wwii couples

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WWII Gay G.I.s recounts tale of losing their Lovers

Excerpt from the book Coming out under fire The history of gay Men and Women in World War Two: Combat soldiers often responded to each other’s personal losses with the deepest respect and understanding, allowing gay GIs to express openly their grief over the death of boyfriends or lovers. 

Jim Warren’s boyfriend was hit while trying to knock out a machine-gun nest on Saipan. “They brought him back,” Warren recalled, “and he was at the point of death. He was bleeding. He had been hit about three or four times. I stood there and he looked up at me and I looked down at him and he said, ‘Well, Jim, we didn’t make it, did we.’ And tears were just rolling down my cheeks. I don’t know when I’ve ever felt such a lump and such a waste. And he kind of gave me a boyish crooked grin and just said, ‘Well, maybe next time.’ And I said, ‘I’m going to miss you. And I’ll see your mother.’ There were people standing around, maybe seven or eight people standing there, and I was there touching his hand and we were talking. Somebody said later, ‘You were pretty good friends,’ because I had been openly crying and most people don’t do this. I said, ‘Yes, we were quite good friends.’ And nobody ever said anything. I guess as long as I supposedly upheld my end of the bargain, everything was all right.”

Ben Small was even less able to control himself when his boyfriend was killed in the Philippines. But he, too, was surprised by the other men’s compassion towards him. “We had a funny freak attack of a Japanese kamikaze plane,” he recalled, “and I guess he was getting rid of his last load of these baby cutter bomb, these little bombs that explode at about three feet high so if they went off through a tent they exploded at bed level. I had just been in the tent of a guy I had been going with at the time. He crawled into bed, and I said goodnight and walked out the tent. And this plane came overhead and all we heard was explosions and we fell to the ground. When I got up too see if he was all right, the trust of the bomb had gone through his tent and he was not there. I went into a three-day period of hysterics. I was treated with such kindness by the guys that I worked with, who were all totally aware of why I had gone hysterical. It wasn’t because we were bombed. It was because my boyfriend had been killed. And one guy in the tent came up to me and said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me you were gay? You could have talked to me.’ I said, ‘Well, I was afraid to.’ This big straight, macho guy. There was a sort of compassion then.”

After a raid in the Philippines, Ben Small remembered, a lieutenant who had been injured was being shipped back to the States, so the men “all went to the plane to see him off that night. It was an amazingly touching moment, when he and his lover said goodbye, because they embraced and kissed in front of all these straight guys and everyone dealt with it so well. I think it was just this basic thing about separation of someone you cared for, regardless of sex.” Small described this tender parting as “a little distilled moment out of time” when men’s “prejudices were suspended” and gay soldiers “could be a part of what this meant.”

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LGBT History: Gay Nazis

The Denial of Homosexuality: Same-Sex Incidents in Himmler’s SS and Police

In public, Heinrich Himmler minimized the existence of same-sex sexuality within the elite Schutzstaffel (SS). “In the whole of the SS there occur about eight to ten cases per year,” Himmler announced to his senior SS generals in February 1937, clearly satisfied that the “problem” of homosexuality was almost solved. Soon he hoped to reduce the number further by sending miscreants to concentration camps and having them “shot while trying to escape.” Their fate would serve as a dire warning. Himmler’s estimate of the prevalence of homosexuality in the ranks of the SS was hardly accurate. In the city of Leipzig alone, four SS men were arrested for homosexual offenses in 1937 and 1938. Burkhard Jellonnek’s calculation that 57 percent of those arrested in Düsseldorf on such charges during the Third Reich belonged to one or another Nazi organization makes it likely that there were SS men among them, too. In 1940, sixteen cases of homosexuality were brought before the internal SS courts, and in the first quarter alone of 1943, no fewer than twenty-two convictions were recorded. Richard Plant’s proposition, that from the time of the Röhm Purge, “no halfway intelligent gay was likely to join the homophobic SS,” seems to stand confounded.

While these figures are modest when compared to the thousands of ordinary Germans convicted every year by Nazi courts for homosexual offenses, it is nonetheless instructive to focus on the incidence of such “crimes” in the SS and police. The SS was the organization meant to embody the highest National Socialist values, and it played a central role in the most public homosexual scandal of the entire regime, the murder of the chief of staff of Hitler’s Sturmabteilung (SA), Ernst Röhm. As the leader of the SS and the police, Himmler himself deserves special attention. His speeches and writings dealt more obsessively with homosexuality than did those of any other Nazi leader, and his comments were broadly consistent in their sharp condemnation of homosexuality. On several documented occasions between 1934 and 1943, Himmler spoke or wrote of the acceptability, even the desirability, of killing homosexuals. However, the actual disciplining of suspected homosexuals in the SS and other organizations under Himmler’s control was far from uniform or consistent. Since punishment for those convicted of homosexuality did not become increasingly severe, even after the legal enactment in November of 1941 of capital punishment for such offenses among the SS and police, the model of “cumulative radicalization” does not accurately describe Nazi policy on homosexuals. The precise nature of the offense was no predictor of the outcome of a trial. SS courts did not usually make snap judgments but weighed the evidence quite carefully and sometimes approached the evidence with a little common sense. When the death penalty was prescribed, appeals against the sentence were occasionally successful. Even Himmler’s own position vacillated: while he was all for summary justice in 1943, he showed at least partial lenience in the winter of 1945 by sending convicted men to the front to prove themselves instead of ordering their executions. This essay suggests why he made such decisions at particular moments and examines them in the broader context of wartime policy and cultural fears.