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Oral History with Teofil Kosinski

Oral history from Stefan Kosinski.
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Teofil (Stefan) Kosinski was born in the Polish city of Toruń in 1925. During the German occupation of Poland in World War II, Kosinski met the first love of his life—a soldier in the German army named Willi. Although the forbidden romance between the two young men only lasted months, their relationship impacted Kosinski’s life for decades.1

Kosinski was nearly seventeen years old in late 1941 when he first met Willi, whom he describes as about five years older than himself.2 They fell in love and dreamed of a future together after the war ended, but the two young men were forced to keep their romance a secret. Willi warned Kosinski that their relationship was dangerous. Paragraph 175 of the German criminal code outlawed sexual relations between men.3 Nazi racial policies banned German soldiers from fraternizing with Poles,4 and Poles who associated with Germans were often accused of collaborating with the enemy.5 The two men would both face discrimination and legal consequences if their romance were discovered.

The featured clip from an interview with Kosinski describes a letter he wrote to Willi after they became separated by the war.6 Willi’s unit transferred to the eastern front in spring 1942, and Kosinski received no news from him for months. Anxious to know if Willi had been injured or killed, Kosinski decided to risk writing to him on the front. The Gestapo intercepted the letter, leading to Kosinski’s conviction for violations of Paragraph 175.7

The Gestapo repeatedly beat, humiliated, and verbally abused Kosinski. He describes how his tormentors focused on his sexuality and his Polish ethnicity, calling him many hateful names that he had never heard before. He was then sentenced to five years in prison. The Nazi legal system sometimes gave light sentences to German youths accused of violating Paragraph 175, but Kosinski recalls that he was sentenced harshly because he was a Polish man involved with a member of the German army.

While he was in prison, Kosinski’s fellow prisoners also targeted him for being gay. Kosinski recalls that to them, “I was not human.” He survived more than two years in a series of forced labor camps and a death march into Germany. Kosinski escaped from German captivity in May 1945 and learned English while living in the American zone of occupied Germany as a Displaced Person (DP). He wanted to search for Willi, but his health and the complications of traveling in Allied-occupied Germany and Austria kept him from going to Vienna.

Kosinski returned to Poland in 1947, but he continued to experience social and political discrimination for decades for being gay, for his criminal record, and for his time living in postwar Germany. Although he became a qualified economist, Kosinski never managed to find work in his field. He tried obtaining official recognition and compensation for his persecution under Nazi rule several times, but his applications were repeatedly denied.8 Kosinski searched for traces of Willi decades later, but he never found out if he survived the war—or if the letter he had written had made Willi a target of the Nazi regime as well.9

Called Thorn by the German occupation authorities, Toruń lies in the regions of Poland that German leaders incorporated directly into the Reich. To learn more about Nazi racial policies in territories annexed to the Reich during World War II, see The Greater German Reich and the Jews: Nazi Persecution Policies in the Annexed Territories, edited by Wolf Gruner and Jörg Osterloh (New York: Berghahn Books, 2015); and Phillip T. Rutherford, Prelude to the Final Solution: The Nazi Program for Deporting Ethnic Poles, 1939–1941 (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2007).

Kosinski's age and Willi’s position as a member of an occupying military force raise questions about power and consent. For example, although Kosinski describes how much he and Willi loved one another, he also recalls how their very first conversation over coffee might never have happened if he had not been afraid to reject an invitation from a German soldier. 

The Nazi regime targeted people in same-sex romantic or sexual relationships as social outsiders who did not fully belong to the Nazis' so-called "national community" ("Volksgemeinschaft"). So-called "Aryan" Germans might rejoin the "Volksgemeinschaft" if they were politically reliable to the Nazi regime and no longer pursued same-sex relationships. To learn more, see the related Experiencing History item, Oral History with Albrecht Becker.

According to Nazi ideology, Poles and other Slavic peoples were racially inferior to the members of the so-called "Aryan race.". Official decrees from German authorities prohibited Poles from mingling with Germans. Exceptions were made for individual Poles, such as those who worked for Germans. To view an example of a German decree mandating the separation of Germans and Poles, see the Experiencing History item, Police Order on Tuberculosis X-Rays


In his published memoirs, Kosinski describes how one acquaintance beat him up for having a job working in a German theater (Lutz Van Dijk, Damned Strong Love: The True Story of Willi G. and Stefan K., translated by Elizabeth D. Crawford (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995). Germans and Poles who were romantically involved faced public humiliation and persecution if their relationship became known. To learn more, see the Experiencing History item, Public Humiliation of a Young Couple


Because legal consequences and social stigmas remained after the end of the war, testimonies about experiencing persecution under Nazi rule for being gay are extremely rare. The full oral history interview with Teofil (Stefan) Kosinski is available in the USHMM collections.

