Pinking Tel Aviv

The country's first Holocaust memorial honoring homosexual victims will soon grace Tel Aviv.

gay monument 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
gay monument 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When Tel Aviv city councilman Itai Pinkas was in Amsterdam last year, he stared for a long time at the monument honoring homosexuals killed in the Holocaust, sensing its impact was going to stay with him for a long time. When he got back to Tel Aviv, he took that powerful feeling and raced straight to Mayor Ron Huldai's office to talk. Now, Pinkas and Huldai have revealed the outcome of the meeting: Tel Aviv is going to be home to the country's first memorial to gay victims of Nazi persecution. The public sculpture is slated to go up in the centrally located Gan Meir by midwinter. "Now these innocent victims will be remembered forever," said Pinkas. "There will be a reminder to all of us of what happened in the past, and unfortunately of the persecution that still continues in the present." Homosexuality was outlawed in Germany in 1871, when the penal code was ratified under chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The Nazis later expanded the code to ban loosely defined "lewd acts." According to Yad Vashem historian Prof. David Bankier, there were an estimated 1.5 million homosexuals in Germany when the Nazis came to power. "Approximately 100,000 were arrested," he said. "And 10,000 to 15,000 were sent to concentration camps, where the mortality rate was high, about 60 percent." There was social persecution against lesbians and gay men across Europe at this time, but there was only "legal persecution" in Germany and Austria, with only male homosexuals, not lesbians, ending up in concentration camps, Bankier says. "Legally, only men were persecuted. Women didn't matter; it was a very macho system," says Pinkas. Homosexuals under the Nazi regime and in the camps had to identify themselves with a pink triangle badge. Based on the triangle shape, sketches for the memorial, by Ron Assouline of the design firm Filmind, are going through the city's approval process, with legal, memorial, building and planning professionals. The cost will be calculated after a final plan is approved, says Pinkas. Three iron panels, each 5 meters wide and deep, and partially buried, will form a 3-dimensional triangular pit, from which light will stream. Names of the registered homosexual Nazi victims will be inscribed inside in Hebrew, though the actual number of victims and every name is not known. "The pit inside the triangle represents the deep well of hatred that homosexuals faced and is a metaphor as the dead-end of being in a concentration camp; the inability to escape," says Pinkas. A dedication will also be inscribed in English. Assouline's design was selected as "the most creative and simple. We did not want something extravagant." A handful of large-scale Holocaust memorials to homosexuals exist worldwide, including in Amsterdam, Frankfurt and within weeks in Berlin. The "Homomonument" in Amsterdam, designed by Karin Daam, comprised of three triangles in a pink-tone marble, abuts the Anne Frank House and a church. In Sydney, Australia, a memorial stands across from the Jewish Museum. The idea was apparently the brainchild of a child Holocaust survivor who died in 2001: Dr. Kitty Fischer and her sister survived the Auschwitz camp, she had said, thanks to an inmate wearing a pink triangle. Plaques to remember gay victims are also displayed at the Dachau, Mauthausen and Neuengame concentration camps. Yad Vashem has not had an exhibition highlighting the persecution of homosexuals, but has a panel telling the history of other peoples who also suffered under the Nazi regime, including homosexuals, gypsies and communists. The national memorial also has books and archival material on the subject. Gay leaders here are cautiously celebrating the country's first memorial to homosexual victims of the Holocaust. "In Israel the Jewish aspect [of the Holocaust] is so powerful, that other aspects have been put aside," says gay rights activist Yonatan Gher, recently installed as head of the Jerusalem Open House community center. "This is a very good first step." Merging state and social support Four years ago, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai took councilman Itai Pinkas's suggestion to launch a municipal community center for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The city kicked in the entire NIS 1.3 million budget for building renovations in a Gan Meir building and has approved an annual operating budget of NIS 500,000. The center, scheduled to open on June 1, will be the first known LGBT community center in the world to be financed and run by the local government. Like other community centers run by local municipalities, it will have social and cultural events, such as concerts, films and exhibitions. But it will also have support activities, including legal aid, health services, workshops, support groups, and family counselors. There is also a critical need in the community for youth groups, says Pinkas, Huldai's adviser on gay affairs. "About one third of attempts to commit suicide among young people are by gay teens." The center is also hoping to open childcare facilities next year. "We made a detailed survey and more than 3,000 people answered," explains Pinkas. "The results were definite: The community needs services. "The gay community in Tel Aviv is very significant in numbers and contributions to the city's cultural life and economy, and there is no reason why the local government should not give necessary services crucial to these citizens. "Also, some people have bad experience sharing their being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and others are understandably afraid to do so, so this place will be an open and safe haven for them."