Twenty-four-year-old Hans G., an SS- Hauptscharfuhrer (sergeant major) with the Eleventh SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Division Nordland, had served with distinction and had been wounded in action in 1942; in the fail of 1944 he was apprehended on charges of homosexual assault. The interrogations and testimonies reveal a sexually frustrated, perhaps lonely, soldier at the front with strong homoerotic leanings. G. admitted to mutual masturbation with two of his men while having no idea whether it was one of them who had turned him in. His men certainly found some of his actions strange but were offended only by direct sexual assault. Sturmmann (lance corporal) D. described his mutual masturbation with G. and admitted that he was himself sexually excited and had reciprocated for about ten minutes. They were both drunk. Subsequently, D. was rather embarrassed, stating: "The incident didn't particularly concern me, I just really wanted to forget about it. I know that it's a bit unusual. I have never heard ofthe Fiihrer's decree, and I didn't know that this sort of thing was punishable." Unfortunately, the impression of unsullied innocence created by this account of an isolated occurrence was damaged by D.'s initial interrogation, in which he admitted to two further incidents with G. while the two were out on patrol. Even more damaging, they had kissed on those occasions, and G. had thrust his penis between D.'s thighs. Such intercrural intercourse was an indictable homosexual offense even under the Weimar Republic, because it closely replicated the standard heterosexual act. The police fired off a telegram to the station in D.'s home town of Stettin, requesting details of his criminal record and instructing the officers to investigate for any hereditary disorders in his family. Within a week the Stettin police reported back that D.'s father, a conductor on the local trams, and the whole family of eleven children seemed perfectly normal, healthy, and crime-free. G.'s advances to other men were often quite public. When sharing sleeping quarters with his platoon in a barn, for example, he would have one of them pull off his boots and help him to undress, even giving attention to his underwear. He would then sometimes have one of his men remain beside him, holding his hand; G. attempted to shrug off the criticism that this was not typical soldierly behavior. "It's true that I often had O. D. hold my hand in the evening. But I did this without any kind of sexual intent. It was no big deal for me." His excuse to his men was that it helped him sleep better. The young man in question, nineteen-year-old signalman Otto D., certainly found it rather improper that, three weeks after being assigned to this unit, he was sitting holding hands with his sergeant major. But their contact went further. G. made sure that O. D. slept beside him, and one night, the latter awoke to find the sergeant major masturbating him. The younger man allowed his NCO to proceed, not resisting at all ("I remained completely passive"). G. then climbed on top of him and made paracoital movements with his hips until finally he rolled back, "moaning and gasping." The next day, however, the younger man felt sufficiently disturbed by these advances to turn to a fellow soldier for advice. They decided they could take no action in the absence of witnesses. Still, since the men were all sleeping together in a barn, it was easy to find witnesses. G. clearly thought that he had found a willing partner for sex, but two nights later, when G. tried again, O. D. rebuffed him. Several ofthe other soldiers were not yet asleep this time and heard the whispered exchange between them:
G.: Just take mine, and I will play with yours.
O. D.: No, Sergeant Major, I won't do it, it's disgusting.
G.: If we just play around a bit, we can sleep better afterward. You're crazy! Why don't you want to? We already did it once.
O. D. replied that he had been caught unawares while sleeping the first time and firmly took hold of both of G.'s hands to prevent matters from going any further. G. did not force himself on O. D. after this. But now a private matter had become public, and one ofthe men (probably O. D.) reported G., initiating an intrusive, if brief, investigation into the intimate lives of the men of this unit.
