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Man, Marginalized

Artlink’s “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933-1945” exhibit

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Fort Wayne's rich and complex arts and cultural landscape includes numerous performance spaces, galleries, and historical museums, yet the attraction to a text-laden, highly didactic exhibition is not something that Fort Wayne's viewing audience is usually attracted to. While we certainly have a strong base of people who enjoy cultural experiences, they tend to be much more aggressive and actively experiential versus the more introspective process of reading ones way through a more academic exhibition.

Artlink, in strong partnership with the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, is courageously pushing against this trend with the beautiful, emotional, and challenging exhibition, "Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945", now through mid-November. Not only is Artlink courageous for taking on an exhibit which does not fit the current mold of most regional gallery exhibitions, but this is also one of the first local exhibitions to highlight the role of the LGBT community within the arts.

The exhibition itself takes the form of multiple "museum walls", each with eight panels of primary texts, visuals in the forms of archival photographs of Nazi victims and pieces of art from this era representing the turmoil within the European culture, and identification information for images. The layout and composition of information gives the viewer an obvious route to take while traveling through these panels, explaining the history of the Nazi plight, identifying key events and causes for the onset of bigotry and persecution.

The historical facts of this exhibition, especially in regards to the LGBT community, are quite interesting, including contextual statements about Berlin having "more than 100 clubs, bars, and cafes cater(ing) to the city's homosexual men and women." These facts also become quite grim when compared to the "Nazi charts portraying homosexuality as a threat to the German people and how they derived their views on homosexuality from ideas regarding race, family, and eugenics." More so, this exhibition identifies the lengths of depravity with which the Nazi's, under Paragraph 175 of their legal system, inflicted on the LGBT community including imprisonment, torture, and the option of castration in lieu of further imprisonment or concentration camp deportation.

This bigotry was not only based on sexuality, but also very much upon gender as well. This can be summed up by this quote, "In our ideology of National Socialism there is no room for the political woman… (our) movement places woman in her natural sphere of the family and stresses her duties as wife and mother. The political woman…represents the denigration of woman." This gender regimentation, of both men and women, by the Nazi regime was a acute and unbending. While paragraph 175 did not criminalize female homosexuality, it was later debated in the mid-1930s. The limiting role of women in general in society supposedly diminished the lesbian's "corrupting influence.” It was also noticed that even though female homosexuality was seen as taboo, they were still capable of reproducing, and thus "useful" to the Nazi state.

Because of this institutionalized and pervasive bigotry, the resulting anxiety and repression felt by many artists and creatives during this take was sublimated into their art work. The exhibition gives testimony to individuals in the theater and cabaret, as well as the visual arts who criticized and expressed their feelings about the Nazi regime and how it had turned society into a existential hell for anyone "other."

While artists like Richard Grune and others represent the physical labor in images like the lithograph "Prisoners in the Quarry," other artists during this time period focused on the existential and subliminal fear of this time period. These events and the experience felt by all of the victims in one of humanities most brutal wars has not only made an impact on the arts in general, and human culture in general, but it has left scars which continue to pass down generations. This exhibition most poignantly describes the fear, repression, and terror

"Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945" presents the importance of the idea of preserving people's experiences to learn from the past and not repeat it. The power of this exhibition allows people to look at themselves and the actions of these people for what it is, an atrocity, but also gives hope that through art and the communication which comes from it, new ground is built and new understandings defined about people and the ways in which we are more similar than dissimilar. The courage of this exhibition and the institutions supporting it are amazing. Hopefully we can grow to appreciate more academic exhibitions like these, and grow from their influence on our city's culture.

"Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945"
Auer Center for Arts and Culture
300 East Main Street

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