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The Daily Agenda for Thursday, November 29

Jim Burroway

November 29th, 2012

TODAY IN HISTORY:
Der Spiegel Reports On Arrests of 750 Gay Men: 1950. The Third Reich had been defeated five years earlier, but Germany’s notorious Paragraph 175 lived on to claim more victims. On this date in 1950, Germany’s news weekly Der Spiegel featured a surprisingly sympathetic report on the arrest of 750 gay men by the Frankfurt Criminal Police resulting in 140 criminal charges as of November 25. Magistrate Kurt Romini denied that an official campaign had been launched, saying he was only responding to complaints from “young persons.” But it turns out that Romini himself had been in charge of handling criminal cases against gay men as State Attorney during the Nazi regime. “During his work in the Third Reich,” Der Spiegel reported, “it was not in the interest of a defendant to admit to homosexuality. As soon as he confessed, he was on the way to the concentration camp (with a pink triangle on his chest) and certain to eventually be castrated.”

Castration was no longer in vogue, but Der Spiegel discovered a new twist in this latest campaign. Police relied almost entirely on street hustlers to make arrests and build cases. “They (the hustlers) are driven, for example, through the city in unmarked cars. Then they indicate which passers-by they recognize in the street traffic. The auto stops, and the subject is arrested and interrogated. Moreover, he is entered into the criminal records system. That is, he is photographed; the picture is then shown to all hustlers in custody and informants until someone recognizes him. When someone admits that he visits bars frequented by homosexuals, then a detailed description of a sex act by a hustler is sufficient for a court to convict him. There are known cases where such relationships persons with homosexual tendencies with a certain hustler did not exist. The ‘boys’ invented experiences, and a conviction resulted.”

One hustler, identified as 19-year-old Otto Blankenstein, had been the star witness (and often the only witness) in at least 40 cases. This was true even though “tangible symptoms of mental illness are apparent” in Blankenstein. Der Spiegel also reported that a number of the cases involved blackmail, where the men refused to pay a bribe to some of the street hustlers in exchange for not naming them to police. It’s likely that some of the men weren’t even gay. Their only “crime” was to respond to a few innocuous questions from a hustler at a train station, who then surreptitiously followed them as they walked home. On learning the man’s address, the hustler could then learn more about him; if he was unmarried, the hustler was extra-lucky and his mark would be easier for the inevitable blackmail demands. Refusal to pay resulted in being turned over to police.

If the victim was lucky and wasn’t convicted, his problems still weren’t over. “The citizen is recorded as a suspected homosexual, and a duplicate of his mug shot, which he had to let the police take, is now placed in the Frankfurt mug shot library, and will be shown to hustlers and other people in custody. They will point at it and say, ‘That one, that one, I saw him too in the Kleist Kasino (a popular gay bar), and he offered me DM10 for the night.’” At the peak of the campaign, Judge Romini, who was in charge of all Paragraph 175 cases, was presiding over four trials per day. At least six of the accused men committed suicide.

On February 14, 1951, Der Spiegel carried a brief update revealing that Romini’s star witness, Otto Blankenstein, had been declared mentally ill, and Romini himself had been accused by his housekeepers of “severe night-time disorderly conduct and outburst in the presence of his professional colleagues.”

[Thanks to Rob in NYC for the translations]

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