Holocaust Remembrance Day will commence on Sunday, April 7. On that somber day, Jews worldwide will recall their 6 million fallen brothers and sisters. Entire families, and entire towns were wiped off the face of the earth as part of Hitler's "final solution to the Jewish problem."
It's now known that Jews were not the only target of the Third Reich. Disabled people, gypsies, Armenians, dissidents and LGBT people, among others, were also incarcerated in concentration camps. The 6million Jews that have been accounted for are just the starting pointwe may never know the actual number of people killed during the Holocaust.
During the famous Nuremberg trials, in which Nazi war criminals were held accountable for their crimes, no mention was made of the LGBT victims. But with the rise of a visible gay community and movement, writers and filmmakers began to document the history of the Pink Triangle, the badge that gay concentration camp inmates were forced to wear. Here are a few films that help to tell that history.
Paragraph 175 (2000); 81 minutes; New Yorker Video
Paragraph 175 was the provision in the German Penal Code which criminalized homosexuality. Enacted in 1871, the law was broadened by the Nazis in 1935 and used to justify the imprisonment and killing of "perverts."
Profoundly moving and disturbing, the film Paragraph 175 gives gay survivors of the Nazi horrors a chance to tell the world what happened to them. Oscar winners Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (The Times of Harvey Milk) produced the movie.
Through the use of archival photos, Paragraph 175 recalls the the glittering gay community that briefly flourished in Berlin during the 1920s. For a short period of time, the city was an open gay mecca. It all collapsed after Hitler assumed power in 1933.
More than 50 years after the war, gay men in their 80s and 90s recall the unimaginable abuses they endured. One man tearfully tells of the last time he saw his lover, who was killed in Dachau at age 21. Another retreated to the closet after the war, marrying and having a family. Towards the end of his life, he's able to once again admit that he's a gay man. He speaks of the wounds, both physical and emotional, which for him never healed.
These men are tortured by their memories. Their resilience, their will to live and to tell their stories, is inspiring.
Amazingly, we find out that the German government didn't repeal Paragraph 175 until 1994. It wasn't until 2000, the year this film was produced, that Germany's gay community received a formal apology for what was done to them.
Cabaret (1972); 124 min.; Warner Home Video
Eight Academy Awards, including Best Actress (Liza Minnelli) and Best Director (Bob Fosse) were accorded to this classic musical drama. Perhaps the darkest musical ever produced, Cabaret is set in 1931 Berlin. The Weimer Era, that brief period of sexual and personal freedom, was coming to a close as the Nazis were coming to power.
At the wildly decadent Kit Kat Club, chorus girl/prostitute Sally Bowles (Minnelli) is having the time of her life. She strikes up a close friendship with Brian (Michael York) a conservative, British academic. She tries to seduce him, but he's gay.
At a wild weekend they spend with the wealthy, bisexual Max (Helmut Griem), it becomes unclear who's seducing who.
Cabaret isn't a traditional musicalthe film's glittering song and dance numbers are set primarily on the stage of the Kit Kat Club. The songs are used to illustrate the era's freewheeling decadencethe characters don't burst into song when they're offstage.
As Sally gleefully flaunts her bohemian lifestyle, the Nazis can be seen in the background, gradually rising to prominence.
Cabaret ultimately becomes a chilling portrait of what Germany briefly was, and what it was about to become. It's a brilliant and unforgettable work.
Hitler's Children (2012); 83 min.; Film Movement
How would you live with yourself, you might ask, if your name were Goering or Hoess? For Bettina Goering, niece of Hitler's friend and colleague Hermann Goering, the answer is to tie her tubes. Her brother had a vasectomy. Their goal is simple: to end their family line.
Goering lives in exile, in a peaceful if isolated house a few miles outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. She walks her dog along the countryside, and has a cup of coffee on her balcony. It's an idyllic life. As viewers watch her interview during the opening moments of Hitler's Children, they might be left with the impression that her home's locale is an escape from the world. A world that might judge her for the role her Uncle played in the extermination of millions of human beings.
For 83 minutes, filmmaker Chanoch Ze'evi, an Israeli citizen and a third-generation Holocaust survivor, allows the descendants of the Third Reich to tell their stories.
"I break the taboo of not loving your parents," said Niklas Frank. His father, Hans Frank, was Governor-General of Occupied Poland. Governor Frank was directly responsible for the extermination of Polish Jews. The younger Frank, author of two books, now spends his time visiting schools, lecturing students about the horrors of the Third Reich.
Ze'evi's film is low=key, yet powerful. The camera focuses on the interviewees and allows them to speak. They're somber, yet they display little emotion. Read between the lines. They're haunted by their family histories. They live with shame and guiltthey are perhaps the unacknowledged victims of the Holocaust.
It's chilling to watch Rainer Hoess visit Auschwitz, the notorious concentration camp built by Rudolf Hoess, his grandfather. Later, the younger Hoess visits a classroom in Israel, facing students who's families survived the Nazi horrors.
"Why are you here?" one of them asks.
The pain in Hoess' eyes says it all: an attempt to make amends for an unimaginable tragedy that wasn't his doing. It's a horror that will haunt him, and those he faces, for all their lives.
Novembermoon (1985); 108 min.; Wolfe Video
This intense drama tells the story of two women who fall in love in Nazi-occupied Paris. One of them, November, is Jewish. She lives in hiding. To help cover their tracks, her girlfriend does secretarial work at a newspaper which publishes Nazi propaganda. The film chronicles their struggle to stay together and alive until the end of the war.
Beautifully acted, Novembermoon shows that love can indeed triumph over hate.
Currently unavailable on DVD, distributor Wolfe Video has made the film available for streaming at the company website: www.wolfevideo.com
Bent (1997); 104 min.; MGM
Based on an acclaimed play, Bent tells another tale of love amidst the Nazi horrors. Max (Clive Owen), is an inmate at Dachau. He's wracked with guilt, having been forced by his Nazi captors to beat his boyfriend to death. At the camp, he pretends to be Jewish so as to not be known as a "pervert".
Fellow inmate Horst (Lothaire Bluteau) wears his pink triangle proudly. As the two fall in love, Max can no longer deny who he is. In scenes that are both uplifting and heartbreaking, Max and Horst express their love, and their sexual desire for each other, through secret whispers. They're unable to touch, and never do.
Bent is a difficult film to sit through. It doesn't attempt to romanticize the grim reality of life in a concentration camp. Though nudity and sexuality are kept to a minimum, the film's intense subject matter garnered it an NC 17 rating. Bent gives viewers a good look at what the interviewees in Paragraph 175 referred toit's shocking to realize that such things actually happened.