BY Ben Miller ON March 29, 2017
In March of 1932, Weimar-era gay publisher and activist Friedrich Radszuweit died of tuberculosis. Born in 1876, Radszuweit came to public gay life in 1923, when he founded the Bund für Menschenrecht (Federation for Human Rights, or BfM) in Berlin and began publishing dozens of gay, lesbian, and trans*-themed periodicals. The BfM grew to become the largest (indeed in some sense the only) mass-membership LGBT organization of its time. It claimed 100,000 members at a time when other Weimar gay organizations (like Magnus Hirschfeld’s scientific institute Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, the Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee he cofounded, and the masculinist Gemeinschaft der Eigenen) were vanguardist and tiny, circulating widely-distributed periodicals but lacking the ability or ambition to mobilize.
Radszuweit, on the other hand, had both. In the issue of Blätter für Menschenrecht (one of his firm’s flagship publications) that memorialized his death, his lover Martin remembered a survey Friedrich had conducted “in times of political peace.” He had sent 50,000 questionnaires about politics to his members, of which just over 37,000 were returned. The results:
1292 People’s Party,
8112 German National People’s Party,
1917 German People’s Party,
2903 Center Party,
709 German Democratic Party,
9207 Social Democratic Party,
7002 Communist Party,
6704 Independent/No Party.
This statistic has thus proved that homosexuals have spread to all parties, and that therefore only a neutral organization was the only possibility.¹
Of the approximately 31,000 members who stated their affiliation with a political party, just over half belonged to parties of the (at least nominally) Marxist left, with the rest approximately evenly divided between the center and the right. Nevertheless, for Radszuweit and his organization, they helped prove a larger point: that homosexuality was essentially apolitical, the movement “based solely on the grounds of law and human understanding.”² No alliances with parties were pursued, and while members of the organization were given information about which parties (the Social Democrats and the Communists) had supported the reform of sodomy laws, articles published under Radszuweit’s and other bylines across his firm’s publications sent conflicting political messages. Martin, whom he adopted as his son so that he could inherit the organization and firm, had been a Hitler Youth member who met Radszuweit while street brawling with Communists.
I’m in the archives of the Schwules* Museum Berlin — and many other university and private archives and libraries in Berlin — on the hunt for connections and comparisons between prewar Weimar queer identity formation and the intellectual development of the postwar California-based queer movements, mapping these onto the diaspora of refugee artists and intellectuals from the Nazi regime to Los Angeles. In the middle of competing and intertwining narratives of uniqueness and assimilation, of sociality and individuality, of collaboration with or separation from other social movements, up came a folder in which Schwules* Museum archivists have collected a series of pro-fascist and antisemitic articles written by Radszuweit in the early 1930s.
In January 1931, in his lesbian-oriented magazine Die Freundin, Radzuweit wrote, “We do not believe that even the National Socialists will proceed so rigorously against homosexuals as they announced before the September 1930 elections. Anyone who constantly reads the National Socialist newspapers, especially the ‘Völkischer Beobachter,’ will sometimes find some very reasonable articles on homosexuality. These newspapers generally do not condemn homosexuals as social pariahs, but on the whole only want to go after those Jews [das Judentum] (especially Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld) who wish to, in an ugly way…drag people’s sex lives into the public.”³ Radszuweit argued that even right-wing parties could be trusted to come around on the homosexual question:
We do not want to argue here and to justify what morality and so-called custom are, we only want to make the point that everything can be changed over the course of time. Moral concepts are different today than they were a hundred years ago. This is even acknowledged by right-wing circles…the vast majority of homosexual men of Germany do not intend to publicly display their relations, and would never have thought of creating a homosexual movement if the legislators were not so irrational…the homosexual men of Germany are of the opinion that one should not talk about these things at all, and that no one is concerned with the way in which two men, by their free will, and by mutual consent, have sexual intercourse in their secret chamber.⁴
Later that year, in an article in his Freundschaftsblatt newsletter so positive it inspired the mainstream centrist paper Die Welt to write it up under the headline “The Third Gender Welcomes the Third Reich,” Radszuweit claimed that the presence of homosexuals such as SA commander Ernst Röhm proved Nazi leaders were not personally homophobic, and that Hitler fit into a line of great manly leaders, many of whom were homosexual.⁵ The article, structured as an open letter, praised “Herr Hitler’s” focus on “political issues” rather than “sexual questions,” offering to “inform” him in a “non-partisan” way about “the prevalence of homosexuality.”⁶ It presented a list of “reasonable” requests, including equalizing the age of consent, allowing same-sex sexual contact in private between consenting adults, and strengthening laws against prostitution and intergenerational sex. In defenses of the article published in later issues of Die Freundin, Radszuweit acknowledged that the “Hitler camp” created anti-homosexual “propaganda,” but argued that the names of homosexuals in the Nazi Party should be kept secret and that their presence meant the Party would not seriously prosecute what we might now call ‘heteronormative’ homosexuals if in power.⁷
Radszuweit, as the publisher of widely circulated newsletters of a genuinely mass-movement organization, had the opportunity to mobilize his not-insignificant forces against the rise of fascism, and refused. Instead, he chose to collaborate with antisemitic rhetoric, denounce the most outrageous fascist statements in mild terms, and hope for accommodations and concessions once they took power.