The depositions provide an unusual view of the kind of intimacy perhaps not so uncommon among soldiers at the front. Significantly, in the testimony of all of the parties concerned, no soldier thought of himself or accused the other of being a homosexual. It is interesting to analyze the use of ideas of manliness or femininity in the testimony of witnesses, the statements of the defendant, and the judgment of the court. Take Sturmmann Franz B., just turned twenty-one. He was aware that he was a favorite of his NCO, but he did not feel repulsed by G.'s attentions. His evidence of assault was important to the prosecution, although the perceived effeminacy of his mannerisms might tend to discredit him as being homosexual himself and thus an unreliable witness. Most unusually, the chairman of the SS court added a personal comment about him as an addendum to his interrogation: "Outwardly B. gives a soft and girlish impression, yet he is described by his company commander as an exemplary soldier and irreproachable. I myself had the impression that he was telling the truth, and he left behind the very best impression of himself. In his external appearance he is without doubt a type that homosexuals fail for." The judge's statement conveyed the common prejudice that gay men are attracted to effeminate partners, but his reasoning was unusual: the homosexual appearance of the witness proved the actual homosexuality of the accused! B.'s testimony about G.'s behavior revealed a similar conflation of sex and gender roles. While fondling B., the sergeant major "looked like a girl in love and moaned strangely all the while." This gender role reversal followed a direct sexual advance. The two men were alone together in a bunker, lying on some straw. G. began stroking the other's hair and then chest, and without undue resistance on B.'s part he gradually reached for the other man's genitals. At this point B. stopped him and moved his hand away but otherwise did not appear to have taken exception to the caressing: "[G.] often took me into his arms and pressed my head against his breast. However, I never had the feeling that this was an abnormal gesture, I didn't give it a second thought."
The testimony encapsulates the Nazi Party's general problem with homosexuality: the party wished to promote the very closest male friendship and trust but without allowing relationships to cross over a certain line of intimacy that not everyone viewed as a taboo. In this case, that line between comradeship and physicality seemed to have been crossed, though the men involved did not see it that way. Their protestations of innocence and normality should not be seen as a clever manipulation of Nazi discourse in their favor; in fact, their comments tended to incriminate them. Perhaps B. was trying to instrumentalize commonplace notions of masculinity through his reference to G.'s girlishness in order to underline his own "normality." However, his candid admission to being the passive and regular recipient of G.'s embraces seriously undermined that defense strategy. His remarks are so natural in tone that it is likely they were recorded as spoken. And I would contend that the interrogators (through whose pen the statements are handed down) were not necessarily trying to entrap the witnesses; rather, the latter were simply naive. Himmler, had he read the full details of the case, would doubtless have been astonished to learn that his SS men at the fighting front could spend their evenings holding hands or caressing one another without any feelings of guilt or concern.
Hans G. himself strenuously denied being a homosexual. His defense was a common one among front-line soldiers in such cases: "My behavior can simply be attributed to the fact that I have had no leave for a long time and thus have had no opportunity for normal sexual intercourse." That was true, because the troops were strictly forbidden to have any intimate contact with the native women in the occupied territories. Less plausibly, he claimed to be completely innocent about homosexuality. G. had volunteered for the Waffen-SS while still only sixteen years old and had been assigned to the SS Death's Head Division (Division Totenkopf) for training at Dachau by the time he reached eighteen, the normal age for entry. He was later transferred to Mauthausen and Flossenbürg, concentration camps with noteworthy concentrations of pink triangle inmates. Let us examine G.'s comments in this regard: "I did not experience anything like that [intimacy among the men] in the [SS] Viking Division [Division Wiking]. I had my first sexual intercourse [with a woman] when I was eighteen. Before that I knew nothing about [gay sex], I didn't even masturbate. The first urges came to me in July 1944. I heard about such things in the concentration camp, but I didn't know anything about it. Paragraph 175 didn't mean anything to me. I don't know the Fuhrer's decree either. It was never read out to me."
