Thursday, November 15, 2007

November 15

As the second world war ground onward, Heinrich Himmler, commander of the Nazi SS, found himself increasingly preoccupied with the alleged presence of homosexuals in the elite paramilitary organization. In 1936, he had established the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary Germans were arrested for sexual crimes, and tens of thousands were sent to camps, where the policy of “Extermination Through Work” dominated. In early 1941, Himmler declared that the gay infestation had touched the strings of the Nazi party. “The party,” he announced, “with its branch organizations and the Wehrmach must proceed with ruthless severity against every case of homosexuality that appears in their ranks. If this happens, then the machinery of the state will remain clean, and it must remain clean.”

On November 15, 1941, Himmler’s philosophy was enacted in a secret document, signed by Hitler himself, titled “The Fuhrer’s Decree Relating to the Purity of the SS and Police.” The document announced that "to keep the SS and Police clean of vermin with homosexual inclinations," any SS member member or police officer "who commits unnatural acts with another man or lets himself be abused for unnatural acts shall be punished with death." Offenses deemed "less serious" would result in imprisonment or hard labor for six months or more. As for the number of SS or police officers subjected to these punishments, no reliable figures appear to exist.

Exactly two years later, Himmler issued an order dooming hundreds of thousands of Sinti and Romani people to the Reich's concentration camps scattered across Europe. The Romani and Sinti -- groups commonly known in English as Gypsies -- had been subjected to many of the same laws that pertained as well to Jews; although Nazi racial scientists distinguished between "pure" and "mixed-race" Gypsies, the former group was believed to consist of only about 10 percent of the overall population. During the early years of the Second World War, Gypsies were herded into ghettos or -- as happened more frequently in Eastern Poland and German-occupied Russian lands -- summarily shot by SS officers. Others were transferred to work camps. On November 15, 1943, Germany removed the distinctions between Jews and "nomadic" or "impure" Gypsies, who were henceforth "to be placed on the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps." Where doubt existed as to the racial identity of a particular individual, "the police commanders will decide who is a Gypsy."

The porajmos -- "the devouring," as it has come to be known among the Romani -- ultimately consumed between 200,000-500,000 lives.

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