The German parliament for the first time dedicated its annual Holocaust memorial commemoration on Friday to LGBTQ+ people who were killed or persecuted by the Nazis.
Bundestag President Baerbel Bas acknowledged the parliament’s delay in granting official recognition for gay, bisexual and transgender Holocaust victims – a step that has been taken in past years by other German institutions.
“For our remembrance culture, it’s important that we tell the stories of all victims of persecution, that we make their injustice visible, that we recognise their suffering,” Bas said in a speech to lawmakers to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The Nazis killed about six millions Jews in the Holocaust and also persecuted and murdered members of other groups such as the Roma community, people with disabilities and mental illnesses, and those from sexual and gender minorities.
Historians estimate that about 100,000 gay and bi men were arrested between 1933 and 1945 and thousands were sent to concentration camps. Many of them did not survive.
Among the LGBTQ+ community, gay men were the main target of National Socialism, but lesbian and bi women, as well as trans people, were also persecuted and killed.
“The last survivors of this group of victims have died already without us having listened to them – their stories must be told by others,” Bas said.
During Friday’s commemoration in the German parliament, MPs were addressed by Klaus Schirdewahn, a 76-year-old gay man convicted in 1964 under the country’s former laws criminalising same-sex relations, which were not fully abolished until 1994.
“It’s important to me that the youth do not forget how much effort and strength it cost for us to be able to live the way we can live now,” Schirdewahn said.
Last year, Germany inaugurated its first memorial to the lesbian victims of the Nazis in the former women-only concentration camp of Ravensbrueck, which lies some 100 km (62 miles) north of the capital, Berlin.
Memorials have been dedicated to the gay victims of the Nazis in Berlin and the cities of Cologne and Frankfurt, but activists say more resources should be invested in research and education about the Holocaust’s LGBTQ+ victims.
“What is needed now is the political will to bring LGBTIQ+ history and contemporary culture into society as a whole,” Ina Rosenthal, board member at lesbian campaign group Lesbenring, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In her speech, Bas also warned of hate speech towards LGBTQ+ people on social media and referred to the murder of a 25-year-old trans man last year in the western city of Muenster to highlight persistent homophobia and transphobia.
“A liberal, open society is not a given. ‘Never again’ is a mission for all of us, every day,” she said.