PARAGRAPH 175 (2000), Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman; Writing by Sharon Wood; Historian: Klaus Müller
Extremely affecting documentary that chronicles the oft-ignored victims of the Holocaust: homosexuals. Solemnly narrated by Rupert Everett and set to the haunting score of Tibor Szemzö, historian Klaus Müller tracked down ten homosexual survivors (out of a reported 15 who are still alive today), in order to document their stories and shed some light on the reasons they were persecuted along with over six million Jews, gypsies, old people, retarded people, the unemployed, etc. An interesting and well-supported theory is that Hitler’s righthand strong man, Roem, gay himself, betrayed Hitler during the SS rise to power. Previously a defender of Roem’s sexuality, Hitler executed his former friend and then stepped up the rounding up of gays for the camps. The interviews are intermixed with powerful historical footage documenting the popularity of German male youth groups, many of which seem to have contributed to the male-on-male companionship and liberating sexuality that these gay men found, the decadent nightlife Berlin of the 1920’s and early 30’s, seen at the time as a bastion of gay and lesbian culture worldwide, and finally Adolf Hitler’s slow, steady rise to fame accompanied by videos of large gatherings Heil Hilter-ing their way into a nationwide brainwashing. Of course, the pink triangle worn by gays in the camps denoted their status. They were typically used as slave labor, guinea pigs for medical experiments, as well as summarily raped and tortured.
This film is not an easy one to watch and some of these men tell stories that are beyond horrific. The interviewees show old pictures of themselves when they were handsome, vibrant young men and include many personal stories of what life was like before and after the Holocaust. The quiet moments of narration by Everett are accompanied by a wonderful and appropriately-somber score. One man so overcome by memories of his torture inside the camps, breaks down on-camera unable to recount the story he's been unable to talk to anyone about after being released from his third concentration camp.
Another story came from a Jewish lesbian (lesbianism was considered 'curable' while male homosexuality threatened the very fabric of Aryan nationalism) who explains that after her escape to the countryside and living on a farm, the Nazis located them and burned the house down. After escaping from the burning edifice with others hiding out, she returned to find her untouched passport amidst the charred ruins. She got on her bike and started out and the postmaster ran after her with a letter containing the papers she needed to flee to England. Her entire family perished in the camps.
The title refers to an anti-sodomy edict of the German Penal Code that states, “An unnatural sex act committed between persons of the male sex or by humans with animals is punishable by imprisonment; the loss of civil rights may also be imposed," a law that was resurrected by Hitler to justify his addition of gays into the Final Solution and enforced until well into the late 1960’s in both East and West Germany.
***1/2 out of 4 stars. Very powerful documentary. One of the best of this genre.
TiVo told me it was made in 1999, but imdb said 2000, hence the apparent category confusion here.
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