The man believed to be the last surviving person sent to a concentration camp for being a homosexual decided to speak out. He’s 97 now, and has just published a book about his experience. The World’s Genevieve Oger has more.
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DAVID BARON: Some six million Jews perished in the Holocaust. The Nazis also killed Poles, Gypsies, and political opponents. And they persecuted another group. Gay men. It’s estimated that 10 to 15 thousand of them from all over Europe were sent to concentration camps. Many never returned. Now, a man believed to be the last survivor of those deportations has written about his life. Genevieve Oger has his story.
GENEVIEVE OGER: I met Rudolf Brazda in a cafe in Paris. He’s a retired roofer who lives a quiet life in Alsace, in Eastern France. Brazda is 97, but it was only two years ago that he decided to tell his story.
OGER: He was born in a Czech family living in Germany in 1913. As a young man, he lived openly as a homosexual in the Weimar Republic.
RUDOLF BRAZDA: It was a democracy in Germany at the time. There was freedom for homosexuals too. We had our own meetings. There was a dance club in Leipzig where we would often meet. There was great freedom for us. I couldn’t imagine anything else. Then we started hearing about Hitler and his bandits.
OGER: After the Nazis came to power, they toughened existing laws against homosexuality. In 1937, Brazda was convicted of debauchery and spent six months in jail. When he was arrested for a similar offense in 1941, he was ultimately sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp.
OGER: At Buchenwald, Brazda was forced to sew a pink triangle on his uniform. The now notorious symbol for homosexual prisoners in the camps. He became a slave laborer. But as a skilled roofer, he was later able to get an easier job maintaining buildings. He was also given extra food. That helped him survive until the camp was liberated in 1945.
BRAZDA: Tears came to my eyes when I think about it. About how terrible life was under Hitler. And now we enjoy so much freedom, I feel so happy.
OGER: When the war ended, Brazda moved to France and started a new life. He didn’t publically discuss what had happened to him. It wasn’t until 2001 that then Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, recognized homosexual concentration camp survivors, as victims of Nazism. And in May of this year, Brazda attended an unveiling of a plaque in Eastern France, in honor of Pierre Seel and other homosexual victims of the Nazis. Seel, who died five years ago, was the first French pink triangle to speak out publically. That ceremony and plaque were the result of years of work by a group called “Les Oubliés de la Mémoire.” The name roughly translates as “those memories have forgotten.” Jean-Luc Schwab is the group’s delegate for the Alsace region. He says in terms of total numbers, the deportation of homosexuals wasn’t as significant as other groups.
JEAN-LUC SCHWAB: It’s really a very tiny fraction of the 165,000 who were deported from France. But it’s often been left out of official history. It isn’t taught or it doesn’t appear in textbooks. Partly because it is a minority figure, that’s true. But also because for a long time officials didn’t want to hear about it.
OGER: It was Schwab who first approached Rudolf Brazda about telling his story. They wrote the book together.
SCHWAB: We happen to have the chance now, having the last known witness of that time. And it’s important that his life story be recorded somewhere. And the wider issue is this case is simply that we need to know our past in order to avoid errors from the past being made once again.
BRAZDA: I think it’s good for my life story to be recorded like this. All the things that happened in that concentration camp. All the terrible things I saw there. I was so lucky and happy to get out of there alive.
OGER: Brazda says he’ll continue to bear witness, as long as his health will permit it. For The World, this is Genevieve Oger, in Paris.
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