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
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.