Daily Israel Report

Op-Ed: Monument Envy

Gay identity politics trumps a worthy memorial.
Published: Thursday, June 12, 2008 11:46 PM


The plan by the city of Tel Aviv to build a memorial at public expense in Gan Meir to the gay men murdered by the Nazis is curious, given that the persecution of socialists in Nazi Germany was as bad, if not worse, than that of gays. And socialists have played a much more important role in the history of the State of Israel than gays ever did.

Mistreatment of Germany's gay population occurred immediately before the Nazi era, as well as immediately after. The twelve years of Nazi control were an intensification of measures against homosexuals - such as Paragraph
It seems strange that if Tel Aviv wanted to memorialize a fellow victim group, it would start with gay men.
175 outlawing gay sex - that already existed. By contrast, Germany's socialist party, the SPD, had tremendous influence during the Weimar Republic. (It happened to be the only party to support repeal of Paragraph 175.) There was an extensive network of trade unions, socialist debating clubs and socialist women's groups. There were socialist flags, socialist periodicals and a socialist holiday - May 1st, May Day. Soon after the Nazi takeover in 1933, these institutions were all shut down or Nazified. Thus, the persecution of socialists was arguably more painful because they had farther to fall.

Socialists and communists wearing red triangles suffered in German concentration camps alongside gay men wearing pink triangles, and many of each group suffered terribly and died. It's hard to be precise how many, but most historians think more socialists died in the camps than the fewer than 10,000 gay men who lost their lives. At some camps, like Dachau, at least at first, political prisoners made up the majority in the camp. While both the socialist and gay infrastructures were destroyed by the Nazis, there was never a reprieve for socialist institutions. But during the Berlin Olympics in 1936, some gay bars were allowed to reopen.

The new monument is not intended to commemorate Jewish victims of the Holocaust. It's to memorialize the "pink triangles," most of whom were not Jewish, but who were persecuted alongside Jews. It seems strange that if Tel Aviv wanted to memorialize a fellow victim group, it would start with gay men instead of with socialists.

It is undeniable that socialists played an overwhelmingly dominant role in the early history of the Jewish state. For better or for worse, virtually every major institution in Israel today - from the Histadrut to the kibbutzim to Kupat Cholim - was founded on socialist principles. The story of Israel's birth, growth and development would be literally untellable without discussing the contributions of socialist leaders such as David Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir and Moshe Sharett. The history of Israel without discussing the contributions of gay men would be... pretty much the same.

I'm not saying that Tel Aviv shouldn't memorialize gay victims of the Nazi era. But the fact they would pick that particular victim group to commemorate, instead of the much more obvious socialist victims, suggests the memorial has far more to do with identity politics and making openly gay Tel Aviv city councilman Itai Pinkas feel good than it is about remembering a group with whom Israelis share affinity and that suffered alongside Jews during the Shoah.