Voiceless Victims

With gay rights at the forefront of political debate, "timely" seems too insipid a word to describe the arrival of "Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933-1945," a traveling exhibition opening this weekend at downtown's Burton Barr Central Library.

As a symbol of recognition, the exhibition has been a long time coming. It wasn't until 1985 that the Holocaust's homosexual victims were first publicly commemorated, and homosexuals convicted under the Nazi regime were not officially pardoned by the German government until as late as 2002.

Washington, D.C.'s United States Holocaust Memorial Museum compiled the collection of reproductions of photographs, artwork and documents. "The exhibit itself is going to be laid out in 32 panels," explains Sina Matthes, a library spokeswoman. "It'll be detailing in chronological order the persecution."

And the persecution was vehement. More than 100,000 men were arrested under the regime's broadly interpreted Paragraph 175, which prohibited, among other things, "unnatural" sexual acts between men. Roughly half of the detainees were shipped off to serve prison sentences or suffer the horrors of concentration camps. "As one might say 'McCarthyism' to mean a particular kind of political witch hunt," says ASU English professor Jay M. Boyer, "one might speak of 'a climate of Paragraph 175,' say, to mean governmental persecution of homosexuality so venomous and institutionalized as to bring it to an end -- and to bring an end to anyone who might practice it."

Boyer, who describes himself as a film scholar "who has an interest in the power of film to document and bring about change," will introduce and comment on a screening of Paragraph 175, a film exploring the stories of five survivors of the homosexual persecution, at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 11. (Additional screenings are scheduled for 2 and 4 p.m. on March 25.)

"Prejudice to Pride," the library's series of supplemental public programs, continues on Tuesday, March 16, with "Coming Into Focus: Filmmakers Depict the Experiences of Homosexual Victims of the Nazis." At 7 p.m., University of Wisconsin professor James Steakley shows clips from documentary and feature films addressing the experiences of gay men and women during the Nazi era.

Remaining on display through early April, the exhibition is just one of a series designed by the Holocaust Memorial Museum to shed light on the experiences of less-recognized groups.

"I think it helps people understand the Holocaust and the different facets that were a part of that," Matthes opines. "It's a piece of history, and, through the art and the photographs, it helps to bring that history to life and to help us remember some of the things that happened during that terrible period.

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Elizabeth Exline