Susanne zur Nieden: Homosexuelle literature during the Nazi dictatorship

Homosexuelle literature during the Nazi dictatorship

Review by Susanne zur Nieden

Christian Klein:

Schreiben im Schatten. Homoerotische Literatur im Nationalsozialismus.

Hamburg: MännerschwarmSkript 2000.

192 Seiten, ISBN 3–928983–91–1, € 16,00

Christian Klein’s work deals with homoerotic literature published in Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945, literature that had up to then remained hidden in more than one sense. Written and published at a time when homosexuals were persecuted by the Nazi state, it was impossible to depict same-sex desire in literature in the same way as it was not acceptable, nor possible, to publicly proclaim political statements that differed from those of the Nazis. Places and organisations which could have published these kinds of work ceased to exist after the spring of 1933, when gay bars were closed and any non-Nazi newspapers forbidden. In May 1933, the Berlin Institute for Research on Sexuality was destroyed. By murdering the homosexual SA leader Ernst Röhm in the summer of 1934 and tightening up the application of paragraph 175 (the paragraph outlawing any homosexual acitivities between men, the translator), the Nazi government declared homosexual men their official enemy. Well-known publishers, such as, Adolf Brand, the publisher of Der Eigene magazine, were driven out of business by the Nazis. Under these conditions, homoerotic literature could only continue to exist in the gray area, the margin, camouflaging itself through allusions and references and between the lines of otherwise “straight” texts.

The topic of homoeroticism in literature of Nazi Germany has also remained “in the shade” or in the margins of research as it continues to be a sensitive issue in academe. After all, is not Nazi culture often said to be characterised by homosocial and homosexual allusions that make for a sultry homoerotic atmosphere?

The construction of the gay Nazi and the thesis uttered by many exiled anti-Nazis in the early 1930s that (latent) homosexuality was one of the main driving factors of National Socialism proved to have long lasting effects: Even in post-war (West) Germany leftist discourse continued to draw on these ideas. Gert Mattenklott, the author of the preface to this book, states that it took quite a while until people began to understand that while some Nazis had been gay, homosexuality had not been a popular to join the Nazis. It took an even longer time until research like that by Klein documented that Nazis did not attempt to annihilate queer life with the same persistence as they annihilated Jewish life in Germany (p. 7).

Klein finds that homoerotic literature was definitely classified as “dangerous and undesirable literature,” and that works classified as such were put on the index. However, even in cases where homoerotic publications were put on the index homoerotic content was never named as the main cause. Furthermore, Klein’s research shows that even authors like Frank Thiess, Erich Ebermeyer or Hanns Heinz Ewers, all of them authors whose texts had been either published or reviewed in gay journals like Der Eigene, did not have to face any reservations by the Nazis. Several stories, for example, “Die Pfeiferstube” by Paul Alverdes, which had been praised by the gay press of the Weimar Republic, continued to be published in new editions and laudably reviewed even after 1933.

A careful researcher shall also come across short stories, novels, and poems first published between 1933 and 1945, which one may not necessarily find to qualify as “literature” but doubtlessly as homoerotic. Klein skilfully demonstrates how a system of allusions and references, e.g., to Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, served to signify homosexuality to any reader in the know. Such works were often set in a different time and place—in Italy, in antique times, in someone’s childhood, or in a military or artist setting. This change of settings enabled its authors to describe emotional and physical (but nonetheless de-sexualised) relationships among boys and men while circumventing censorship.

The main result of Klein’s research shows that there was no systemic or increased exclusion or indexing of homoerotic literature between 1933 and 1945. The authorities in charge of evaluating literature and its authors proceeded to do so in a surprisingly unsystematic and contradictory manner. For example, they did not appear to know whether an author had published relevant literature in homosexual publications prior to 1933. Even authors who had been activists in the gay community during the Weimar Republic were often judged politically reliable by the Nazis. Oftentimes it was not until an author had been judged to have violated § 175 (engaged in same sex relations) that he was forbidden to publish his work in the future. Even authors like Erich Ebermayer, some of whose books were indexed as homoerotic by the Nazis, were able to continue working at publishing houses, newspapers, or in the film industry as long as they did not express political views that disagreed with those of the Nazis.

All in all, authors whose stance on National socialism ranged from opportunism to camouflaged forms of resistance were able to write about “love between men (but not sex between men)” as long as this love was camouflaged by being transported into a different time period or any of the above-mentioned settings (p. 7ff, see).

Unfortunately, Klein’s work lacks a closing chapter in which he re-interprets his findings. In the end, it remains unclear what exactly rendered this writing in the shadows possible. Was it due to the lack of awareness of gay culture of those in charge of censorship, the willingness to make concessions, or the lack of areas of responsibility typical of the Nazi state? As it was undoubtedly impossible to openly write about same sex friendship, love, and sexuality most of the books published between 1933 and 1945 are, as Mattenklott observes, defined by a somehow “sultry” atmosphere (p.8).

URN urn:nbn:de:0114-qn032079

Dr. Susanne zur Nieden

TU Berlin


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