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LGBT People of History 35 - Heinz Heger (Josef Kohout)

Updated on April 1, 2012
Heinz Heger (Josef Kohout)
Heinz Heger (Josef Kohout) | Source
Josef's Pink Triangle and Prison Number
Josef's Pink Triangle and Prison Number | Source
Cover of Heinz's book - 'The Men with the Pink Triangle'
Cover of Heinz's book - 'The Men with the Pink Triangle' | Source

Heinz Heger (Josef Kohout)

Heinz Heger (1917 – 1994) was the pen name of Josef Kohout. He spent an incredible 6 years in Nazi concentration camps and describes the barbaric and appalling treatment meted out to homosexuals – ‘the lowest of the low’ – in his book ‘The Men with the Pink Triangle’. This was one of the first books written highlighting the plight of gay men in the camps. His book inspired the play ‘Bent’ by Martin Sherman in 1979 and made into a movie by Sean Mathias in 1997.

Heinz came from a well-to-do and understanding Catholic family. At the age of 22 in 1939 he was arrested and tried for being a ‘degenerate’ and sentenced to 6 months in prison. His boyfriend, Fred, the son of a Nazi, was let off on the grounds of ‘mental confusion’!

After he had served this 6 month sentence he was not set free but sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. There he was introduced to the barbaric conditions where gay men were treated appallingly. They had to sleep with their hands outside their meagre blanket. They had to move snow or rocks pointlessly from one place to another. They were considered subhuman by even the other inmates. They were worked to death in the quarry pits. All this on top of ‘normal’ concentration camp conditions.

Josef was a handsome young man and managed to survive the camps by becoming the ‘kept boy’ of several Kapos and had a circle of people (dignitaries) who looked out for him. In the camps it was perfectly normal for ‘straight’ inmates to have sexual relations with other male inmates as they were ‘normal’ men – the hypocrisy!

Josef witnessed several incidents of horrific brutality. One involved a gay priest who was brutally abused to death by two SS. Josef states that it was like watching the Crucifixion. Another SS commander would commit a sexual act openly as he watched naked gay inmates being brutally flogged. One of the worst episodes occurred in the ‘prison’ where a young gay man was murdered by two SS by tickling him mercilessly, immersing his genitals in alternately boiling and freezing water, raping him with a broom pole and finally crushing his skull with a heavy wooden stool.

At some point Josef was moved to Flossenberg and then sent on a death march to Dachau which ended in Cham. He made one entry in his diary - ‘Americans came.’

After the war, Josef found that there was no compensation or help for gay victims of the Nazis as the ‘crime’ of homosexuality remained on the statute book long after the war ended. In fact some were returned to prison to serve out the rest of their sentences.

Perhaps the most moving item remaining after Josef’s death in 1994 was the piece of cloth containing his pink triangle and prison number.

We salute the courage and survival abilities of Josef Kohout.

Ian and Callum.

With thanks to ‘The Men with the Pink Triangle’ by Heinz Heger, and Wikipedia.

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    • profile image

      Gregg Hierholzer 2 years ago

      I read this book today "The Pink Triangle" and was appalled and sometimes openly weeped for the way gays or anyone was treated at the concentration camps. Between the Russians that were injected with Hydrogen/Air, stripped, and stacked as cord wood then burned only for a few to wake up in this situation try to crawl out of the pit only to be pushed back into the flames was disgusting. The river of red that the village complained about from the mass murder of the captured Russian Soldiers. The beating of the priest (I did like the ray of sunlight) and his calling home, peace and rest eternally, And the poor lad who was tortured in the end, disgusting. I hope all the Nazi's who had any dealings with this rot in hell forever.

    • alian346 profile image

      alian346 5 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      Thank you for the compliment on our writing, Ryan. As I said this was really, really difficult to write just as Heinz's book 'The Men with the Pink triangle' was difficult to read.

      Gay people (men in particular) were considered by the Nazis as the 'lowest of the low'. There is a story of one man who managed to get hold of a Star of David instead of his Pink Triangle as he thought his chances of survival would be better!


    • rlbert00 profile image

      rlbert00 5 years ago from USA

      This was an exceptionally difficult read, akin to the baby and bayonet story that I mentioned previously. Nazi brutality knew no bounds, but it seems like their treatment of homosexuals was particularly depraved. Imagine finally being freed from this nightmare only to be sent back to prison to serve a sentence for this "crime". Awful.

      The writing on the other hand was exceptional. I am now off to read the other article that you suggested. Nicely done.

    • alian346 profile image

      alian346 5 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      Both Cal and I found this part of our series very difficult but necessary to write. Josef's book is very difficult to read but he did find a way to survive.

      Amongst all of this horror is the story of Gad Beck (#31 in our series) who I believe is still with us. The story of his life in WW2 Berlin as a gay half-Jew (yes, you read correctly!) is endlessly inspiring. He is our hero!


    • d.william profile image

      d.william 5 years ago from Somewhere in the south

      It is hard to imagine what torture and abuse gay men had to endure through the years. It is also difficult to imagine that there are still some of those "Nazis" alive today that torture and kill gay people - all in the name of their evil gods.

      We can only hope that their payback equals what they dished out.

    • alian346 profile image

      alian346 5 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      Again, this was very hard to write - God only knows what it must have been like to live!


    • calpol25 profile image

      Callum 5 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland, UK (At Home With My Wonderful Partner)

      Such a sad story this one Ian, he suffered terribly and the atrocities he witnessed must have been awful.