Behind the numbers: Germany compensates historic LGBT convictions

Article published on May 18, 2016
Article published on May 18, 2016

The German government has recognised the right of homosexuals persecuted by the "Paragraph 175" law to have these abuses publicly recognised and compensated. Between 1946 and 1994 around 50 thousand people were sentenced through use of this law. Better late that never.

The German Minister of Justice Heiko Maas announced on the 11th of May that the government of Berlin will indemnify all surviving victims of the so-called "Paragraph 175". This was a law adopted in Bismarck's Germany immediately after German unification in 1871, and legislates for the criminalisation and heavy sentencing for anyone suspected of committing what the it called "acts against nature". The legislation, with some modifications, remained in force until 1994.

The historical impact of paragraph 175 has been heavy. It was exacerbated by the Nazi regime in 1935, doubling sentencing to 10 years in cases of in flagrante delicto. It also justified the persecution, physical abuse, castration and deportation of LGBT people to concentration camps, who were marked by the infamous "pink triangle". It's estimated that approximately 100 thousand gay people were assassinated by Hitler's Germany between 1933 and 1945.

The most curious – and scandalous – issue is the fact that the paragraph continued to exist in both post-war German states. In East Germany it was only abolished in 1969. In the Bundesrepublik 50 thousand gay people were sentenced for "acts against nature" between 1946 and 1994 – many to jail time.

Fortunately, in the Federal Republic of Germany persecutions became less common from 1969 onwards, thanks to a softening of paragraph 175 proposed by the then Minister of Justice Heinemann. Less common, but not absent. From 1969 to 1994 – the year that the law was revoked – over 3,500 cases of people being legally accused of homosexuality are recorded.

On the 11th of May, the German government finally recognised that these people should have their abuses publicly acknowledged and compensated. Better late that never.

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This article is part of our Behind the Numbers series, illustrating newsworthy stats with artistic design and a brief analysis.