The memorial, near the Brandenburg Gate and a stone’s throw from the main Holocaust memorial, consists of an imposing, grey concrete slab around four metres (13 feet) high. At eye-level inside the monument, designed by Norwegian-Danish duo Ingar Dragset and Michael Elmgreen at a cost of €450,000, is a gap containing a television screen showing two men kissing.
The video will be changed regularly and in two years is scheduled to show two women, Günter Dworek from the Federation of Gays and Lesbians in Germany (LSVD), a driving force behind the project, told AFP.
On the facade is a text detailing the suffering of gays under Hitler, who outlawed homosexuality in 1936 and convicted around 50,000 people for “unnatural” behaviour deemed unbecoming of the Aryan “master race.”
“A simple kiss could land you in trouble,” it says in the text.
It is estimated that between 5,000 and 15,000 gays were sent to concentration camps together with Jews, political opponents, gypsies, Jehovah’s witnesses and others considered undesirable. Once there, few were killed right away. Most were forced to wear a pink triangle, putting them at the bottom of the camp hierarchy, and died of hunger, disease, abuse or exhaustion. Very few returned. Gays were also subjected to medical experiments to try to “cure” them of their sexual orientation such as hormonal injections, castration or crude brain operations.
Lesbians escaped the same treatment but were forced to conceal their sexuality and could expect vicious abuse if they fell foul of the regime for other reasons.
Attending the unveiling of the monument will be Berlin’s openly gay mayor Klaus Wowereit, Culture Minister Bernd Neumann, as well as representatives of Germany’s Jewish and Roma communities. Absent though will be any survivors.
The last known survivor—Pierre Seel, a Frenchman deported in 1941 when he was 17-years-old, died in November 2005. In his memoirs he described how his first love, 18 year-old Jo, was torn apart by dogs in front of other prisoners.
Homosexuality remained illegal until 1969 and was only formally decriminalized in Germany in 1994. For many years, the persecution of gays during the Nazi era was swept under the carpet.
“Homosexuals were excluded from compensation laws in the 1950s because it was thought at the time that they had been persecuted as criminals. The few who managed to receive compensation got it late,” Dworek said.
The monument also pays homage to those elsewhere suffering a similar plight today, recalling that in many countries homosexuals still face discrimination and persecution.