In the Feb. 3 virtual event entitled "LGBTQ+ Life and Death Under the Nazi State," which the Illinois Holocaust Museum hosted, historian Lauri Marhoefer shared research about various queer individuals' experiences while the Nazis were in power.
Marhoefer, a historian of queer and trans people who works as a history professor at the University of Washington, emphasized that there was not a singular, consistent experience shared by individuals who experienced the Holocaust. Rather, the nuances of various individuals' experiences were often shaped by their identities.
According to estimates, about 5,000 people were sent to concentration camps after being convicted under Paragraph 175, Germany's law against sodomy, Marhoefer said. Although some of these victims were men, Marhoefer emphasized the Nazi regime was often most violent toward trans women, especially those who were sex workers.
"I think there should be a debate about whether [Holocaust memorials] should include trans people," Marhoefer said. "In my ongoing research, I've only found a handful of cases where queer people were sent to concentration campsone was a Jewish man, but many of them are trans women who did sex work."
Marhoefer spoke about the ways gender and race intersected to shape individuals' experiences with the state and highlighted the real stories of queer people who were criminalized and sometimes sent to concentration camps.
For example, Germany's laws were specifically geared toward the male sex, so lesbians sometimes wouldn't face legal consequences after admitting to police they had female partners. In one situation, a woman's husband was punished for allowing her to have sex with another woman, while the women involved were never in trouble with the law.
Race also played a key role in how people were punished for being queer, as Aryan people benefited from the limited protections of the criminal justice system. They would often be sentenced to prison and eventually freed rather than sent to concentration camps, Marhoefer explained.
"The way gay Jewish people were treated is very different from the way gay Aryan people were treated," Morhoefer said. "Often, they're not dealt with in the criminal justice system at all. Often they're not even accused of homosexuality at all, but they're at risk of death and are really in danger."
See www.ilholocaustmuseum.org/ .