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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Micro-revising gays out of the Holocaust

In Massachusetts perhaps the most viruently anti-gay group is the Article 8 Alliance. Amid such eye-catching headlines as "The homosexual movement takes off the gloves, shows its true brutal nature" and "The modern mass psychology technique used by the homosexual movement to turn America on its head" is the real aim of the group: to overturn same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.

Boston is a long way from Kansas City. Not just in distance, but in attitude. While 70 percent of Missourians voted to ban same-sex marriage in August 2004, in Massachusetts can be married, under a court ruling that still has fun-D'uh-MENTAL-ists' collective panties in a bunch. And at the crotch of those wadded panties in Massachusetts is the Article 8 Alliance.

Normally I pay scant attention to the bigots in A8A. They are, after all, over 1,000 miles away and around here we have our own reich-wing nutjobs to contend with. But an announcement I saw posted on a message board the other day caught my attention. It was headlined "Holocaust survivor to speak at banquet for Article 8 Alliance." The announcement went on to say that the speaker, Stephan Ross, a native of Poland and resident of Newton, is a survivor of ten Nazi concentration camps including Auschwitz. He is also the founder of the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston and would be speaking on "The Resistance in Massachusetts: Lessons from a Holocaust Survivor."

According to the announcement: "He will reflect on the depths of evil that can be reached once society lets down its guard." (Hmmmm ... so does that mean he'll chastise the A8A folks for their evil ways in using many of the same tactics against lesbians and gays that the Nazis employed against the Jews? Apparently not. The announcement goes on the state Ross's true aim.) "He will inspire us to not turn away, but to face our challenges here in Massachusetts."

What the fuck?

Six million European Jews lost their lives in the Nazi death camps. They were by far the largest group to suffer at the hands of Hitler's followers. Of that there can be no denying. But they weren't the only group the Nazis chose to persecute. Communists, trade unionists, the physically and mentally challenged, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholic priests, Poles, and Gypsies all faced the wrath of Nazi Germany's killing machine and it's terrible efficiency.

So did gays ... though their stories remained largely unknown for years. Martin Sherman's play Bent and books such as Heinz Heger's The Men of the Pink Triangle: The True Life-and-Death Story of Homosexuals in the Nazi Death Camps helped to bring the experiences of gay men trapped in the Nazis' web of persecution and death to light.

As a witness to the Nazi death machine, Ross must have seen prisoners with pink triangles on their striped uniforms. He must have heard stories about what the various patches sewn on the uniforms meant. He must have seen the hatred even the other prisoners had for those locked up for infractions of Germany's notoriously anti-gay Paragraph 175 ... and known that the pink triangles were the lowest of the low in the camp hierarchy.

So what's he doing joining forces with radical anti-gay fun-D'uh-MENTAL-ists to oppose the right of a class of people to form families and have their relationships recognized?

It didn't take long to track down information on Ross. He's parlayed his past as a Holocaust survivor to support various right-wing causes, including an appearance before the U.S. Congress in 1999 to speak in favor of legislation to protect the flag from desecration. Even his son, Mike, played up his father's past as a concentration camp survivor in a 2000 run for a Boston city council post.

But it was one particular article that caught my attention and provided the missing link between a witness to the horrors that unbridled bigotry can produce and the appearance before group that expouses its own form of unbridled bigotry.

On the pages of Mass Voice, a publication that prides itself on being "a conservative voice," was this headline:

Holocaust Survivor: Molested by Homosexual Guards

It’s commonly accepted that Hitler targeted homosexuals for extermination — just as he did the Jews.

"Not so," says Stephan Ross, the Newton resident who is the founder of the Holocaust Museum in Boston.

And he should know. Ross was there. He lived, and almost died, in Nazi prison camps from the age of 9 to 14.

And while the abuse of the Nazis took many forms, he says he was sexually molested more than once by homosexual Nazi prison guards. He knew it was also going on with other prisoners, "although I didn’t go looking for it."

According to Ross, 1 out of 5 Nazi prison guards were homosexual. They delighted in molesting and raping young Jewish boys, he claims. According to the article:

Ross’ sexual abuse came at the hands of a guard who intercepted him as he was going from the barracks one early morning to get water.

