A monument honoring the memory of persecution faced by gays during Nazi rule will be erected in Tel Aviv’s Meir Park this year, close to the headquarters of the city’s Gay Center.
The monument will feature a concrete triangle containing a second pink triangle, in remembrance of the symbol used by the Nazis to mark homosexuals, and the re-appropriation of that symbol as a source of pride for the LGBT community.
A bench and a plaque placed by the memorial will inform visitors to the monument about the persecution homosexuals faced during the Holocaust. It’s estimated that more than a hundred thousand men were arrested under a law interpreted to be against homosexuality, and approximately fifty thousand served prison terms as convicted homosexuals. Records suggest that between five and fifteen thousand were imprisoned in concentration camps.
The monument was the idea municipal council member Eran Lev of the Meretz, a left-wing and social-democratic party in Israel.
“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 the news site Haaretz.
Lev went on to say, “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 brings up many issues for the LGBT community, including the idea that it was only homosexual men who were persecuted by the Nazis for being a “danger,” and that lesbians did not face the same discrimination.
However, “the persecution of lesbians was often concealed using other pretexts. Lesbians were persecuted as ‘asocials,’ a group that included unemployed people and alcoholics,” according to Hebrew University historian Professor Moshe Zimmermann.
“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,” Zimmerman told Haaretz.
Another point of the debate was the wording on the plaque. While the contemporary queer community uses the word “gay” more often than “homosexual,” the creators of the monument wanted to honor the victims of the Holocaust, and not use words that wouldn’t be appropriate for that time period.
The plaque will read “To the memory of those persecuted by the Nazi regime for their sexual preference and gender identity,” a compromise that refers to the underlying issues instead of commonly used vernacular.
The monument will contain a reference to two prominent gay Jewish men who faced persecution: Magnus Hirschfield, a well-known advocate for sexual minorities whose institute was burned down during Nazi occupation, and Gerhard Beck, who was the last known gay survivor of the Holocaust.
The pink triangle which will be prominently featured on the monument was adopted as a symbol for Gay Rights protests by the late 1970s. The reclamation of the symbol has been linked to the publication of Heinz Heger’s memoir, The Men with the Pink Triangle, about his experiences as a concentration camp survivor.
The symbol is now used as a source of pride for gays who are out and proud, and wish to celebrate their queerness by ‘marking’ themselves as gay. Monuments that commemorate the atrocities that the community has faced in the past remind us that there is still much to be fought for, but that together we have helped create a better, queerer future.