In the Netherlands, André van Duin moved the entire country with his speech at the Commemoration of the Dead, 76 years after the end of WWII. Remarkably, André van Duin said it was his first time attending the official commemoration of the dead. All previous years he had chosen to pay homage at the gay monument. This monument was erected because the LGBTI+ victims seemed to have been ‘erased’ during the official moments.

This was not only the case in the Netherlands. In Belgium too, it takes a long time before the LGBTI+ movement is allowed to honor their victims. It takes until 2004 before the LGBTI+ community is allowed to lay down a garment at the official memorial ceremony in Breendonk. Far too late.

André van Duin’s father was arrested and sent to Germany. Whenever he asked his father about what he had experienced then, the man invariably said “You don’t want to know, boy”. In the words of André van Duin, “He had survived. But you were not supposed to ask how.”

Then again, the LGBTI+ victims of the Nazis were never asked what they had been through. It seemed as if they did not deserve to be remembered.

According to official figures, the Nazis rounded up some 100,000 homosexuals, half of them were convicted, and of those, about 15,000 ended up in the camps. Something they usually did not survive. 

There are no known stories of homosexuals or lesbians in Belgium who were rounded up and persecuted by the Germans. There will of course have been many among the many Belgian victims of National Socialism, but not because they were LGBT. 

The latter was the reason why we were excluded from the commemoration ceremonies for a long time. And yet that doesn’t make sense.

First of all, you cannot reduce the many monuments that commemorate the victims of WWII to their “own” story. In the beginning, of course, there will have been a direct link to the friends, acquaintances, neighbors or fellow townspeople who were horribly murdered. But the further the war is behind us, the more the memorial sites become a universal symbol of the struggle against Nazism and fascism.

In other words, when we commemorate the Jewish victims, it is no longer about Aline and Jacques Loitzanski from Lombard Street but about all the Jews, disabled people, Roma, … who lost their lives during WWII. The deaths of all these people would be no less terrible if none of them had lived in Belgium. But apparently, this does not always apply to the LGBTI+ community.

In the camps, however, they were treated as the lowest of the low. They are raped, tortured, they serve as human guinea pigs … After the Jews, homosexuals were most likely to die in the concentration camps. But after the war, no “liberation” came for LGBTI+ victims. Unlike many others, they had nowhere to turn with their stories. In fact, after the defeat of the Nazis, the men convicted under Germany’s anti-gay laws simply had to serve their sentences. 

In fact, the persecution continues. According to Klaus Müller, historian and author of books on “homosexuals under the Nazi regime,” the number of homosexual men persecuted in Germany after the war is about as high as it was during the war. Between 1945 and 1969 as many as 100,000 men were charged, half of them also convicted. It was not until 1969 that the law was (partially) abolished.

In Belgium, too, homosexuals seem to end up on the police’s priority list after the war, causing prosecution to increase sharply. This was supposedly to protect young people from the homosexuals who would lead them astray, an idea that appeared in police manuals in WWII.

However, things were looking good for Western European gays and lesbians in the first decades of the last century. 

Until the rise of the Nazis, a relative openness towards LGBTI+ persons prevailed in Germany. By then, the German gay movement has existed for over thirty years, and scientists such as the sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld and his colleagues at the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft are helping to create a more positive view of homosexuality and transgender persons.

Also in Belgium, homosexuality is not punishable in itself at the time. If there is a conviction at all, it is mainly on the basis of the law on public indecency. When the Nazis enacted their stricter anti-gay laws (section 175a), Belgium and Brussels were a safe haven. This is partly because hunting gays is not a priority for the Belgian police as Wannes Dupont, Elwin Hofman and Jonas Roelens describe in their book ‘Hidden Desire. A History of Homosexuality in Belgium’.

World War II wiped that gay subculture off the map in Europe, and it did not return in the 1950s and 1960s either. The Nazis implemented a conservative agenda that significantly boosted not only a nineteenth-century sexism but also the homophobia that still exists.

Thus, the number of victims of Nazi ideas cannot be reduced to the 15,000 people who ended up in the concentration camps but is vastly higher.

So along with the Jews, the gays and lesbians are confronted with the realization that you are never really safe. It is a trauma that continues to affect the LGBTI+ movement today. No matter how far our emancipation stands today, nothing guarantees that the freedoms we have today cannot be reversed. 

Hence the relentless attention we pay to what is happening in Poland and Hungary, our European backyard. The way people there are trying to curtail the rights of LGBTI+ persons through laws and government-driven campaigns evokes too many memories of the 1930s. We are not afraid of discussions with people with homophobic ideas. We do fear a government that legislates homophobia and uses the state apparatus to enact those oppressive ideas as well. You don’t always need a war to make life hell for a lot of people. It is good that we regularly remind ourselves of that.

>> Please note that this is a machine generated translation. A more correct version is coming soon.