This testimony suggests that G. probably subscribed to the common perception that participation in anal intercourse defined a homosexual; in some concentration camps, for example, the Paragraph 175ers were made to wear a badge with the letter "A" to denote "ass fucker" (Arschficker). It is entirely plausible that such was the talk of the common guards. Furthermore, his statement provides further evidence of the timidity of the SS leadership in giving warnings about infractions in this area that were explicit enough to be of any use. G. also tried to "prove" that he was not a homosexual by insisting that he had turned in someone who had reached for his private parts in a public toilet in Brno, where his SS unit had been stationed in 1939. G. claimed to have boxed him on the ears and gone straight to the Gestapo office to report him. When it came to substantiating his claim, the story became rather fuzzy. G. asserted that he attended the court hearing to listen to the trial ofthe man but was never called as a witness. "He got two and a half years' penitentiary and a punishment beating every day, as I later heard." If that was meant to suggest that G. thought this an appropriate punishment for a "real" homosexual, it was not a particularly prudent remark, because this alleged assault was little different from his own unwanted advances against the men in his unit.
The SS judges did not believe him and annotated their copy of his testimony with exclamations of doubt. They underlined the fact that he had spent two years at a Catholic monastery school, since that was an immediate indicator of possible homosexuality. They scrawled a large question mark in the margin next to his account of his lively relations with women, at least fifteen in all. G. asserted that as his wartime duties had grown more strenuous, he had become deeply involved with one woman, Lotti Kortum. He spent his last leave with her and had sex with her. Could he provide her current address? No, she had recently moved, and, since his unit was constantly on the move, he had thrown away all her letters. It sounded very much like a fiction. The judges knew that he had already misled their inquiry by admitting to just two instances of mutual masturbation. "These are the only incidents," he stated categorically on September 28, 1944. "A lie!" wrote one of the judges on the transcript later. What probably clinched the case for the court was the fact that, despite a minimal difference in ages, about five years, the assaults were carried out by a superior against junior NCOs in his charge.
Such an abuse of rank was always treated in an especially stern manner. On October 10, 1944, the SS court pronounced the death sentence on Hans G. for five completed and two attempted homosexual acts. The Appeals Process Initially, G.'s case seems to be a clear example of the enforcement of Hitler's November 1941 edict. Yet immediately, the tide began to turn for Hans G. Within one week, the commanding officer ofthe Third SS-Panzer Corps, General Steiner, wrote a strong plea for clemency, arguing that "the condemned displayed for years a magnificent fighting spirit and won for himself in these long war years every medal that he possibly could" and that "he was a particularly competent junior officer who enjoyed general respect." His reasons suggest that the pragmatic needs created by the worsening war situation overrode the ideological imperatives of homophobia. The general's final justification for his plea for leniency showed that he agreed with G.'s own excuse that the conditions of war were to blame:
I do not believe his action can be judged to be the consequence of a sick or depraved disposition, because he has never before come under suspicion of similar offenses or a similar disposition. Rather, this really does seem to be an example of sexual deprivation. . . . In my opinion we have here a strong psychic and erotic aberration that has been formed by the conditions of war. The accused is certainly no national parasite [Volksschadling], since he has continuously been in action of the most dangerous kind for his country.
Unfortunately, the outcome of the case is not clear, since the chaotic conditions of the war's end prevented the preservation of a paper trail. The files were sent to the head office of the SS courts for a decision on the clemency appeal, and it appears that the case was then handed over for a further opinion to the civilian criminal police authorities in the Reichszentrale zur Bekampfung der Homosexualitat (Reich Central Office for Combating Homosexuality). With Berlin already largely in ruins in early 1945, this office continued its laborious investigations, wanting in the first place to know why at the age of twelve G. had suddenly left the Catholic school attached to the Fiirstenstein monastery. G. claimed to have been expelled for reading the Nazi newspaper, the Volkische Beobachter. No incriminating evidence was found; the gendarmerie post in the small town responded that G.'s version was entirely plausible. The local policeman had known G. personally since 1930 and could testify that even as a twelve year old the latter had shown an unusual interest in politics, which doubtless derived from his father's early support for the Nazis before their seizure of power. Neither was there "the slightest suspicion of a homosexual disposition." G.'s relations with women had been entirely normal during his youth. He had had a number of girlfriends over the years and had contemplated marrying several of them. In fact, during his last home leave he had made more concrete moves in this direction with one woman, only to have the plans blocked by his widowed mother. There is something grotesque in the fact that in the winter of 1945, with Germany close to collapse, the police office on homosexuality was still going to these extraordinary lengths to pry into the private life of an individual in order to see whether he might be cured of his homosexual tendencies or else be put to death.