We are too often today, in the face of a new and global and growing far-right that threatens economic, environmental, racial, and sexual justice, presented with new forms of this upper-class collaborationism. Twinks for Trump leader Lucian Wintrich claimed that the left is “just as if not more reactionary” than the radical right and compared himself to Robert Mapplethorpe after protests of his pro-Trump “Daddy Will Save Us” exhibition.⁸ Florian Philippot, Marine le Pen’s openly gay campaign manager, has masterminded a campaign strategy of turning French LGBT voters against immigrants.⁹ Twenty percent of French gays interviewed on the Hornet dating app, the same percentage who indicated their support for the hard-right proto-Nazi German National People’s Party in Radszuweit’s survey, say they will vote for le Pen in the first round of April’s elections.¹⁰ Gay magazines appealing to a broad readership publish glossy profiles of now-discredited fascist sympathizer and gay minstrel Milo Yiannopoulos.¹¹
Most extraordinary of all was the praise given President Trump by San Francisco Pride, after a New York Times article indicated that his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner had persuaded him not to issue an executive order overturning many pro-LGBT Obama-era executive orders. Trump instead issued a press release insisting that the President “continues to be respectful and supportive of L.G.B.T.Q. rights, just as he was throughout the election.” Pride reposted the Times article on Facebook, commenting, “Very cautiously optimistic, with a nod of gratefulness.”
This was terrifying to read the same week as the pro-Hitler Radszuweit articles. To their credit, San Francisco activists forced Pride to rescind their optimistic statement and restate rote concern for the displaced, the targeted, the vulnerable. But the danger remains. It is entirely possible that in the United States and/or Europe, white middle- and upper-class gays and lesbians will choose to collaborate with the growing far right after being promised, however perfunctorily, that it does not seek to target them. These parties and figures (Trump, le Pen, Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland) are two-faced on gay issues, creating advertisements and messaging targeted at the racial insecurities and class privilege of newly-married older white gay and lesbian couples, while simultaneously promising religious and social conservatives the revocation of those rights and even, in the case of one state AfD politician in Saxony, a return to Nazi- and Weimar-era sodomy laws.
A bitter irony: the BfM’s cautious refusal to take a stand on the crucial issues of its day, its kind words about Hitler, its collaboration with poisonous anti-Semitism, bought it exactly no protection when the Nazi regime set its murderous sights on LGBT people and institutions. The final document in the organization’s file at the Schwules* Museum celebrates the organization’s dissolution, reading, “The liquidation has ended. Heil Hitler!”¹² Stormtroopers had raided and destroyed the publishing house. This document, like the Nazi bunker on my street and the tiny bronze memorials to murdered Jews set into the cobblestone sidewalks, is a reminder of the dangers of our time and their clear echoes in the past. Accommodation and collaboration are moral and political failures, even on their own terms. There is no sure path to safety except to win the fight for the kind of world we want.
- 1. Blätter für Menschenrecht, April/Mai 1932. Box 2, Folder 1. Sammlung Radszuweit — Schwules* Museum Berlin.
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. Die Freundin,
Jan. 11, 1931. Box 6. Sammlung Friedrich Radszuweit — Schwules* Museum Berlin
- 4. Ibid.
- 5. Die Welt am Montag, Aug.17, 1931. Box 6. Sammlung Friedrich Radszuweit — Schwules* Museum Berlin
- 6. Herrn Adolf Hitler, München. Die Freundin, Aug. 12, 1931. Box 6. Sammlung Friedrich Radszuweit — Schwules* Museum Berlin
- 7. Die Freundin, February 1931. Box 6. Sammlung Friedrich Radszuweit — Schwules* Museum Berlin
- 8. http://www.breitbart.com/milo/2016/10/08/wintrich-trump-art-show-new-york/
- 9. https://www.buzzfeed.com/lesterfeder/frances-nationalist-party-is-winning-gay-support?utm_term=.mydAYV8Yz#.odKNv4LvV
- 10. https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/03/01/1-in-5-french-gays-are-voting-for-anti-gay-marriage-marine-le-pen/
- 11. http://www.out.com/out-exclusives/2016/9/21/send-clown-internet-supervillain-milo-doesnt-care-you-hate-him
- 12. Box 1: Vereinsakte. Sammlung Radszuweit — Schwules* Museum Berlin