International Coalition Advocates for Full Recognition of Gay Victims
(NEW YORK, August 8, 2001) — In a historic proposal, an international coalition Thursday is asking a U. S. federal court to allocate a portion of a $1.25 billion settlement of a lawsuit against Switzerland’s two largest banks to create a fund to help recognize and address Nazi persecution of gay people.
Such a fund would be the first of its kind. The lawsuit prompting the court’s settlement plan has led to the first-ever legal recognition that gay people were systematically persecuted by the Nazis.
The lawsuit resulting in the settlement was filed against the Swiss banks to recover funds deposited in the banks by victims of Nazi persecution and never returned to their rightful owners. In addition, the settlement provides compensation for the banks’ unjust enrichment from assets that the Nazis looted from the victims or derived from slave labor. The court-administered plan to distribute settlement funds recognizes that the Nazis specifically targeted gay people, alongside Jews, Sinti and Roma (gypsies), Jehovah’s Witnesses, and people with disabilities.
Most of the settlement funds will be distributed to Jewish survivors, their heirs, and Jewish support organizations. The Pink Triangle Coalition seeks $12.5 million, or one percent, to account for Nazi persecution of gay people.
“No amount of money will ever right this historical wrong for any of the individuals and groups victimized by the Nazis. However, the Pink Triangle Coalition seeks to fulfill the responsibility of honoring the memory of the Nazis’ gay victims. In obtaining a small portion of this important settlement, we will work to ensure that these atrocities and the hatred that fueled them never happen again,” said Julie Dorf, founding member of the Pink Triangle Coalition.
The Pink Triangle Coalition was formed in Berlin in 1998 to work for recognition, remembrance, and education concerning Nazi persecution of gay people and to ensure representation of gay victims vis a vis the various international funds that have sprung up for educational projects and reparation payments linked to the Nazi era.
Although reclaimed in recent decades as a sign of gay liberation, the pink triangle was the badge assigned to gay men interned in Nazi concentration camps. The Nazis used other insignia to identify members of other groups singled out for persecution, most infamously the overlapping yellow triangles that formed the Star of David to identify Jews. Jewish victims far outnumbered others persecuted under Hitler, with nearly six million killed.
The Nazi regime ruthlessly crushed the many gay and lesbian organizations, businesses, and publications that had been established in Germany in the early twentieth century. According to historians, the Nazis also arrested at least 50,000 men under a law that banned male homosexuality. As many as 15,000 were sent to concentration camps, where most met their deaths. Gay prisoners often were assigned to extremely hazardous slave labor such as clearing mine fields and working in the quarries. Many died from exhaustion; others were killed outright. Still others were castrated and subjected to so-called “medical experiments” because of their sexual orientation.
"By explicitly acknowledging homosexuals as victims of Nazi persecution, the proposed settlement of the Swiss banks suit marks a historic turning point. More than 55 years after the defeat of the Third Reich, the losses sustained by our community will at last be recognized alongside those of the other groups who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime," said historian Gerard Koskovich, United States delegate for the Mémorial de la Déportation Homosexuelle, Paris, and one of the members of the coalition.
"The Pink Triangle Coalition is requesting only a very small portion of the total settlement, but it will allow us to assist the surviving homosexual victims of Nazi persecution as they approach the end of their lives. And by funding historical research and educational programs, it will make it possible for us to honor the memory of all those who did not survive or who are still too traumatized to come forward," he added.
Unlike most other victims of Nazi persecution, gay people worldwide were subjected to systematic harassment even after World War II ended. For example, until 1969 Germany maintained the Nazi-era law that criminalized male homosexuality. Some gay survivors were jailed by the Nazis’ successors. Because of the ongoing threat of prosecution after the war, widespread silence about Nazi persecution of gay people, and anti-gay bias, some gay victims of the Nazis have been unable to come forward to demand recognition. To date, 88 survivors have identified themselves as gay and are participating in the settlement.
“Gay people who survived the camps were forced to hide in the same closet to which virtually all gay people were consigned until recently,” said Michael Adams, deputy legal director of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, continuing, “The forced invisibility that has been part of so much anti-gay oppression around the world has compounded the continuing nightmare for gay survivors of the Nazis.”
At the center of the Swiss banks lawsuit was the allegation that the banks failed to return more than 50,000 bank accounts that had been opened by victims of the Nazis, who attempted to shield some of their financial assets from the Third Reich. The lawsuit also alleged that the banks were unjustly enriched with assets that the Nazis looted from their victims and with the profits of Nazi slave labor.
While much of the Swiss bank settlement funds will go to repay seized bank accounts and supplement payments that Nazi victims have received from prior reparation funds, a portion has been set aside by the court for other purposes. This set-aside of funds reflects a widespread understanding that most victims of the Nazis are now deceased; others, such as elderly gay survivors are unlikely to come forward. To more fully address present-day consequences of the Nazi era, the court is expected to dedicate some settlement funds to public education and organizational support. For example, $100 million has been set aside for organizations that care for Nazi survivors, with 90 percent of that money dedicated to Jewish support groups.
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