Paragraph 175 had criminalized sexual relations between men since the founding of the German Empire in 1871. Revisions made by Nazi jurists in 1935 gave the Nazi regime the legal authority to prosecute greater numbers of men on much more vaguely defined charges. To learn more, see the related Experiencing History item, Prisoner Badge Worn by Josef Kohout. For further information, see Geoffrey J. Giles, "Legislating Homophobia in the Third Reich: The Radicalization of Prosecution against Homosexuality by the Legal Profession," German History 23, no. 3 (2005): 339-54.

Many people who were persecuted for their sexuality under the Nazi regime did not receive recognition or compensation for their experiences. To learn more, see W. Jake Newsome, Pink Triangle Legacies: Coming Out in the Shadow of the Holocaust (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2022); and Erik N. Jensen, "The Pink Triangle and Political Consciousness: Gays, Lesbians, and the Memory of Nazi Persecution," Journal of the History of Sexuality 11, no. ½ (January-April 2002): 319-49. 

For more primary sources related to individual responses to Nazi attempts to regulate sexuality, see the Experiencing History collection, Sexuality, Gender, and Nazi Persecution.

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Stefan Kosinski: "I was fighting with myself whether to write to Willie or not to write."

Q. "Which address did you find?"

Stefan Koskinski: "I find it, it was zu Wehrmacht Stelle... It was for the soldiers who were sent to the eastern front in Russia, Zentrale... Zentrale let's say it was.... a very important address, probably for most all soldiers in the front. And I wrote a letter in my young German language. Probably it was you see, my mind, of course, it is very difficult to say the whole letter. It was mentioned that I love him. I'm waiting for him. I pray for him that he comes back and I never go to the same places. I didn't mention the shed. I never go to the same place. I wait, I hope you will come back as soon and I will be very grateful. Please give me some news because I am so anxious about you. I cannot sleep. I cannot work and at the end, with many kisses your friend, Teo. I wrote. And it was a little naive to write especially I put my sender. Usually I couldn't do that but I was fighting if I send without sender what will happen. Maybe the letter will not come back. And if come back I will know that he is not there. So, I send the letter with my sender."

Q. "And what happened then?"

Stefan Kosinski: "After sending...after sending, I was still waiting. I was waiting for a reply, but the reply didn't come, never. Once it was September 19, 1942, I was working morning at this manufacture and the boss called me and told me that I'm invited to the Gestapo. I have to go to the Gestapo. I asked him, me to the Gestapo? What for? I was so honest. I do nothing, what for do I have to go. He said please go there. We have received the order that you will go there. Usually I took a bag with some sandwiches to the work. My mother prepared me the sandwiches and I left this bag with sandwiches at this manufactory but he said take this with you. Maybe you don't come back. Oh, why not? Oh no, If I come back I will have nothing. No, I didn't take, and when I went to the Gestapo I remember this uniform, this black uniform with red here on the arm. He asked me first for the name. I told him that and then he said... he took a typewriter. He started to write. He write I sitting also in front of him when the paper came down. I read from other side and I never forget the words it was written Haftbefehl. In English, it is "Order for prisoner." The first moment I thought I would fall down, and then he said you will stay now. What for? I began to cry. Don't play [...] And then he called somebody. They took me to the cell it was downstairs in the cellar. To the cell and there was the furnace was only a wooden bed and a toilet and that's all. Even the door was scraped with wooden so I could put the handle like this. And I had to wait. The whole time I was sitting the night and I think what happened. What for, and the next day when I was called again to him, he showed me the letter. This letter which I wrote to Willie. Is this your letter? I was very honest. I said of course. This is my letter. I wrote this to him. You, you wrote this letter to a German. You are... you loved him. I wrote him it was very good, yes. Then he said where did you meet him. He wanted to know exactly where we met at, what have we done, in which way. We seen only once or twice. I never... I lied, I tried to lied..."

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
RG Number 50.030.0355
Date of Interview
November 8, 1995
Duration 00:05:45
Time Selection 8:40–14:25
Teofil (Stefan) Kosinski
Interview Type Oral History
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