As late as February 1945, the police were still pursuing G. He was brought from the Schoneberg prison, to which he had been transferred, for an interrogation in the central office in the bombed-out heart of Berlin, which disproves the view that the employees of this office did little more than shuffle index cards. Agent Dornhofer wanted precise details about G.'s relations with women. When he was stationed at Dachau in the mid-1930s, G. asserted that he "had sexual intercourse with a girl at least once a fortnight." Evidently, these young men in SS uniforms had their pick of the local women and made the most of it in the local dance halls. He could not recall any of their names, because these had been merely fleeting acquaintances. Making no progress here, Dornhofer pressed G. more closely about his homosexual acts: "Did you find pleasure in these activities?" G. was smart enough to offer a very circumspect answer: "I had the desire to find sexual satisfaction under any circumstances." Eliciting from the prisoner the admission that mutual masturbation between men was not normal behavior for well-balanced heterosexuals, Dornhofer tried to trip him up by asking him why, if he realized that this was wrong, he had come to repeat the offenses. G. replied that his will was weakened by heavy drinking - an admission that appears to have been partly true, according to earlier testimony, and was in any case an argument that sometimes worked in favor of a defendant.
We do not know whether it worked for Hans G., because the file breaks off with this February 1945 interrogation, and additional documents did not survive the end of the war. While the historical record is incomplete, the case repays careful study because it demonstrates the difficulties of sexuality for both the average soldier and the legal system. There is little doubt that Hans G., former concentration camp guard in some of Nazi Germany's most notorious camps, was a pretty unsavory character. Yet his SS record is not at issue here. What is important is the treatment of homosexual acts. Men in closed societies (such as prisons or armies) do become sexually frustrated and seek a release. In part, the German generals sought to address that need for front-line soldiers through the provision of brothels; yet brothels could not be set up everywhere, especially in the more isolated areas. Once a complaint concerning sexual abuse or assault by a superior had been lodged, it had to be taken seriously. This case could not be shrugged off as an isolated incident, since a total of seven incidents came to light, revealing a pattern of homosexual activity. Consequently, it became important to establish the exact nature of the offenses. There had not been just manual stimulation but also paracoital movements of the hips and even kissing. This simulation of heterosexual intercourse was the most damning factor. This and the abuse of rank pointed toward the death sentence. Yet some empathy seems to have prevailed in the SS judiciary in its acknowledgment that the harsh privations of front-line duty created special circumstances that would try the willpower of even the most upright of characters. Those charged with enforcing Himmler's homophobic policies did not respond simply with a knee-jerk reaction. They leavened ideology with pragmatism, even in this sensitive area. [...]. Although even in the final weeks of the war German men convicted as homosexuals faced the threat of execution [...].
Werner S., the only son of a foreman in a metalworks factory in Düsseldorf, joined the junior branch of the Hitler Youth as soon as he could but never held rank in that organization, concentrating instead on music and advancing to the district Hider Youth orchestra. He was a fairly good student, attending the local, nonclassical high school. He intended to go to college to study the humanities and physiology but was still rather vague, listing astrology and graphology (!) as possible areas of study. Three months before he was due to graduate and a couple of weeks after his twentieth birthday in June 1942, he was called up for army service. Passing his basic training with flying colors, he was assigned to an anti-aircraft unit on the eastern front, where he was soon singled out as officer candidate material. He completed officer training with the rank of lieutenant in August 1944. The report card noted his "particularly decent character" as well as his diligence and sense of duty. His superiors judged that he would make a good "political officer" because he could communicate National Socialist ideas to others convincingly. A subsequent report claimed that he positively "embod[ied] solid soldierly and National Socialist ideals." Immediately after officer training, Werner S. was sent back to combat, this time to the western front, as an officer in charge of a gun battery unit. Now he was on his own, with real responsibility for the lives of his soldiers. He was still quite young himself, but his men were slightly younger.
