The Einstein of Sex turns 150

Germans honor gay Jewish pioneer of LGBT rights.

Magnus Hirschfeld (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)
Magnus Hirschfeld
(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)
Germany’s Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation celebrated the 150th birthday in Berlin on Monday of Dr. Hirschfeld – arguably the founder of the modern LGBT movement– who was born on May 14, 1868, in what was then Kolberg, Prussia (now part of Poland). The Nazi movement singled out Hirschfeld, who was perhaps the most loathed person by the Nazis, because he was a  Jew, gay and socialist.
A reporter dubbed Hirschfeld “The Einstein of Sex” because of his accomplishments within the field of sexology. After his contemporary, the German Jewish physicist Albert Einstein, met with him in California in 1931, the witty phrase gained popularity. “Einstein is the Hirschfeld of physics,” was Hirschfeld’s humorous response.
The eliminatory antisemitism and homophobic rage of the National Socialist Student Leagues provoked them in 1933 to storm Hirschfeld’s Institute of Sexual Research in Berlin and destroy its material. The young Nazis yelled “Brenne Hirschfeld” (Burn Hirschfeld) as they wiped out the world’s most important repository of research material on human sexuality. Hirschfeld died in exile in France in 1935.
The Jerusalem Post conducted interviews with a diverse group of Hirschfeld experts, German LGBT activists and the country’s justice minister on the importance of Hirschfeld’s life.
Volker Beck, a Green Party politician who helped lead the fight for securing equal marriage rights in Germany last year, said “Hirschfeld built the first effective organization for the liberation of homosexuals from criminal liability. Beck added that Hirschfeld’s life can be explained by the Talmudic statement: “It is upon us to begin the work, it is not upon us to complete it.”
Professor Dagmar Herzog, a City University of New York Graduate Center academic who delivered a talk on Hirschfeld at the remembrance event for him in Berlin, said Hirschfeld “was ‘the first’ in so many ways: the founder of the first gay and lesbian rights movement; launcher of the first campaign to decriminalize homosexuality; first vocal and empathetic defender of transgender rights (including facilitating early gender-confirmation surgeries); first to open an institute of sexual science; first to start a medical journal dedicated to sexual minorities; first to use film and pamphlet literature and public talks to combat popular anti-homosexual prejudice; and first to develop support groups for same-sex-desiring individuals in order to facilitate self-acceptance.”
Herzog said that “right-wing, antisemitic homophobes – and then especially the Nazis – managed to taint Hirschfeld’s work as dirty. From the very beginning his campaign to decriminalize male homosexuality was described as ‘an aggressive act of Jewish horniness’ (a quote from the philosopher Eugen Dühring in 1897); others referred to him as the ‘most shameless and base poisoner of the Volk [People].’”
“It is telling that the archive and library in his Institute for Sexual Science – with tens of thousands of precious photographs, patient files, questionnaire responses and sexological texts – was the first target of the Nazi book burnings in May 1933,” said Herzog.
HIRSCHFELD LAUNCHED, in 1930, a world tour to study the diversity of sexuality.
“My field is the world and not only Germany and Europe,” he said at the time. The world trip included then-British Mandate Palestine.
Germany’s federal minister of justice and consumer protection, Dr. Katarina Barley, said “Magnus Hirschfeld stands for the courage and societal vision to develop and engage to fight for [LGBTQ rights]. His educational drive formed his life motto: ‘Through Science to Justice.’”
She added, “Today our society needs people who leave the common pattern of thought and do not allow themselves to be frightened by resistance or rejection.”
Jörg Litwinschuh, the executive director of the Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation, created by the German parliament in 2011, said the multimedia testimonies from Holocaust victims at Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education at the University of Southern California provide a “good example” of an educational approach for the LGBTQ community. The Hirchfeld Foundation has introduced innovative programs such as “Soccer for Diversity” to furnish educational assistance to the LGBT community.
Vivian Kanner, a singer and Jewish lesbian, performed a musical show for Hirschfeld at the commemorative event. She equated Hirschfeld’s achievements with those of Austrian Jewish psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. When asked about the rise of antisemitism and homophobia in Germany, Kanner said: “It is due to massive immigration to Germany from different cultural circles, in which homosexuality is punished with the death penalty and Jews and Israel are viewed as the enemy… that on the German street there are once more attacks on homosexuals and Jews.”
Kanner added that many German citizens as well as the German government can show sadness and empathy at Holocaust remembrance events. When it, however, deals with showing protection and empathy toward the concerns of living Jews and homosexuals, it becomes difficult.”