Paragraph 175 (2000)

  • Time: 76 min
  • Genre: Documentary | History | Romance
  • Director: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
  • Cast: Rupert Everett, Albrecht Becker, Gad Beck


Historian Klaus Müller interviews survivors of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals because of the German Penal Code of 1871, Paragraph 175.

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  • Despite the wealth of documentaries and factual dramas covering the atrocities committed by the Nazis under the command of Adolf Hitler, there is always another story, as equally horrifying as it is unbelievable, to come out of the woodwork. This harrowing documentary by Rob Epstein (The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)) and Jeffrey Friedman (Howl (2010)) focuses on the social persecution and mass murder of approximately 75,000 German homosexual men under Nazi rule. Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code forbade homosexual activity, placing it on the same level as bestiality and paedophilia, and the law was broadened by Hitler during his rise to power as he sought to ‘purify’ the German race. The law remained in place until 1994.

    Early scenes show a 1920’s Berlin in full swing, where the young danced, drank and experimented sexually without fear of persecution. Paragraph 175 existed but was rarely enforced, and the young partied freely in a country relieved to come out of the carnage of World War I in one piece. As the Jews were starting to be rounded up and placed in ghettos ready for the concentration camps, homosexual men were under the impression that simply being German would be enough to save them. Similar to what they did with the Jews, the Nazis did nothing at first, allowing the men to congregate in their night clubs and hot spots, only to be rounded up later once they finally felt safe. The emphasis here is on homosexual men as Hitler thought lesbianism to be curable, and why waste a perfectly functional carrier of future Aryans?

    The interviewees taking part in Paragraph 175 have been largely quiet for decades, with the German government largely resistant to acknowledging the mass-murder of gay men and many countries oblivious to what took place. They often talk in hushed voices, with one man describing the ‘singing forest’, a place that sounds like some kind of haven he escaped to amidst the madness. Instead, it was named for the screams that echoed throughout, as victims were hung from hooks and left to die. Others describe of seeing their friends being torn apart by dogs, while another, more animated than the others, tells of how he was he was raped with planks of wood by Nazi officers while under questioning. It’s a shocking, important tale largely ignored even by World War II enthusiasts, eloquently told by the two filmmakers.

    Rating: 4/5

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