"We lived 1,800 to a barracks and 10 to a section," he says. We just laid on boards, and didn’t cover ourselves with anything. We smelled horribly and lice were sucking the blood out of us.

"But they woke us in the mornings at about 4 a.m., and we would run to try to get a little water. A guard caught me one morning and made me ‘do his dick.’ I threw up. I couldn’t handle it. To this day I’m very angry about it.

Very angry about it, indeed! Rape and sexual abuse - even after more than half a century - can leave a victim feeling angry. Perhaps even angry enough to work against the rights of people one associates with past experiences ... even though the group he's working against now have absolutely no connection with those under whom he suffered in the past.

But what is particularly telling about Ross's view is this from the end of the article:

Ross says he has nothing against homosexuals in general. "I’m trying to build a foundation for tolerance for all people," he says. "I’m not really interested in aligning myself [against homosexuals].

"But I don’t consider their agenda to be normal, and I’m not pleased with this. I just look at them and think there has to be some kind of connection with how they were brought up.

"I really don’t want to study or learn about it, I just don’t want to have anything to do with it."

What a shame Ross has allowed his anger to close his mind. I truly regret his horrific experiences at the hands of the Nazis, but perhaps if he bothered to study the Holocaust he lived through he'd have a deeper understanding of the events in which he'd played a part.

For instance he might understand that his molestation at the hands of prison guards had nothing to do with homosexuality and everything to do with humiliating a subjugated population. Rape and sexual abuse have long been a tool of warfare when oppressors want to keep the oppressed in line. Such actions have nothing to do with sexual gratification, but are expressions of power. And as such they are acts all members of humanity must speak out against.

All groups persecuted by the Nazis suffered. There is no hierarchy of victimhood. That's why it's particularly disheartening for Ross to maintain in the article, "All they [those accused of being homosexual] had to do to get out [of the camp] was to sign a paper to say that they had been rehabilitated and wouldn’t do it [engage in homosexual activity] anymore," he says. "They were allowed to go back to their families. "They were not targeted to die. Not like we were." Such statements fly in the face of Holocaust scholars and gay survivors who have stepped forward to tell their stories. True, some homosexuals were released. In the early years of the Nazi regime, some were released to go home and inform on their friends so that the Nazi could arrest even more homosexuals. Toward the end of World War II others were released, but only after they faced the choice of remaining in the camps or being castrated and sent to the Russian front.

True, the Jewish victims of the Holocaust numbered in the millions while the estimated number of gays to die in the camps is between 15,000 and 50,000. That doesn't mean the Nazis were somehow soft on homosexuals. Instead it is a reflection of the Nazi view of homosexuality. They saw it as a disease that endangered the German "master race" and took whatever action they could to eliminate it from Germany. Meanwhile, in the countries they occupied homosexuality was less of an issue. If these other nations were "contaminated" by homosexuality it would only make the German goal of conquering these other countries easier.

And finally, understanding history means more than simply living through it. No one dismisses Ross's experiences as a concentration camp survivor. But his voice is one in millions who witnessed the horrors of Nazi Germany. History is a collective voice - not just one single voice who witnessed events from a small corner of the sickening mural that was Nazi Germany. Ross's voice is one element. So are the voices of other survivors. And the voices of the Nazis who ran the camps. And the Germans citizens who witnessed the coming and going of the trains and the smoke pouring from the chimneys. And the soliders who liberated the camps. And the meticulous records kept by the Nazis detailing the camps' efficiency in providing a "final solution."

It's sad that Ross doesn't want to study or learn about the Nazi persecution of homosexuals. His willful ignorance on the subjects puts him on the same league as the Holocaust deniers and revisionists who claim the "real" number of Jews killed by the Nazis is far smaller, but that somehow the Allies who liberated the camps conspired with the Jews to fake photographs and documents.

Ross was a victim of the Nazis. Of that there is no denying. But in his anger he has come to identify with the same type of people who were his oppressors ... and by doing so he will forever remain a victim.