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Lithograph by Richard Grune

Grune Lithograph
Courtesy of Schwules Museum
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tags: friendship gender sexuality visual art

type: Artwork

During the years of the Weimar Republic (1918–1933), Berlin became an active international center for several emerging communities of people whose sexuality or gender did not conform to social norms. Many people were drawn to the vibrant nightlife and relatively tolerant atmosphere of Berlin and other large German cities.1 But less than a month after the Nazi Party took power in January 1933, authorities ordered the Berlin police to close the city’s many gay and lesbian bars.2 The Nazi regime redefined who could belong to the so-called "national community" ("Volksgemeinschaft") and excluded those who did not fit Nazi ideas of race and national unity.

Trained as an artist and graphic designer, 29-year-old Richard Grune moved to Berlin the same month that the police began forcing these establishments to shut down. Although prominent nightclubs like the Eldorado faced closure, members of these communities still found ways to continue gathering more privately. For example, Grune hosted two parties for friends in his studio in fall 1934. He was denounced afterward—along with dozens of others—by a private citizen who often passed information to police. Grune was then arrested for alleged violations of Paragraph 175, the statute of the German criminal code that criminalized sexual relations between men.3 He was imprisoned for several months before being convicted and sentenced to a year in prison.4

After serving his sentence, Grune was arrested again by the Gestapo and held indefinitely in what was misleadingly referred to as “protective custody” (“Schutzhaft”)—an experience shared by many convicted of violating Paragraph 175 under the Nazi regime.5 Grune spent the next decade in concentration camps, including Sachsenhausen and Flossenbürg. He escaped from Flossenbürg in April 1945 as American forces approached and camp authorities evacuated the prisoners.

Grune created the featured lithograph6—“Solidarity: Prisoner Supports His Exhausted Comrade”—in 1945 as part of a series of images inspired by his experiences as a prisoner in the Nazi camp system. These lithographs were reproduced in two published portfolios in 1947.7 Grune’s artwork reflects many of his own experiences, but it does not reference his persecution as a gay man in any specific way. Instead, his lithographs seem to suggest the idea of shared suffering among all concentration camp prisoners. Because sexual relations between men remained criminalized for decades in Germany after the end of World War II, many people convicted under Paragraph 175 chose to conceal the details of their past persecution under the Nazi regime.8

After the war, Grune chose to portray himself as a political prisoner of Nazism, but he was not able to obtain official recognition or compensation for his suffering. Although his lithographs are among the most important artistic representations of concentration camp experiences created immediately after the war, Grune could not support himself as an artist. He did occasionally find design and illustration work, but he made his living by working as a bricklayer. Grune died in obscurity in Kiel, Germany in 1983.

To learn how one gay man experienced life in a large German city at the time, see the Experiencing History item, Oral History with Albrecht Becker.

Though officials in the German state of Prussia were the first to take this step, other German states soon followed suit. Some gay and lesbian bars in German cities managed to stay open for several years, but nearly all were forced to close in 1935 when the Nazi regime intensified its persecution of gay men. To learn more, see Clayton John Whisnant, “Nazi Persecution," in Queer Identities and Politics in Germany: A History, 1880–1945 (New York: Harrington Park Press, 2016): 204–41.

Although Paragraph 175 had criminalized sexual relations between men since 1871, denunciations for alleged violations of this statute increased significantly during the Nazi era. The large number of civilian denunciations during this period shows that persecution and discrimination experienced by LGBTQ+ people under Nazism did not come only from official sources. Neighbors, acquaintances, and family members denounced people because they did not conform to social norms of sexuality or gender. To learn more, see Stefan Micheler and Patricia Szobar, "Homophobic Propaganda and the Denunciation of Same-Sex-Desiring Men under National Socialism," Journal of the History of Sexuality, 11, no. ½ (January-April 2002): 95-130; and W. Jake Newsome, Homosexuals after the Holocaust: Sexual Citizenship and the Politics of Memory in Germany and the United States, 1945-2008 (PhD dissertation: University at Buffalo, State University of New York, 2016): 36-8.

For more in Experiencing History on private citizens denouncing neighbors, see the related item Criminal Complaint against Douglas Bamberger.

To learn more about the Nazi regime’s persecution of gay men and others targeted under Paragraph 175, see Geoffrey J. Giles, Why Bother about Homosexuals? Homophobia and Sexual Politics in Nazi Germany (Washington, DC: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, 2001); and Eliot H. Boden, "The Enemy Within: Homosexuality in the Third Reich, 1933-1945," Constructing the Past, 12, no. 1 (2011).

The Gestapo often detained those convicted of violating Paragraph 175 after their sentences had been served—particularly after SS leader Heinrich Himmler became Chief of the German Police in 1936.

Lithography is a form of printing made by first etching an image into a smooth surface. To view other examples of artistic responses created shortly after the liberation of concentration camp prisoners in 1945, see the related Experiencing History item, Images from the Liberation of Majdanek and Auschwitz.


Richard Grune, Die Ausgestossenen (Kiel, 1947); and Passion des XX. Jahrhunderts (Hamburg, 1947). 

To learn more, see W. Jake Newsome, Pink Triangle Legacies: Coming Out in the Shadow of the Holocaust (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2022).

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Courtesy of Schwules Museum
Accession Number 64914
Date Created
Photographer / Creator
Richard Grune
Reference Location
Oranienburg, Germany
Flossenbürg, Germany
Still Image Type Artwork
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