A few days after the international Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27, the German publication Metropol reported that the monument Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism, located in Berlin’s Tiergarten neighbourhood close to the Holocaust Museum, had been vandalised. Scandinavian artist duo Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset was commissioned to design the monument in 2003, and this is the second time it has been vandalised since it was first unveiled in 2008. The memorial consists of a hollow cubical block with a small window, through which viewers can watch a looped film that is changed every few years (Israeli artist Yael Bartana is the latest to have her video placed in the memorial.) Now stained with black paint, German authorities are investigating the vandalism as a politically motivated crime, according to ArtNews.
This is not the first time in recent years (or indeed months) that a memorial to Holocaust victims has been marred: a monument erected at the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece, has been vandalised five times in the last 12 months, the last incident being reported on the Holocaust Memorial Day itself. In December last year, Jewish tombstones were graffitied in eastern France, and in 2017 a Holocaust memorial in Boston was vandalised twice in less than two months. In Rome, 20 bronze cobblestones inscribed with the names of Jewish victims of Nazi persecution, known as Stolpersteine or Stumbling Stones, were stolen a little over a month ago; in 2016, two of Norway’s 346 Stolpersteine were daubed with anti-Semitic messages.
The idea for the Stolpersteine was conceived by the German artist Gunter Demnig in the 1990s. Inspired by a line from the Talmud that reads “A person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten”, each brass cobblestone carries one victim’s name and is installed outside his or her last residence or workplace. There are over 60 000 Stolpersteine across Europe today, and they have also come to carry the names of people from other groups persecuted by National Socialism, including gay people. Elmgreen & Dragset’s monument in Berlin is meant to commemorate the thousands of homosexuals who were persecuted, arrested and killed by the Nazis during the Second World War; between 1933 and 1945, it is estimated that 100 000 men were arrested on suspicion of being gay. Between 5000-15000 homosexual men were sent to concentration camps during the Second World War – there are no known statistics on how many survived.
Men arrested for being gay had to wear a pink triangle on their striped häftlinge uniform, and were universally mistreated within the concentration camps. (Lesbians, while not as widely persecuted as men, were viewed as “antisocial” and “work-shy”, and wore the black triangle together with thieves, nomads, and those who had been in sexual relationships with Jews.) Many wearers of the pink triangle were re-incarcerated by the Allied-established Federal Republic of Germany after the camps were liberated in 1945 – some therefore ended up serving decade-long sentences under inhuman conditions long after the war was over. Homosexuality remained a felony in East Germany until 1968, and until 1969 in West Germany.