Last homosexual concentration camp survivor dies at 98

Historians estimate that 10,000 to 15,000 homosexuals across Europe, most of them German, were deported to concentration camps.

August 6, 2011 23:23
3 minute read.
Rudolf Brazda

Rudolf Brazda 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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BERLIN – Rudolf Brazda, widely believed to be the last gay survivor of Nazi Germany’s extermination camp system, died on Wednesday in France, the Lesbian and Gay Federation of Germany confirmed on Thursday. He was 98.

Brazda was born in Germany and sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp in August 1942.

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The United States army liberated Buchenwald, near the eastern German city of Weimar, in April 1945.

“I didn’t understand what was happening but what could I do? Under Hitler you were powerless,” Brazda said in a 2010 video interview with the French gay website Yagg.

Though Paragraph 175 of Germany’s criminal penal code outlawed homosexuality before Adolf Hitler became chancellor in 1933, the Nazi party under Hitler radically intensified the enforcement of the anti-gay law.

Historians estimate that 10,000 to 15,000 homosexuals across Europe – most of them German – were deported to concentration camps. Many of them were murdered in the camps or castrated by the Nazis as part of their sinister “National Sexual Budget” plan.

More than 50,000 men in Germany were arrested because of alleged violations of Paragraph 175 during the Nazi period (1933-1945).

Brazda was incarcerated in 1937 for six months because of Paragraph 175. A Nazi collaborator denounced him to the authorities as engaging in “unnatural lewdness.” Four years later, he was again jailed and convicted under the anti-gay law.

After serving a prison sentence in 1941, he was deported to Buchenwald, where an estimated 650 homosexual men were imprisoned.

West Germany suspended the Nazi-era Paragraph 175 in 1969 and the Federal Republic abolished the law in 1994.

While in Germany in 2009, Brazda’s first visit to his native country in 64 years, he examined his Buchenwald concentration camp documents. “Yet they were never able to destroy me. I am not ashamed,” he noted.

Commenting on the contemporary gay and lesbian generation, he said, “They should consider themselves lucky to live in a free democracy.”

Brazda said that a kapo – an inmate forced by the Nazis to oversee the work of other prisoners – helped save his life. Gay prisoners were frequently sent to work in the grim quarry, but Brazda was assigned to work as a roofer. The less taxing work as a roofer – his profession before imprisonment – coupled with extra meals allowed him to survive.

In Buchenwald, he was compelled to wear a pink triangle on his uniform, denoting the Nazi category for homosexuality.

Shortly before Buchenwald was liberated, he escaped the “death march” to the Flossenburg concentration camp. He said, “But I was lucky. To have gotten out of there, to be alive. It wasn’t easy.”

A second kapo hid Brazda in a tool shed with pigs before the death march started. He survived 14 days in the shed until the Americans liberated Buchenwald.

“After that, I was a free man,” he said.

After World War II, Brazda relocated to France, in Alsace, where he lived with his partner, Edi Mayer, for more than three decades. Mayer died in 2003.

Brazda was born in 1913 to Czech parents in Brossen, Thuringia state. The son of a coal miner who died when Brazda was a young boy, he had seven siblings.

Two recent books have documented Brazda’s life. Alexander Zinn, a former press spokesman for the Lesbian and Gay Federation of Germany, published a biography in 2011, whose title loosely translates as Happiness Always Came to Me, the lifelong motto of Brazda.

A second biography – Itinerary of a Pink Triangle – was published by the French author Jean-Luc Schwab last year.

This past April, France appointed Brazda a Knight of the Legion of Honor. Germany chose not to award Brazda the Federal Cross of Merit. Brazda did not receive monetary compensation from the German government for his incarceration in Buchenwald.

Successive post-Holocaust German governments resisted paying financial compensation for gay victims of the Nazi period.

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