BERLIN — A turning level arrives for Viktor and Hans, the central characters within the new movie “Nice Freedom,” when Viktor sees the focus camp tattoo on Hans’s arm.
It’s 1945, and Viktor has already forcibly thrown Hans out of the cell they share in a German jail after studying that Hans was jailed for having intercourse with males. However when Viktor, an ice block of a person with a homicide conviction, discovers the tattooed quantity, he affords to offer Hans a brand new design to cowl up the previous.
“They put you from a focus camp into the slammer? Severely?” Victor (Georg Friedrich) stammers in disbelief, extra to himself than to Hans (Franz Rogowski).
The fictional character of Hans, liberated from a Nazi focus camp on the finish of World Battle II solely to be despatched on to jail, relies on a chilling and sometimes neglected chapter in German postwar historical past.
Hans is repeatedly arrested underneath Paragraph 175, a legislation criminalizing intercourse between males that the Nazis expanded simply a few years into their regime, and which was saved on the books for many years after.
The legislation was used, typically with elaborate sting operations, to convict as much as 50,000 homosexual males in West Germany between 1945 and 1994 — roughly as many as had been arrested in the course of the decade by which the Nazis used it.
“For homosexual males, the Nazi period didn’t finish in 1945,” mentioned Peter Rehberg, the archivist of Schwules Museum, a homosexual cultural establishment in Berlin.
When Sebastian Meise, the director of “Nice Freedom,” learn concerning the males who went from the focus camps to jail due to their sexuality, it “actually modified my understanding of historical past,” he mentioned in a phone interview from Vienna. The invention set him off on an eight-year undertaking that resulted in “Nice Freedom,” which was Austria’s submission to the worldwide characteristic class at this 12 months’s Oscars.
Fashionable Germany has been praised for its efforts to maintain the dreadful reminiscence of the Holocaust current for the generations born after what Hannah Arendt referred to as the “break in civilization.” The Nazi period is a compulsory a part of college historical past curriculums, for instance, and lots of schoolchildren and police cadets are obliged to go to former focus camps. However for a lot of many years, postwar Germany’s remedy of homosexual males was additionally neither liberal nor progressive.
In 1935, the Nazis strengthened Germany’s legislation criminalizing homosexuality, which was initially launched within the 1870s. This allowed the regime to criminalize not simply homosexual intercourse, however nearly any conduct that may very well be seen to run afoul of heterosexual norms, together with one other man. Whereas East Germany had a barely much less restrictive model on its books, West Germany saved the strict Nazi laws till 1969, when it was first reformed.
For West Germans like Peter Bermbach, Paragraph 175 solid a protracted shadow over the postwar many years.
In his senior 12 months of highschool in West Germany within the late Nineteen Forties, he was overheard turning down a date with one other boy. College officers didn’t simply droop him, in addition they reported him to the police.
“It was the everyday German sense of order and justice of the time,” mentioned Bermbach, now 90, in a phone interview.
The second time, he didn’t get off as simply. At 29, with a Ph.D. and a job in a publishing home, he was caught placing his arm round a 17-year-old at a public pool. Bermbach spent 4 weeks in jail and was fined 5,000 marks — a hefty sum on the time.
After he paid off the positive, he grew to become one of many hundreds of homosexual and bisexual males who fled Paragraph 175. He moved to Paris in 1960 looking for extra freedoms.
Meise and his writing associate Thomas Reider collected many tales from Bermbach’s technology of homosexual males in the course of the six years they spent researching and writing the script for “Nice Freedom,” visiting the archives on the Schwules Museum and the Magnus Hirschfeld Basis, which collects interviews with males affected by the legislation.
Nonetheless, Paragraph 175 didn’t cease homosexual tradition from evolving in Western Germany; the German title of the movie, “Grosse Freiheit,” is a nod to a venerable homosexual bar in Berlin the place the penultimate scene takes place. Nevertheless it did push many features of homosexual life underground, based on Klaus Schumann, 84. He remembered Berlin police pulling up in massive vans in entrance of bars recognized to be homosexual sizzling spots within the late ’40s and ’50s. Nobody was criminally charged, he mentioned, however everybody, together with workers, had been taken to the native police station to to be recognized.
“It was mainly a strategy to hold management over folks,” Schuman mentioned.
“Nice Freedom” traces Hans’s many stints behind bars, the place he was labeled a “175,” leaping between 1945 and 1969. To assist mark that point shift, Rogowski misplaced greater than 25 kilos throughout filming, to make himself seem youthful (the later scenes had been filmed first). Taking pictures in an deserted jail near Magdeburg within the former East Germany, Meise captures the gradual course of incarcerated time, in addition to social change.
“I might be more than happy if it was taken as a common story,” Meise mentioned of his movie. “It’s so exhausting to disentangle the historical past and the present politics as a result of it’s so virulent.” Meise famous that the problem is much from being a purely historic one, as there appear to be new pushes to bolster heterosexual norms in locations like some U.S. faculties.
For the boys whose lives had been affected by Paragraph 175, a lot has modified. After he settled in Paris, Bermbach constructed a profession as a journalist and filmmaker. Final 12 months he wrote an autobiography, and later this month the highschool that kicked him out greater than seven many years in the past has invited him to go to and skim from the e-book.
“Actually, I don’t actually care,” Barmbach mentioned of going again to the place that when expelled him. “As for being denounced for being gay, I’ve lengthy forgotten about that.”
After Paragraph 175 was reformed in 1969 and once more in 1973, the final vestige of it was taken off the books in 1994. In 2017, a 12 months after Meise began writing “Nice Freedom,” the German parliament mentioned anybody charged underneath the legislation would have their document expunged. It additionally agreed to supply a meager settlement to those that utilized.
Of the 50,000 males who might need eligible, solely 317 had utilized by final summer time.