Rudolf Brazda, the last known survivor to be interned in a German concentration camp for being gay, has died aged 98.
Philippe Couillet, a friend of the deceased, is quoted by the AFP as saying that Brazda “passed on peacefully in his sleep at dawn on August 3″ in a hospital for the elderly in Bantzenheim, eastern France.
Rudolf Brazda was born to Czech parents in June 26 1913, the youngest of eight children, in Brossen in the central German state of Thuringia.
Even though homosexuality was technically illegal in Weimar Germany under Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code, Brazda lived a relatively open life prior to Hitler coming to power and even cohabited with his then partner, a man named Werner, whom he’d met aged 20 at a dance in Leipzig.
Brazda would later recount that, so tolerant was the culture of the time, he and Werner held a marriage ceremony with Brazda’s mother and siblings present. Their relationship, however, would be torn apart by the looming war when Werner was enlisted for military service. He would later die while still on active duty in 1940.
Germany’s tolerance was also quickly mutilated when the Nazis took power and began enforcing the country’s anti-gay laws. These laws were later expanded upon them to make homosexuality a felony. In a short space of time homosexuals in the country went from being able to live their lives relatively out in the open to, like so many others, being actively hunted.
NEXT PAGE: Arrested, deported and then interned.
In 1937 Brazda was arrested for “unnatural lewdness.” During his month in custody, he was presented with the love letters and poems he had written to Werner. After weeks of trying to deny the relationship and being told that he must be homosexual because he looked like a man with “homosexual tendencies,” he broke down and “confessed” to the relationship. He was imprisoned for six months.
Upon his release Brazda was deported to Czechoslovakia, though he didn’t speak a word of the language. There, Brazda moved to a German-speaking spa town, Karlsbad, where he joined a popular theater troupe and in time found love again with a man named Anton, though this was another love that, ultimately, would not survive the war.
Brazda was arrested for a second time in 1941 and endured another six months in prison. Then, in August 1942, Brazda was sent to Buchenwald concentration camp where he would remain until the camp was liberated by US troops in 1945.
He became prisoner 7952 and, like the other estimated 10 to 15 thousand gay men from all over Europe who were sent to the concentration camps, he was made to sew a pink triangle on his uniform, a symbol the Nazis made those convicted of homosexuality wear.
While the number of homosexuals to be interned was relatively few in number when compared to others that were persecuted such as Jewish people and racial and ethnic minorities, gay people are said to have been ferociously persecuted, enduring “extermination through labor,” forced castration and other such medical experiments. Unable to escape the stigma of the pink triangle emblazoned upon their chests, those interned for homosexuality are also said to have suffered at the hands of fellow inmates too, though Brazda would later say that he never experienced this.
NEXT PAGE: Compassion from SS Guards saves Brazda’s life.
Yet, in this monstrous time, Brazda found good fortune when one guard defended his life. When Brazda, during the usual routine of intimidation and torture, got a question he was asked wrong, the interrogating SS officer ordered Brazda to be executed. However, a guard stepped in and pleaded Brazda’s case, saying that he was a skilled worker and should be spared. Brazda was given a reprieve.
This relative good luck would continue: upon the collapsing of the Nazi regime and when SS guards made their prisoners march, many to their deaths, a guard helped Brazda hide in the stables and brought him food until American troops liberated the camp on April 11, 1945.
Post-war, gay Holocaust survivors found themselves again persecuted. They were not officially recognized as camp prisoners or victims of Nazi persecution. As such, they were not entitled to the state reparations or pensions offered other Holocaust survivors, and many were put back in prison under the Nazi’s legacy of anti-gay laws. Though both East and West Germany would relax laws against homosexuality in the late 1960s, it would not be until 1994 before the Nazi anti-gay laws were in fact fully repealed. The German government issued an official apology to the gay community in 2002.
Brazda, however, got out of Germany open his liberation from Buchenwald, moving to live near the French-German border in Alsace. At a costume ball in 1950, Brazda began the enduring love affair of his life when he met Edouard, or Edi, an ethnic German who had been expelled from Yugoslavia. The pair eventually moved into a house they had built together in the suburbs of Mulhouse in 1960 where Brazda later cared for Edi when he was crippled in a work accident. The pair remained together there until Edi’s death in 2002, and Brazda stayed in that house for as long as he was able.
French officials have said that Brazda will be laid to rest in Mulhouse in eastern France on Monday.
NEXT PAGE: A video interview with Brazda.
For decades Brazda stayed silent about what had happened to him, perhaps fearing he would again be persecuted. Yet in May 2008 something changed. Berlin’s openly gay mayor Klaus Wowereit unveiled a memorial to the gay victims of the Third Reich whereby officials said they believed the last witness to those atrocities had died three years earlier. Brazda picked up the phone to correct them.
Brazda then became a man in demand, giving countless interviews including this one for Spiegel Online from April of this year in which you can also see pictures of Brazda meeting (and openly flirting with) Berlin’s mayor.
Brazda was awarded the French Legion of Honor in April of this year.
Writer Alexander Zinn, who would become a close companion of Brazda’s during his twilight years, published a German-language book in April based on Brazda’s life.
The book is titled “Das Glück kam immer zu mir Rudolf Brazda – das Überleben eines Homosexuellen im Dritten Reich,” or “I Had Always Been Blessed with Good Fortune: Rudolf Brazda – a Homosexual’s Survival in the Third Reich.”
That he was incredibly fortunate is something that Brazda would often say when asked about escaping Nazi Germany. I can only think that the world was blessed with good fortune when Rudolf Brazda decided to share his story and remind us of both the worst sides of humanity in the atrocities committed during that period, but also some of the best as exemplified by Brazda’s unfailing beauty of spirit.
Below you can watch an interview with Brazda that was made last year in which he tells his own story alongside photographs from his life and also historians giving a wider context to his experiences: