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What you probably don’t know about the Holocaust and why that matters

What you probably don’t know about the Holocaust and why that matters

Shalechet, an installation in Berlin's Jewish Museum, aims to give a voice to the Holocaust's victims.

As a German teenager, history lessons in my school concentrated on the Holocaust.

It wasn’t on the curriculum for a majority of the four or five years I was taught it, but one of our teachers insisted on teaching us the same things over and over again.

Yet despite being taught about the indescribable horror of the gas chambers and shootings, the Night of Broken Glass and how Hitler came to power, I didn’t know half the story.

In all my years of school, I only heard passingly about gay people, about Jehovah’s witnesses, political prisoners, the mentally ill, or so-called ‘asocials’. I didn’t know the particular persecutions, the individualized horrors, the Nazis reserved for each of them.

Looking back, I can’t help but feel cheated. For all the guilt society raised us, and the generations before us, with, it felt as if we only ever learned half the truth.

How can I remember the victims of humanity’s biggest crime if I don’t know the full extent?

How can I remember millions of Jewish women, men and children but, at the same time, not be taught about the many thousands of others who were considered scum under Hitler’s eugenics?

Remembrance means embracing all victims; not just a few.

It is entirely right that my school history lessons focused on the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. In a multitude of ways, the Nazis crimes against the Jewish people are without parallel – in scale, in their systematic nature, in their industrialized barbarism and more.

But it is equally important to remember the thousands of other people, interned, tortured and killed in camps alongside their fellow citizens; only they wore a colored triangle instead of a star.

Strip away the triangles and stars and you’re left with millions of people in striped uniforms – not just people in the same plight but victims of the same ‘ideal’, the creation of a ‘master race’. To understand what happened to the Jewish Holocaust victims, we must understand the whole.

By researching and writing about the fate of lesbians and gay men under the Nazis and after the war, I have learned new lessons – some of which have been barely told over 70 years after the camps were liberated.

The message of Holocaust Memorial Day is ‘never again’. History does repeat itself but never neatly or exactly. So it is only by striving to learn the whole truth that we can draw out the lessons we need for the future.

With the current influx of refugees into Europe, we’re seeing the new right rise to power at a pace that should set off plenty of alarm bells.

We may not need to fear a new Holocaust in Europe tomorrow. But when I read my fellow Europeans responding to that human crisis with comments like ‘Sadly, Buchenwald was closed 70 years ago’, I am afraid. I fear for these men, women and children in most desperate need and I fear for our society which has not learned in full from history’s most terrible lesson.

This week many of us have paused to remember. But the real, global act of remembrance, our duty to strive every day for a world free of persecution, goes on.

You can read Stefanie’s articles about lesbians and gay men under the Nazis and the fate of gay men after the Holocaust here.