February 2017 is UK LGBT History Month and The University of Nottingham will be marking this with a full programme of events, lectures, film screenings, panel discussions etc. The theme of this year’s history month is ‘PSHE, Citizenship and the Law’ which provides a rich agenda for discussion in classrooms in all phases of education.
At the launch event on Friday 27 January 2017, Professor Marion Walker, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Nottingham will introduce Dr Max Biddulph, Associate Professor, Education and Counselling who will speak about ‘Citizens of the Third Reich: everyday betrayals and the pink triangle prisoners of Sachsenhausen’.
Friday, 27 January 2017 (the date of this lecture) will mark the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp when soldiers of the 60th Army of the First Ukrainian Front of the Soviet Red Army appeared in the grounds of the Auschwitz Main Camp and Birkenau at about 3 p.m. They had been warned that they were about to experience a history-making event and, given what was encountered, this certainly proved to be the case. The system of concentration camps instigated by the Nazi regime of the Third Reich, were distributed both within and outside the borders of Germany and the strategy of ‘concentrating’ individuals in one place who did not conform to the concept of Aryanism can be traced back to the mid-1930s. The camp at Sachsenhausen near Oranienburg on the north flank of Berlin was constructed in 1936 and accommodated a range of political prisoners and ‘anti-socials’, a catch-all category which included prisoners convicted under paragraph 175 of the German penal code, which criminalised homosexuality. In line with the policy of providing visual identification of all camp prisoners, ‘175ers’ were required to have a large pink triangle sewn on to their prisoner clothing, a symbol that singled them out for particularly harsh treatment. Although Sachsenhausen, unlike Auschwitz, was not officially an extermination camp, to all intents and purposes the same outcome was achieved, Heinrich Himmler decreeing that homosexuals should be ‘corrected’ via hard work. The now notorious events in the summer of 1942 in the Klinkerwerk (brickworks) adjacent to the main camp, where approximately 200 gay men were murdered is evidence of this.
Given that the rear gardens of houses in Oranienburg back up to the camp perimeter, the question of to what extent citizens of the town were complicit in and knowledgeable of events on the other side of the fence, is pertinent. Indeed, the broader question as to how the social and emotional effects of living in a totalitarian regime influences the behaviour of its citizens is also apposite, and the lecture will argue that this lead to many ‘everyday betrayals’ in which information about the sexual orientation of other citizens was passed on to the SS. This produced the extraordinary scenario in which a society turned in its own citizens for what was potentially a death sentance. History of course, is not just about the past, it also has lessons for the present and the lecture will conclude by posing questions about the relationships between, power, citizen behaviour and discourses of hate in contemporary societies. The role of education is key here and one of the themes of Holocaust Memorial Day 2017 invites us to consider individual, organisational, community and governmental responsibilities for protecting the rights of marginalised communities.
Please note that the lecture contains explicit references to violence and sexual behaviour and for that reason it is suggested that it is unsuitable for persons under the age of 16.
Holocaust Memorial Day 2017: ‘How can life go on?
UK LGBT History Month 2017: theme ‘PSHE, Citizenship and the Law’
LGBT History Month @ UoN: all announcements, updates and event details