On the night of September 13, 1944, he lay down with his nineteen-year-old orderly, private Engelbert Sch. The latter was already dozing when S. suddenly pulled him over and asked if Sch. had ever "screwed" a girl. When Sch. said that he had not, S. kissed him, evidently with some passion, explaining that this was a French kiss. A couple of nights later, S. found a place with three beds in different rooms for the six of them. Having retired, he and his room-mate stripped down to their shirts and climbed into bed. Werner then embraced and kissed the other soldier, the eighteen-year-old gunner K., several times and suggested that they masturbate each other. K. subsequently asserted to the military court that he had initially refused, but when Werner continued to badger him, he succumbed just so he could shut him up and get some sleep. He was not an entirely unwilling partner, because K. admitted that both had ejaculated. K. allowed himself to be kissed several more times before they fell asleep. But that was that? when Werner asked K. a week later to sleep with him, K. refused, saying he had no interest in doing it again. There are two significant points here: first, the initial sexual encounter was not a particularly big deal for K.; second, although he agreed to participate, K. was able to tell S. in a nonconfrontational way that he did not care for a repeat performance.
Two nights after this incident, S. shared a tent with another soldier and kissed him, too. Nothing further happened. Two nights later he entered the tent of lance corporal G., lay down beside him, and cuddled up to him. The corporal thought nothing of this, assuming that the lieutenant was simply cold, until the latter began to kiss him. Getting nowhere, S. left the tent. Two nights later, he asked his men twice for a volunteer to sleep with him, but none came forward. There is no evidence that they had compared notes yet, although perhaps S. had made advances to all of them by now. At any rate, a new man had just joined the unit, twenty- two-year-old corporal A., and S. simply told A. that he would share with him. After awhile, A. noticed S. pulling him closer. Since A. was cold and assumed that S. was too, he simply moved closer himself and was surprised when S. kissed him. Werner asked if he would like "to do it with him." "Do what?" replied A. and, receiving only a laugh for an answer, rolled over and went back to sleep.
Let us step back and take note of the situation again. The corporal thought nothing of snuggling up to his lieutenant in a rather intimate way in order to keep warm. Thousands of other soldiers must have done so at the front. Nonsexual snuggling seems to have been unexceptional. The following day the unit again changed position. Werner S. appointed nineteen-year-old private T. as his new orderly and had him set up a bivouac for the two of them. It was another cold night, and T. was planning to go to sleep with his great coat on. S. told him to remove it, which he did, and he lay down with his back to his lieutenant. Soon S. asked him to turn round, and when T. did so, S. pulled T. toward himself, kissing him. Sensing no resistance, he then unbuttoned T.'s trousers and grasped his penis. Still finding no objection, S. took T.'s hand and placed it on his own erection, allowing T. to masturbate him to the point of ejaculation. The next morning, while T. was still sleeping, S. took him in his arms again and kissed him. Probably this kissing offended the other man most directly, since it was an unmistakable display of affection that overturned sex roles far more disturbingly than mutual masturbation, which could be dismissed as two men releasing their sexual tension in the absence of any women. At any rate, when S. asked T. to sleep with him the following night, T. refused, saying that he had had enough the previous night. S. admitted that maybe he had gone too far but added that perhaps he was not the only one to blame.
