To this very day, Austria has been refusing to grant compensation and rehabilitation to certain victim groups, including those persecuted for their homosexuality. Only persons persecuted on racial, political or religious grounds have a legal entitlement to compensation under the Federal Nazi Victims Compensation Act (Opferfürsorgegesetz – OFG).
Homosexual Nazi victims have been considered ordinary criminals as the total ban on homosexuality had not been introduced by the Nazis. The 1852 Austrian penal code provision prohibiting both female and male homosexuality remained in force – unchanged – between 1938 and 1945 and was only repealed in 1971! Those imprisoned in ordinary prisons were not released after the collapse of the Nazi regime but in many instances had to fully serve their prison term till the very end. Often, people were tried and convicted for homosexuality again after the war, in many cases by the same judges as during the Nazi era.
But even those homosexuals who were deported to concentration camps did not receive any compensation as their deportation was based upon a behaviour that also was punished before 1938 and after 1945, ignoring that deportation to a camp could never be considered a measure based on the rule of law. Moreover, the Nazis did not consider homosexuality an ordinary crime but a social scourge they wanted to completely eradicate. Therefore, in Germany legislation was tightened up in 1935, police and legal prosecution was systematically enforced. Both in Germany and in Austria after the “Anschluss”, the number of cases and convictions, thus, flashed up. Homosexuals also were a distinct group in the camps, forced to wear a pink triangle, and not the green triangle reserved for criminals. Lesbians were deported for “asocial” behaviour and had to wear the black triangle of that group.
After the war, with the total ban on homosexuality being upheld, survivors with the pink triangle were excluded from compensation. In Austria, all applications filed were turned down due to lack of a legal basis. Even after the repeal of the total ban in 1971, Parliament refused to include gay and lesbian victims in the OFG. At that time there was no gay and lesbian movement, and the organisations of political and Jewish survivors and resistance fighters had a big interest in keeping legislation “clean”, thus argued against opening up the OFG to include those persecuted for their homosexuality.
This had consequences in other areas, too: for the victims not recognised by the OFG, the months and years they were imprisoned in concentration camps are not included in their pension contribution periods that form the basis for calculating the amount of their monthly retirement pension; contrary to their SS guards whose service periods in the camps are taken into account by the Austrian state pension system as contribution times and, thus, increase the amount of their monthly pension.
Only in the 1990s, attitudes changed with the arrival of the Green Party in Parliament. They were the first to demand an amendment to the OFG to cater for the pink and black “triangles”. Slowly, the Socialist Party changed its position, too. However, more than 20 years of political lobbying could not persuade the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) to vote for such an amendment. Since 1983, the ÖVP and the rightwing Freedom Party have had a majority in the Parliament. On several occasions, ÖVP and FPÖ voted down law initiatives introduced by the Social Democrats and the Greens: in 1995, in 2001, and last time as recently as in 2002; in February 2004, a similar motion tabled by the opposition in March 2003 was deferred in the Parliament’s social affairs committee.
The only positive development was that, in 1995, “sexual orientation” was included in a law establishing a special fund to cater for certain “forgotten” and needy victims of the Nazis. But there is no legal entitlement to receive compensation from this fund, and, it does not constitute the same legal recognition of this victim group as the OFG does.
In 2001, HOSI Wien has put together the exhibition “Lost Lives – Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals in Vienna, 1938-45”. The exhibition is available in an on-line version (both in German and English) on www.ausdemleben.at.