Dr Julien Drouart
Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism: Love despite dictatorship
Updated: Jan 12, 2022
The Memorial to Persecuted Homosexuals pays tribute to those who were ostracised by Hitler's regime. This sensitive memorial complex is one of the most beautiful surprises in the field of remembrance.
A visit to the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism is optional. It is also a personal favourite.
In 2008, a memorial was unveiled in Berlin to those who had been persecuted by the National Socialist regime due to their sexual orientation, in the name of the biological and social regeneration of the national body. The construction of the remarkable Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, honouring the victims of the Shoah, led other communities then ostracised to rightly demand the right to their own place of remembrance.
It is impossible to compare the victims of anti-homosexual policies with those of anti-Jewish policies at the time from a quantitative point of view. However, it should be emphasised that human pain is not quantifiable and that there is no need for competition between memories. On the contrary, the two memorials and those that will follow them are complementary rather than antagonistic. Each fights against historical denial and has a distinct contemporary orientation.
An almost accidental discovery
Hidden and deliberately discreet, an oblique stele stands at the edge of Tiergarten Park. Without any title or information plaque, a skylight allows one to watch a short video montage inside, showing two people of the same sex, men or women, embracing. Behind the embracing couple, a panorama of images presents the discriminatory measures and the struggle for equal rights throughout the ages, i.e. not only the period of National Socialism. What would seem to be a mere detail shows that the issue of homophobia is actualised here and reminds the visitor of the historical resonances. Simply, the artistic form of the Memorial adapts to contemporary issues.
Also, bringing the visitor to observe the intimacy and the act of love of two people who were hiding from the possibly accusing or reproachful gaze is disturbing and surprising. The absence of any visible information is therefore a pedagogical choice and reminds us that yesterday and today people who love each other are still forced to hide their love.
There is nevertheless a commemorative and explanatory plaque but, although it is understandable that it is located away from the Memorial to respect the setting, we regret its aseptic style which makes the whole unreadable and therefore unintelligible.
One of the most extraordinary memorials ever
The Memorial to Persecuted Homosexuals cultivates a remarkable sensitivity and places the visitor in an uncomfortable situation. The discretion observed here is a choice and the political message is obvious.
However, one must be wary of preconceived ideas, which unfortunately are reinforced and consolidated by the absence of explanations. Interpreting the historical fact can prove to be shaky when the form prevails over the substance; which is, moreover, the characteristic of a memorial. In other words, it is necessary to rethink one's own representations and to be patient. There is no doubt that the memorial is an absolutely remarkable ensemble. Going there is not an obligation but a personal journey.
Reasons to go
A daring and successful adaptation of historical issues to contemporary ones
A dignified and respectful discretion
The fantastic lighting effect shortly before the darkness
Reasons to avoid
A commendable concept, but difficult to access for the beginner
Frequent technical problems that leave the visitor in the dark
Condensation inside the stele making it difficult to watch the video