Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Wind And the Rain On A Sad And Lonely Face

As a last resort, I call Daria.

Tata: Come with me to the hearing tomorrow. You look like a normal person!
Daria: What? Is that thing tomorrow?
Tata: As you know, I need a translator between me and the rest of the world.
Daria: ...And I look respectable?
Tata: Even with all that hair, yup. Are you free at 11?
Daria: Wednesday...11? I can't, orientation at Sandro's preschool at 10:30.
Tata: Drat.
Daria: What about Sharkey? He looks respectable!
Tata: Everyone works. He might be in North Carolina, I'm not sure. Paulie's out saving the world. Siobhan's in Mahwah. Scout's teaching. I could make you a list.
Daria: What did Ted say?
Tata: He said he'd see me there. He's got cases tomorrow.
Daria: Okay, so stand next to him and tell him to hold a briefcase. He barely knows you and still thinks you're nice.
Tata: That's always a shocker, huh?

Ted is a family friend and a tenant's rights lawyer. Whenever he sees me, he says nothing is going to happen to me, then tells me a horror story about one of his clients. The crap that people do to one another is absolutely unbelievable to me. Sunday, he told me about a landlord that took the rent from two federal agencies and locked out a tenant while she was in the hospital. You can practically smell the sulphur. I mention this to Siobhan.

Tata: I'm going to that hearing alone. I'm very nervous!
Siobhan: Sorry to hear it. Let us remember that you totally kick ass.
Tata: ...I totally...kick ass...
Siobhan: Remember?
Tata: ...I do remember. Huh! Thank you for that timely reminder.

As Daria, tireless mixer of pop culture metaphors would say: Holy Ruby Slippers, Batman! I haven't slept in weeks and my face looks awful. This morning, I had dreams about children breaking into my house and stealing my things. I've postponed errands and conversations until after this hearing because I have felt helpless and out of my element. Well, that's enough of that. No matter what happens tomorrow, it is not the worst thing I've ever faced alone. I am not weak. This morning, when I felt timid, I compared this unnerving experience to court hearings throughout history, wherein millions of people faced terrifying judgment with a great deal more to lose, and I was embarrassed to be so upset by my landlord's manipulation. No one is going to chain me up and burn me slowly if I answer questions the wrong way. And I am a Force of Nature. I forgot that for a few weeks, but I remember that now. When I am nearby, everyone knows it's Windy.

With perspective once again restored, let us consider how a normal life can go from zero to horrific in one little paragraph:
"We must exterminate these people (homosexuals) root and branch...We can't permit such danger to the country; the homosexual must be entirely eliminated."

With these chilling words, the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, set out the Nazi master plan for the sexual cleansing of the Aryan race.

Heinz F, now 96, was a care-free young gay man living in Munich in the early 1930s. He had no idea of what was about to happen. "I didn't fully understand the situation," he admits with pained regret. One morning, out of the blue, the police knocked on his door. "You are suspected of being a homosexual," they told him. "You are hereby under arrest." "What could I do?" he asks, struggling to hold back the tears. "Off I went to Dachau, without a trial."

I knew all this had happened, and because all my life we have talked about the Third Reich in honest terms I believed I'd read or heard everything I needed to read or hear to remain appropriately horrified and respectful until the end of my days. Apparently, there's plenty more horror where all the previous horror came from.
Before the nightmare years of Nazism, Berlin was the queer capital of the world. Jewish lesbian, Annette Eick, who escaped to Britain shortly before the outbreak of war, recalls with fond nostalgia: "In Berlin, you were free. You could do what you wanted."

The city boasted dozens of gay organisations and magazines; plus over 80 gay bars, restaurants and night clubs. In his narration, Rupert Everett describes it as "a homosexual eden."

Although homosexuality was illegal under paragraph 175 of the criminal code, prior to the Third Reich it was rarely enforced. In the Reichstag, MPs were on the verge of securing its repeal. A new era of freedom seemed to be dawning. Then came Nazism.

Within a month of assuming power in 1933, Hitler outlawed homosexual organisations and publications. Gay bars and clubs were closed down soon afterwards. Storm troopers ransacked the headquarters of the gay rights movement, the Institute of Sexual Science, and publicly burned its vast library of "degenerate" books. Before the end of the year, the first homosexuals were deported to concentration camps.

Reminds me of the reason I have no interest in visiting Kansas.
At the age of 17, Frenchman Pierre Seel was detained by the invading Germans, who rifled local police files on homosexuals. "They saw our names of these lists," he says. "I ended up at the camp in Schirmeck."

"There was a hierarchy from weakest to strongest. The weakest in the camps were the homosexuals. All the way at the bottom."

"I was tortured, beaten...sodomised and raped!" Seel screams in anguish. "The Nazis stuck 25cm of wood up my arse...(it) still bleeds, even today."

His lover Jo suffered a worse fate. "He was condemned to die, eaten by dogs. German dogs! German Shepherds!" Seel shouts with rage. "That I can never forget."

The Nazis again intensified the war against "abnormal existence" in 1935, broadening the definition of homosexual behaviour and the grounds for arrest. Gossip and innuendo became evidence. A man could be incarcerated on the basis of a mere touch, gesture or look.

I don't know that I have the courage to sit through a documentary of these men's real lives, and that frightens me. It gets worse.
But [seventy-eight year old Gad] Beck survived, although nearly everyone around him perished. Two of his lovers were seized by the Nazis. "I met this beautiful blonde Jew. He invited me to spend the night. In the morning the Gestapo came...I showed my ID - not on the list. They took him to Auschwitz. It had a different value then, a night of love."

Later, Beck tried to free another lover, Manfred, from a Gestapo transfer camp by posing as a Hitler Youth member. This incredibly dangerous deception was successful, but as they walked to freedom, Manfred told Gad he could not abandon his family in the camp. Beck watched helplessly as his lover returned to be with them. He never saw Manfred again.

Never in my life have I had to demonstrate a degree of bravery putting on a rescue effort like that would require. And I don't know what to make of this.
Heinz Dormer, now a very frail 89 year-old, spent nearly ten years in prisons and concentration camps. In a quivering, barely audible voice he remembers the haunting, agonised cries from "the singing forest," a row of tall poles on which condemned men were hung: "Everyone who was sentenced to death would be lifted up onto the hook. The howling and screaming were inhuman...Beyond human comprehension."

This "homocaust" was an integral part of the holocaust. Contrary to false histories that claim the persecution of Jewish people was distinct and separate from the victimisation of other minorities, the genocide against Jews and queers was part of the same grand design for the racial purification of the German volk. The Nazis set out to eradicate all racial and genetic "inferiors" - not just Jews, but also gay, disabled, black, Slav, Roma and Sinti people.

Even after the Nazi defeat in 1945, gay survivors continued to be persecuted. Men liberated from the concentration camps who had not completed their sentences were re-imprisoned by the victorious Allies. Since they were regarded as criminals, all were denied compensation for their suffering. The German government still refuses to pay reparations. As a further insult, the former SS guards are awarded better pensions. Their work in the concentration camps counts toward their pension entitlement, whereas the time spent in the camps by gay inmates doesn't.

I don't know what that means - or worse, I'm afraid I might.

In all humility, I'm sure I'll be fine.


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