By Steven Philp
As Passover recently reminded us, Judaism often demands that we place ourselves within the Jewish narrative, and through its retelling live our collective history. With this in mind, it becomes imperative that we bring to light the stories of those who have lived on the margins of our community, through the forces of physical and psychic oppression. Rudolf Brazda is one of these individuals. Only three years ago he broke his silence to speak about his experience as a gay man during the Holocaust. In an interview with the French LGBT-interest magazine Têtu—translated and summarized in an article by The Advocate—Brazda explained, “The way Nazis treated the ‘pink triangles’ is unspeakable.” LGBT individuals imprisoned in concentration camps were forced to wear pink triangles to indicate their sexual orientation. Although not endorsed by the government, pro-LGBT social organizations—comprised primarily of gay men—were tolerated during the Weimar Republic. Under Nazi rule, Paragraph 175, which was developed during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm I as an indictment against homosexuality, was expanded to emphasize the criminality of men engaged in same-sex activity. By 1938, people could be tried and imprisoned for an action as simple as visual contact if the perceived intent was sexual in nature. Within concentration camps, men and women imprisoned for homosexual behavior had extremely low rates of survival. In addition to experiencing Nazi brutality, LGBT individuals were targeted by other prisoners for their perceived weaknesses. The end of the war provided a modicum of relief; however, with homosexual conduct illegal in the majority of European nations, they were forced to remain silent until decriminalization in the 80s and 90s. When asked why he had not spoken out earlier, Brazda replied, “Before, no one cared about this tragedy.”
In late April an important step was made toward the preservation of one voice from the estimated 50,000 to 75,000 LGBT individuals deported by the Nazi regime. According to an article posted by LGBT Asylum News, an autobiography of Brazda has been penned by sociologist Alexander Zinn; titled Das Glück Kam Immer Zu Mir (Happiness Always Came to Me), currently it is only available in German (a translation of one chapter of the book is available at Queer.de). However the author hinted at the possibility of an upcoming documentary, having filmed several interviews with Brazda including a trip back to Buchenwald. Zinn explained the significance of his subject, saying, “Brazda’s history differs markedly from that of the majority of homosexuals persecuted under the Third Reich—because he survived. The majority of the ‘pink triangles’ died in the camps.” At 97 years old, Brazda is the only known, living LGBT survivor of the concentration camps.
Brazda has lived in Alsace, France since his release from Buchenwald. He survives his partner Edi, who passed away in 2003. Although he has experienced declining health, he hopes to continue sharing his story so that LGBT individuals might be able to take their place in the Holocaust narrative, both inside and outside the Jewish community. It is important that we recognize the stories of people who were forced to remain silent after the end of World War II. Like Jews, many other communities who were victims of Nazi persecution—such as LGBT individuals, those with cognitive or physical disabilities, and the Roma—continued to face discrimination. Although the preponderance of suffering was borne by the Jewish community, our story is a shared one. With this in mind, we add their voice to our multitude; Brazda belongs in the hearts of us all.