Hitler: a closeted gay man
- Krisha Janaswamy
TW: homophobia and sexual assault
The sexuality of humans, especially prominent world leaders, has drawn a lot of historians’ interest. Adolf Hitler, the Austrian-born German politician, who was the dictator of Germany from 1933 to 1945, is one such figure. The holocaust, carried out from the years of 1939-1945, resulted in the death of at least eighteen million nine hundred forty-eight thousand nine hundred people that were deemed “Untermenschen” (undesirable) or subhuman, including Jews, Soviet civilians, Soviet prisoners of war, Non-Jewish Polish citizens, Serb civilians (on the territory of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina), people with disabilities living in institutions, Roma, Jehovah’s witnesses, repeat criminal offenders and so-called asocials, homosexuals and German political opponents and activists in territories occupied by the axis powers (this number still remains undetermined).
Hitler believed that Germany required Lebensraum (living space) for its natural development. The term was actually coined in 1901, by Freidrich Ratzel, and was believed by many at the turn of the century. It emphasized the need for nations to be self-sufficient in terms of resources, believing that it would help prevent external threats. Some people were considered undesirable by Nazi standards based on who they were (genetics, cultural origins, health conditions), including Jews, Roma, Slavs, Poles, and people with physical and mental disabilities. Some people were considered undesirable based on what they did/ what their beliefs were: homosexuals, communists, “asocials”, socialists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, dissenting clergy, rebels and political enemies.
Homosexuals were seen as enemies of the Aryan race because they did not contribute to the growth of Aryan population and were viewed as corrupting German culture and values. Their attraction to people of the same gender meant that they would not reproduce for Volksgemeinschaft. Repression of homosexuals commenced within days of Hitler becoming Chancellor. On the 6th of May, 1933, the Nazis violently looted and shut down The Institute for Sexual Science and burnt its extensive collection, consisting of around 12,000 books and 35,000 pictures along with other “degenerate” works of literature. Hitler apparently had all the sexual perversion records relating to himself and his colleagues destroyed in this ‘book-burning ceremony’.
Undetermined numbers of German gay men and lesbians fled abroad, and others entered into marriages to appear to conform to Nazi ideological norms and experienced severe psychological trauma. Heinrich Himmler, SS leader, directed the persecution of homosexuals in the Third Reich. Lesbians were however not seen as threatening to the racially motivated Nazi policies. Non- German homosexuals were also not targeted by Nazi leaders unless they were involved with German partners.
It was, however, not always like that. Article 175 (the German statute that prohibited homosexuality between men and made it a punishable offence) was not enforced in Prussia under the rule of Otto Braun from 1918 to 1932. Consequently, Prussia became a sort of haven for homosexuals from all over Germany; it came to be known as the “Homosexual capital of Europe”. Gay culture flourished in Prussia in the 1920s, especially in Berlin, where many people had come out of the proverbial closet (they openly identified as homosexuals). Despite societal exclusion to an extent, a lively homosexual culture had developed through the early late 19th and 20th centuries. Private baths were often used as fronts for homosexuals to congregate and socialise. There were over forty meeting places and gay clubs staffed by homosexuals in Berlin that served as popular pubs for the gay community. Some of these spots such as Queer’s way in Tiergarten and clubs such as El Dorado were so famous, that they even served as tourist attractions. Clubs catered to different strata of the gay community: some catered to the richer gay Germans, bars such as the Mother Cat (Zur Katzenmutter) on the other hand, catered to soldiers. While most nightlife catered only to gay and bisexual men, clubs like the Dorian Gray had nights for lesbians also. Besides the vibrant nightlife, there was also a growing social scene, which included developments like the creation of the Der Eigene, the world’s first gay magazine.
Ernst Röhm, an early member of the Nazi Party, a German military officer, and one of Adolf Hitler’s closest friends (the only one allowed to call him “Adolf”), was one of the most prominent gay Nazi officials. He despised “soft” gays and himself subscribed to an ultra-macho “hard” image. He was known to visit many of Berlin’s gay parlours and clubs. Hitler maintained a relationship with fellow soldier Ernst Röhm for nearly six years, since the beginning of World War I. US Intelligence later discovered that Hitler was never promoted during the War because of his sexual orientation. Former Nazi, Otto Strasser, said that when in 1921 Hitler became the leader of the Nazi Party, his personal guards and chauffeurs were “almost exclusively homosexual”; two of his bodyguards, Ulrich Graf and Christian Weber were expected to satisfy him whenever he wished.
Adolf Hitler developed a relationship with Rudolph Hess, while he was imprisoned for treason in Landsberg Castle. Their relationship continued for several years, until Hess, who was prone to hysterics became too much of an embarrassment to Hitler.
Illustrated by Avani Gupta
Hitler also had a secret relationship with his Munich chauffeur, Julius Schreck. Their relationship lasted till Schreck’s sudden death due to meningitis. They were apparently devoted to each other and Hitler cried uncontrollably for days; he had a State funeral for Schreck where he delivered a personal eulogy. Bavarian King Ludwig II who had maintained a 20 year-long affair with his coachman was one of Hitler’s heroes.
His first girlfriend, Stephanie Isak, during his mid-teens in Linz, was of Jewish descent and became the ideal for the perfect Aryan woman, along with his mother, ironically enough. Hitler did not have as much success in his relationships with women as he did in his relationships with men, they were nothing short of a disaster. When he was 38 years old, he started a relationship with 16-year-old Maria Reiter, who attempted suicide in 1927 after he abruptly lost interest in her. He then shared a romantic relationship with his half-niece, Geli Raubal for more than four years. She committed suicide by shooting herself with a gun he had gifted her. The actress Renee Mueller also committed suicide in 1937 after Hitler purposely ruined her career and had her followed by the Gestapo. Unity Mitford, an English aristocrat, also shot herself with a gun Hitler had gifted her in 1939. Hitler was unfaithful to Eva Braun with both men and women. She committed suicide along with him less than 40 hours after they were wed in the Berlin bunker in the April of 1945. Hitler was thus, predominantly homosexual for most of his life. Siobhan Pat Mulcahy, the author of “The Peculiar Sex Life of Adolf Hitler” describes him as a “reluctant homosexual” in his final years.
While Hitler had his share of relationships with men, gay men were increasingly prosecuted and sent to concentration camps; 1937 to 1939, were the peak years of Nazi persecution of homosexuals. A directive issued by the Gestapo on 4th April 1938 indicated that men convicted of homosexuality could be incarcerated in concentration camps following their sentences. Homosexual prisoners in concentration camps were made to wear pink triangles and according to the accounts of many survivors, were the most abused at the camps. Many were subjected to physical and sexual abuse and served as subjects for horrific “scientific experiments”. The treatment of gay men in concentration camps still remains a topic relatively less studied by historians and most of our knowledge today comes from the accounts of survivors of concentration camps.
Hitler declared that "homosexuality is actually as infectious and as dangerous as the plague". It can hence be inferred that he probably suffered from internalized homophobia. That is not to justify the crimes he committed against humanity or the abuse gay men had been subjected to for simply being gay, which he could have very well prevented.