Exhibit offers unique angle on Holocaust

The Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies, in conjunction with the University of Miami Libraries, will host the traveling exhibition “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945” in the Otto G. Richter Library from Feb. 12 through April 4.

The exhibition, created by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, details the experiences of homosexual men under the Nazi regime, including the estimated 5,000 to 15,000 who suffered in concentration camps.

“We’re teaching students to be citizens of the world here at the university,” said University Librarian William Walker. “This is a global story. We think it’s important that people don’t forget the horror of the Holocaust and how quickly societies can turn on any segment of the population at any time. This is a very powerful panel exhibition.”

Nazi ideology described homosexuality as an “infection” that threatened the “masculine discipline” of Germany. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, their platform of racial purity and traditional values led to the persecution of unwanted groups.

Under a broadly interpreted law condemning “indecencies between men,” the Nazi Storm Troopers used surveillance in order to incarcerate homosexual “enemies of the state.” The fates of arrested homosexual men varied: some were interned in concentration camps, others castrated and a number were drafted into the German military for suicide missions.

Maria Estorino, the interim head of Archives and Special Collections at Richter, said the exhibition includes many photographs and artifacts and is the largest exhibition the library has ever hosted.

“Organizing this exhibit is a good exercise in cooperating with other parts of the university,” she said. “We need to pool all our resources together to put something like this into place, but it will be well worth it.”

Rabbi Shlomo Sprung, the Collegiate Learning Exchange (CLE) rabbi at UM Hillel, plans to visit the exhibition.

“I think it’s important to highlight the Nazi persecution of everyone they persecuted,” he said. “There is a misconception that the Nazis only persecuted Jews. They persecuted anyone they found to be deviant, either physically or spiritually.”

Trent Whisenant is a freshman and member of SpectrUM, a student group that celebrates diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity. He said education about the past is essential but has reservations about an exhibition examining only the persecution of homosexuals.

“I feel that it’s more important to highlight the Holocaust and the rise of Nazi Germany as an attack on humanity as a whole rather than to focus on just one group’s persecution,” he said. “To focus on just one group’s persecution solely for the purpose of saying they were persecuted would lessen the greater suffering inflicted upon the world.”

Krysten Swensen, a junior, also plans to visit the exhibition.

“It’s a part of the Holocaust you don’t hear about very often,” she said. “I think people need to be informed about all aspects of the past.”

The exhibition will be housed near Richter’s lobby, which Walker said is meant to be easily viewable and accessible to students.

“We’re here to push the edges a little bit,” he said. “I’m not a quiet little librarian. I like to get people to think.”

Kelly Herson may be contacted at k.herson@umiami.edu.