The memorial is intended to honour the homosexual victims of National Socialism and at the same time “set a constant sign against intolerance, hostility and exclusion towards gays and lesbians”. It was designed by Michael Elmgreen (Denmark) and Ingar Dragset (Norway) and was formally handed over to the public on 27 May 2008. The memorial shows a film in a window featuring a same-sex love scene. The current film is by the Israeli artist Yael Bartana.
Artist duo Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset
The Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals under National Socialism was developed by Michael Elmgreen (Denmark) and Ingar Dragset (Norway). The artist duo lives in Berlin and has been working together since 1995.
In the interpretation by Elmgreen & Dragset, a memorial should not be static and should be understood as a definitive statement, but should have a lively character and be subject to dynamic changes. As is often the case in their works, the two artists closely inspired their aesthetic ideas to the immediate surroundings of the monument. In this case, their sculptural implementation takes over the formal design of the Holocaust memorial across the street. But the three-dimensional shape of the Eisenman steles is complemented by an extra element at Elmgreen & Dragset: The viewer can watch a film through a small, square window in which two men hug and kiss endlessly. By making a clear reference to the Holocaust memorial, the monument seems to express that while we as human beings are all the same, we still differ from each other. This is the challenge of our tolerance and acceptance.
History of the Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals under National Socialism
In Nazi Germany, a homosexual persecution took place unparalleled in history. In 1935, the National Socialists ordered the comprehensive criminalization of male homosexuality. To this end, the provisions against homosexual conduct provided for in § 175 of the Criminal Code have been significantly tightened and extended. Already a kiss among men could now lead to persecution. § 175 meant prison or penitentiary. There were over 50,000 convictions. In part, the Nazi authorities were able to force the castration of convicts. Several thousand gays were trafficked to concentration camps because of their homosexuality. In concentration camps – such as Dachau near Munich – they had to wear a pink angle on the prisoner’s clothing to identify them. A large part of them did not survive the camps. They died due to hunger, illness and abuse or were victims of targeted killings.
The National Socialists have crushed the lives of gays and lesbians. Female homosexuality was not prosecuted – except in annexed Austria. It was considered less threatening to the National Socialists. Nevertheless, if lesbian women were at odds with the regime, they too were subjected to repression. Gays and lesbians lived intimidated in the Nazi era and under constant compulsion for camouflage. For a long time, the homosexual victims of National Socialism remained excluded from the culture of remembrance of both German post-war states. Here as there, gays were still prosecuted for decades to come. In the Federal Republic of Germany, § 175 remained unchanged until 1969. In many parts of the world, homosexual love is still punishable.
Film in the memorial
Integral to the design by the artists Elmgreen & Dragset is a cinematic presentation to be viewed through an opening in the memorial. Already on 4 June 2007, before the ceremonial opening, the then Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, Minister of State Bernd Neumann, announced a further development of the memorial concept after approval by the LSVD and the artists: Accordingly, the film is to be changed every two years, with a jury of experts making the decision on the newly shown film. Since the opening, three films by different artists have been featured in the memorial so far.