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Photo Collage from a Nazi Magazine

Collage from Der Notschrei
Der Notschrei, No. 3; US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Courtesy of the Schwules Museum

During the years of the Weimar Republic (1918–1933), Berlin became known for its cabarets, its nightlife, and its relatively open and accepting atmosphere. The city was home to dozens of bars and nightclubs frequented by gay men, lesbian women, and others whose sexuality or gender did not conform to social expectations.1 Berlin police monitored these establishments, but they did not systematically target them or force them to close.2 Similar clubs also existed in other large German cities, but small towns and rural areas typically remained intolerant of people whose gender or sexuality did not conform.3

Many of these clubs catered to a specific circle of people. Others had special nights reserved for different crowds, and some regularly encouraged clients of all kinds. These establishments included well-known spots like the Eldorado, tastefully decorated taverns, and dive bars with rough reputations.4 Several nightclubs regularly hosted elaborate drag balls, which became fashionable destinations where celebrities could often be spotted among the guests. The Prussian Ministry of the Interior ordered the Berlin police to close these establishments on February 23, 1933—only about a month after the Nazi party took power—but some of them continued to operate discreetly until 1935.5

The featured collage is made from photographs of some of these clubs. This image appeared in a March 1933 issue of Der Notschrei (The Cry for Help), a Nazi propaganda magazine published in Vienna. Der Notschrei typically featured many pictures and photographs, including similar collages with antisemitic or anticommunist texts written over the top of the images. 

The creator of this collage is unknown, but Nazi propagandists regularly attacked Germany’s communities of gay, lesbian, and transgender people as immoral or “degenerate."6 Images like this signaled to readers that the new Nazi regime was actively targeting nontraditional expressions of gender and sexuality. In the collage, a photo of the Eldorado club—closed and covered with swastikas—appears alongside pictures of the bars' elegantly dressed patrons dancing and having a good time. By depicting these scenes, Nazi propaganda like Der Notschrei rejected the supposedly decadent and “degenerate” values of the Weimar era and cast Nazism as the defender of “traditional” German values. 

In addition, the featured photo collage showed readers that the Nazis’ so-called "national community" ("Volksgemeinschaft") did not include gay men, lesbian women, and others whose sexuality or gender did not conform to the social norms and expectations of Nazi Germany. Propaganda that identified these groups as outsiders encouraged individual acts of discrimination, and it conditioned readers to expect further state-sponsored persecution of Germany’s communities of gay, lesbian, and transgender people.7

At the time, the word "homosexual" ("homosexuell") was frequently used as a neutral term to describe both male and female same-sex romantic or sexual attraction. However, the word "homosexual" has developed negative connotations over the years, and it is generally  considered to be problematic or offensive by members of the LGBTQ+ community today. The term "Transvestiten" ("transvestites") was coined in 1910 by the prominent sexual scientist Magnus Hirschfeld. Originally, the word “transvestite” was a neutral term used to describe all those who identified or dressed in a way that differed from the gender assigned to them at birth. This ranged from men and women who occasionally dressed or performed in drag to nonbinary and transgender people. Over the years, however, the term "transvestite" developed negative connotations and is widely considered offensive by members of the transgender community today. To learn more about LGBTQ+ people during the years of the Weimar Republic, see Laurie Marhoefer, Sex and the Weimar Republic: German Homosexual Emancipation and the Rise of the Nazis (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015).

Sexual relations between men remained illegal during the Weimar Republic under Paragraph 175 of the German criminal code, but alleged violations of this statute were difficult to prove. The same statute was enforced much more energetically by German police after the Nazi Party rose to power in 1933 and began forcing establishments like the Eldorado to close. To learn more, see Robert Beachy, "Policing Homosexuality in Berlin," in Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014): 42–84. For more on police under the Nazi regime, see the related collection in Experiencing History, German Police and the Nazi Regime.

Although early LGBTQ+ communities existed in several large urban centers, LGBTQ+ people still experienced acts of harassment, discrimination, and violence in cities as well as rural areas.

To learn more about these various bars and nightclubs and the emergence of early LGBTQ+ communities in Germany, see Robert Beachy, "Sex Tourism and Male Prostiution in Weimar Berlin," in Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014): 187–219; and Clayton John Whisnant, "The Growth of Urban Gay Scenes," in Queer Identities and Politics in Germany: A History, 1880-1945 (New York: Harrington Park Press, 2016): 80–121.

Other German states soon followed suit. Some gay and lesbian bars in German cities managed to stay open for several years, but virtually 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.

The Nazis frequently attacked gay men, lesbians, or others who not conform to "traditional" norms using the word "degenerate." This term suggested that those they targeted were declining mentally, morally, and biologically. To learn more, see the Experiencing History item, Film of "Degenerate Art" Exhibition

For related primary sources and a brief introduction to these topics, see the Experiencing History collection, Sexuality, Gender, and Nazi Persecution.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Der Notschrei, No. 3
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Courtesy of the Schwules Museum
Source Number 71185
Date Created
March 1933
Vienna, Austria
Still Image Type Photograph
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