Telling the story of the gay victims of the Nazis
MOVIES: Paragraph 175, directed by Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein, written by Sharon Wood.
Review by SHERRY WOLF | July 20, 2001 | Page 11
ONLY 10 gay men out of 15,000 who were sent to Hitler's concentration camps in Germany are known to still be alive. Eight of their stories are documented in the gut-wrenching documentary Paragraph 175.
The movie shows these elderly men gleam as they recount their carefree youthful sexual adventures in 1920s Berlin. Then their faces grow dark and vacant as they try to explain the physical and emotional torture of living in a society gone mad with ethnic cleansing and sexual repression.
Paragraph 175 refers to the section of the German penal code prohibiting "unnatural acts with humans or animals." The measure was altered in the early years of the Nazis' reign to combat abortion along with homosexuality as crimes against the German "race."
The documentary mixes contemporary interviews with war footage to portray the tightening noose around Jews, gays, socialists and eventually all political opposition to the Nazis.
Almost all stories about the Holocaust involve both inhuman horrors and occasional heroism against all odds. These men's memories are no exception.
But some carried their experiences inside them as a personal shame for decades, without a sympathetic public or family to share their ordeal. Gays and lesbians remained classified as criminals after the war--and Paragraph 175 stayed on the books in both halves of Germany until the late 1960s.
This film won the Documentary Jury Prize for directing at last year's Sundance Film Festival. In July, it aired on HBO. Look for it there, or in your local video store.