With International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust having so recently passed, we wanted to explore some of the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community under Nazism. For a long time many of people’s stories were forgotten and erased, and do not figure strongly in the public consciousness, such as the history of the Institute for Sexual Research.
Institute for Sexual Research – The World’s First Trans Clinic
One important and forgotten story is the history of the world’s first trans clinic. In 1919, Magnus Hirschfeld founded the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, the Institute for Sexual Research. He was a world-renowned expert in sexuality and human sexual relations. Hirschfeld was Jewish and gay himself. His institute was a clinic, an academic foundation dedicated to research on human sexuality, and a place for the advocacy of LGBTQ+ rights. The first of its kind.
The Institute for Sexual Research served as the world’s first trans clinic. By 1930, it performed its first modern gender-affirming surgeries. Many trans people received gender-affirming healthcare, often for free. The institute was a space where many sought healing and freedom to be who they are. It was also a place of education, with countless research on homosexuality, gender identity and human sexuality. Hirschfeld was able to provide sex education and health clinics for trans and gender diverse people.
The Institute for Sexual Research included an immense library on all things queer, trans, and other human sexuality related topics. It even covered books and protocols on how to perform gender-affirming surgeries. However in 1933 a group of Nazi supporters occupied and broke into the Institute for Sexual Research. The entire content of the library was burned. Nazi officials burned over 20,000 books from across Germany on that day. It was one of the largest Nazi book burnings, and much of Germany’s rich history of queer, gender non-conforming, and trans people was erased.
Nazi Persecution of LGBTQ+ People
The Nazi Party persecuted Jewish people and other ethnic minority and political groups in addition to LGBTQ+ communities.
In Germany, Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code criminalised homosexuality. Despite the law, Berlin was a hub for queer and trans people. However, with the arrival of Nazism the LGBTQ+ community faced escalating discrimination and persecution.
Hirschfeld tried to overturn Paragraph 175. However, he was never able to do so. Nevertheless, while managing his institute, he made sure to provide so-called ‘transvestite’ identity cards for his trans patients. These legally accepted cards kept them from being arrested for presenting as gender non-conforming in public. Nonetheless, Nazis still sent queer and trans individuals to concentration camps to die.
Remembering the Institute for Sexual Research and LGBTQ+ Victims of the Holocaust
While we rightly learn a lot about Nazi crimes against the Jewish community, neither Germany nor Austria recognised queer and trans victims of the war. Paragraph 175 continued to be in effect for years and many homosexual prisoners remained incarcerated. The Institute for Sexual Research should receive its rightful acknowledgment as the world’s first trans clinic.
For the first in history, on January 27th 2023, the German Parliament remembered the LGBTQ+ victims of the Holocaust. The parliament dedicated its annual Holocaust memorial commemoration to LGBTQ+ people who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis.
The Bundestag President Bärbel Bas acknowledged the German Parliament’s decade-long disregard for queer and trans victims of the Holocaust. On this day, Base officially recognised all LGBTQ+ victims.
“For our remembrance culture, it’s important that we tell the stories of all victims of persecutions, that we make their injustice visible, that we recognise their suffering.” –Bärbel Bas, January 27th 2023.