Myth of Hitler/Nazi extermination of
Nazis left Dutch gays untouched, says historian
By Bart Funnekotter – Nrc Handelsblad
December 23, 2009
The Dutch traditionally remember their victims of the Second World War on May
4th. As the queen attends the official ceremonies on Amsterdam's Dam Square, a
procession walks to the ‘Homomonument’ near the Western Church. The gay monument
was established in 1987 to commemorate the victims of the Nazi regime who were
"persecuted because of their homosexual feelings".
In fact, very few of those people were persecuted in the Netherlands, says
historian Anna Tijsseling, who obtained her doctoral degree at Utrecht
University on Wednesday for her thesis Guilty sex. Homosexual indecency
offences around the German occupation. Actually, the legal prosecution of
homosexuals was more intense before and immediately after the war, her research
Her conclusions counter the generally accepted view of Dutch homosexuals as
victims of the Nazis. Tijsseling calls this image "a persistent fiction, created
by the gay-emancipation movement in the 1970s."
The historian for the International Institute of Social History and the
Netherlands' Institute for War Documentation studied the topic for four years.
Part of her research involved investigating all the cases brought before the The
Hague district court. "The Hague was the gay capital of the Netherlands, the way
Amsterdam is now. Moreover, many of the cases the Germans did institute against
homosexuals took place in The Hague," she explains.
After the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940, they made homosexuality a
crime. Before and after the war, only those who had sex with minors were
prosecuted. "Homosexuality was seen as a disorder, with older men infecting
younger boys, " Tijsseling said.
In theory, the German legislation made it possible to prosecute all gay people.
But that didn't happen. Tijsseling’s research shows all the homosexuals who
appeared before the court were there for having sex with young boys.
One reason why fewer gays were prosecuted was the overloaded judiciary. "The
system was practically buried in/ up to its ears in financial and political
crimes. The Hague police still had a sex crimes department, but fewer cases came
before the court. Those convicted were not imprisoned because of a shortage of
Several anecdotes Tijsseling found in court files illustrate the relatively safe
position of Dutch homosexuals during the occupation. One The Hague pub became an
openly gay bar in 1943. And there was one gay man who organised weekly parties
in his attic. These became so popular that even German soldiers started
attending them. The host was prosecuted in the end, for serving liquor without a
But even if few homosexuals were prosecuted, couldn't it be that they were
simply sent to death camps without any form of trial? Tijsseling doesn't think
so. "I searched everywhere for evidence of this, but I couldn't find any."
"Homosexuals in Germany were clearly victims of the Nazi regime. They were one
of the first groups to be sent to the death camps," says Tijsseling. "But this
wasn’t true for the Netherlands."
In the 1950, the emerging gay press wrote mostly about its solidarity with the
German victims. In the 1970s a lobby was started to have gays officially
recognised as victims of the Nazis. With this status, gay people could apply for
reparations. "And although no evidence had surfaced about gay persecution by
then, that idea is now firmly established in people's minds."
She realises her conclusions will not go down well with the gay movement. "The
people who rally around the victimisation of homosexuals will have to face the
facts: the Second World War was a relatively quiet time for Dutch gays."