In none of these incidents did Werner S. force his men to be intimate with him. S. was not a violent sex criminal. All this happened within the space of ten days. Inevitably, the men in this small unit talked to one another about their officer. Corporal A. spoke to G. about his experience and then to T, and they all realized they had been kissed by their lieutenant. It suddenly became clear that the young lieutenant was experimenting with everyone who bunked with him. A. promptly reported the matter to the battery officer, and the whole business ofa formal investigation ensued. Things moved very swiftly; within a mere fortnight the court-martial sentenced Werner S. to death. Yet the story had an additional twist. While the interrogations of the men in his unit were proceeding, Werner S. asked T. if he had had to give the officers any details. When T. admitted that he had, S. declared he had only two courses of action remaining: he could shoot himself or find some other way out. The nature of the second solution became clearer when he asked another soldier how well the Americans treated German deserters. He had a similar conversation at battery headquarters, asking the sergeant major directly if he thought he should desert, since he had no intention of shooting himself.
Soon thereafter he was placed under arrest. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this case is that the death sentence was not given for Werner S.'s homosexual offenses but for his planned desertion (which of course was prompted by his fears about the severe punishment that homosexual offenders could expect). Talking about his plans with other soldiers was deemed to be an act of sabotage. Since S. was not a regular member of the SS or police, execution was not the prescribed penalty for homosexuality; such offenses merited five years in a penitentiary, according to the verdict. The court judged that S. was not a "real" homosexual and was merely guilty of an aberration, explainable by his youth and inexperience. That, the judges felt, coupled with his excel- lent military record, should be counted in his favor. Yet S. had not erred on only one occasion but had systematically made advances to virtually every soldier in his unit; if he had succeeded in "committing a punishable offense" with another soldier on merely two occasions, it was not for want of trying. This, too, is an interesting comment, because the court recognized only the masturbation as a punishable offense and not the kissing, despite the leeway allowed by the revised Paragraph 175, on which the court based its opinion. But if it was lenient in this interpretation, it was harsh in its terms of punishment: a single instance of masturbation merited three years in a penitentiary (and the two proven cases combined merited five) because they were aggravated by S.'s abuse of his authority over his subordinates. Even though there was no significant difference in age between S. and his men, the abuse of rank was a serious matter. All this tortuous weighing of mitigating and aggravating circumstances surrounding the sexual offenses was purely academic, because there was never any intention to allow Werner S. to serve out his penitentiary sentence. The death sentence took precedence. There was, of course, an appeal, and Heinrich Himmler was the judge of last resort, because S. happened to belong to a Volksgrenadier division now under Himmler's command. In preparing a summary of the case for Himmler's decision at the end of October, the SS court itself did not push for a confirmation ofthe sentence. Its memo to Himmler stressed that S. was "very young and immature," that this was "doubtless" the first time that he had carried on like this, and that he only realized the seriousness of the offenses after the event. Indeed, it did not even count both instances of masturbation but reported that there were "serious indecent acts" on only one occasion.
The SS officer preparing the memo apparently endorsed the court-martial's observation that the two soldiers had "quickly succumbed" to S.'s advances and that T. in particular "gave the impression of being not inexperienced in sexual matters." He also emphasized the fact that there had been no adverse effects to morale among the other soldiers and repeated the defense counsel's assertion that the talk of desertion only came up because the accused had had no opportunity to talk with superior officers about his situation. It was several weeks before Himmler managed to attend to this matter, but on December 3,1944, he rejected the appeal without comment. Even the SS judge on Himmler's staff sounded surprised in reporting this decision to the SS court's head office, finding it necessary to explain that Himmler did not view S. as "worthy of clemency despite the extenuating factors about his person that doubtless speak in his favor." On February 9, 1945, at Trier, a few weeks before the city fell to the Allies, Werner S. was executed. He was twenty-two years old.
extracts from The Denial of Homosexuality: Same-Sex Incidents in Himmler's SS and Police by Geoffrey J. Giles (in Journal of the History of Sexuality, Jan./Apr. 2002).