated was how to refer to the victims. For example, the Nazis used the word “homosexual,” while the gay community prefers to use the word “gay” today. The Nazis never referred to the various groups within the community, such as transgender people or bisexuals, who are recognized as part of the gay community. “We had to find a balance between two opposing interests,” said Lev. “On the one hand, we had to make sure the monument spoke to all parts of the community. On the other, we didn’t want to create a situation of historical anachronism by using terms that weren’t appropriate to the period.”
The compromise was the following sentence, which will be inscribed on the memorial: “To the memory of those persecuted by the Nazi regime for their sexual preference and gender identity.”
Although the monument is a universal one that does not distinguish between Jewish and non-Jewish victims of the Nazi regime, it will also contain a reference to Jewish gays, including the names of two well-known gay Jewish men. The first, Magnus Hirschfeld, was a prominent physician, sexologist and advocate for sexual minorities whose institute was burned down by the Nazis. The second was Gerhard (Gad) Beck, who was known as the last gay Holocaust survivor until his death last year at the age of 88. “This is the story of a Jew who was persecuted not only for his Jewishness but also because he was a homosexual. These are the sorts of names that should be mentioned to anyone who comes to Gan Meir looking for a source of identity,” Zimmermann said.
The only homosexuals who will not be mentioned on the new memorial are those who were members of the Nazi party. One of the best-known of them was Ernst Roehm, the commander of the SA (also known as the Brownshirts), who was murdered during the Night of the Long Knives. “The Nazi elite was full of people who lived with mistresses and with homosexual people,” Zimmermann says. But they did not flaunt their behavior. “From the moment people like Roehm undermined Hitler’s power, he could make the classic German bourgeois accusation that homosexuals were a danger to society, even though there continued to be homosexuals in the system.”
The monument’s planners hope that it will not become a target for hostile elements. “It was clear to us that we would install it near the Gay Center because we feel it’s important that it be guarded all the time,” Lev said. Zimmermann said: “I hope that it will be received with understanding and not become a focus of strife between people.”