LGBT People of History 35 - Heinz Heger (Josef Kohout)
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, http://andrejkoymasky.com/mem/holocaust/ha18.html and Wikipedia.
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