The Cape Town Holocaust Centre (CTHC) is hosting a major new international exhibition, ‘In Whom Can I Still Trust, and associated events in the Mother City that explore the largely undocumented Nazi persecution of homosexuals.

The exhibition runs from 12 February until 21 March and will feature an ancillary programme of workshops, panel discussions, public talks and films.

Developed by IHLIA (Homodok/Lesbisch Archief Amsterdam), the exhibition has been redeveloped for South Africa and makes use of archive photographs, personal testimonies and video clips and relates the historical narrative to the prejudices still facing homosexuals today. 

The event’s organisers say that in light of continued discrimination, homophobia and prejudice towards members of the lesbian and gay community in South African society, the exhibition has considerable relevance to the country.

Through additional panels, the exhibition will highlight these challenges and the progress that has been made in protecting sexual minorities in South Africa.

Historical background

It is a little known fact that between 1933 and 1945 gay men were especially targeted by the Nazi Government. As many as 10 000 homosexuals died as a result of murder or ill treatment and starvation in the Nazi Concentration Camps. Homosexuals were regarded as undesirables in society as they were associated with a decadent lifestyle and failing to further the aims of the Aryanisation of Germany.

Although historically the target of laws outlawing homosexuality, they had enjoyed a certain tolerance in the era of the Weimar Republic in Germany. This changed dramatically when the Nazi party came to power and arrests became commonplace.

In 1935, Nazi Germany tightened its laws against male homosexuality. The mere suspicion of homosexuality was reason for arrest. If homosexuals were charged, they could lose everything: their jobs, their homes, their honour, their freedom. Men identified as gay were forced to wear pink triangles.

Neighbours, colleagues and passers-by in the street readily reported their friends and colleagues to the police in Germany.  Homosexuals were thus forced into lying and secrecy for their own protection. They no longer knew who they could trust.

The persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany was possible on such a large scale because of the ready complicity of society. In Berlin, half of the inquiries in the period 1933-1945 were the result of reports from private individuals. A small proportion of reports came from colleagues, employers or public sector employees such as care workers. One-third of charges followed police investigation. Only six percent resulted from reports by Nazi organisations.

Gay men, wearing pink triangles, in a concentration camp

After the war, the prejudice against the survivors continued as European governments enforced the homosexual laws on the statute books. Many surviving homosexuals were re-imprisoned after the war and made to serve out the remainder of their sentences. Because of the attitudes that prevailed in society, homosexuals were largely unable to talk about their experiences or obtain any sort of compensation.

It Gets Better South Africa

Videos from the new ‘It Gets Better South Africa’ project will form an important part of the In Whom Can I Still Trust exhibition and will be launched during the event.

A diverse group of high profile individuals have teamed up with students from the University of Cape Town and University of Pretoria to create a collection of videos that discourages homophobic bullying.

The interviewees range from struggle hero Ahmed Kathrada to track superstar Oscar Pistorius. The producer of the videos, Andrew Barry, will attend their launch.

‘It Gets Better South Africa’ will form part of the It Gets Better Project, an international anti-bullying campaign, launched in the US in 2010 by syndicated columnist and author Dan Savage in response to the suicides of a number of gay students who were being bullied in school.
The ancillary programme

The ancillary programme to the exhibition includes the screening of three films: Paragraph 175 (at Labia on Orange, Wed 13 Feb, 6.15pm), which features the testimonies of gay survivors of the Nazis and is narrated by actor Rupert Everett; A Love to Hide (CTHC Auditorium, Wed 20 Feb, 8pm), about a Jewish girl sheltered by her gay childhood friend; and Mädchen in Uniform (CTHC Auditorium, Thurs 14 March, 8pm), a cult classic 1931 film that includes the first-ever pro-lesbian feature film storyline. 

There are two performances of the acclaimed play The TimeKeepers; the story of Hans, a flamboyant young German gay, and an older, conservative Jew, who both repair watches for the Nazis. (Tue 5 & Wed 6 Match at 8pm).

Gay Nazi survivor Stefan Kosinki

On Wed 20 February at 7pm at the CTHC, the book Challenging Homophobia: teaching about sexual diversity, addressing how educators can tackle prejudice against sexual minorities, will be launched, as will the It Gets Better South Africa collection of videos. The book’s co-editor, Lutz van Djik, and the producer of the videos, Andrew Barry, will speak at the event.

A public lecture will also be held on Thurs 7 March at the CTHC, by van Djik, who will discuss his book Damned Strong Love – Listening to the Memoirs of Stefan Kosinki (1925 – 2003), a Gay Survivor in Occupied Poland During World War II. Video interviews with Kosinki will be screened.

On Mon 11 March, 9.30am – 3.30pm, learners from a diverse range of high schools in the Western Cape will be able to take part in an interactive schools workshop on “embracing equality and respecting sexual diversity” at the CTHC.

An interfaith panel discussion, chaired by Laurie Gaum from the Centre for Christian Spirituality, is scheduled to take place on Wed 20 March at the CTHC. It will explore the question of “can faith communities be trusted with human sexuality and human diversity?”

For more information or to book for any of these events, please contact Monique on or 021 462 5553.

Get the Mamba Newsletter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend