The Afterlives of Sexual Evidence: New Uses for Old Sources in Nazi Germany

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 4:10 PM
Mile High Ballroom 1A (Colorado Convention Center)
Matthew Conn, Michigan State University
Why did the Nazi dwell on the sexual past? My paper explains how Nazi officials delved into the sexual histories of its citizens, both alive and dead, mining decades-old police files and court cases for corroborating details, in their quest to combat homosexuality. In several instances, they uncovered materials pertaining to same-sex attracted persons who had since deceased; in other words, by the late 1930s Nazis combed through old legal records – inside which hibernated the personal details and private sexual pasts, elicited in testimonies from the 1910s, 1920s, and early 1930s – and often reutilized evidence to both pursue and prosecute new cases under the revised Paragraph 175a (which forbade same-sex acts). This process surged after 1936, as a new special Gestapo office helped facilitate the unearthing of old files. Death, in short, did not foreclose the possibility of one’s sexual past continuing to haunt old sexual partners (real or imagined). 

My paper queers historical scale both temporally and geographically. Whereas legal loopholes had long persisted for persons who moved frequently between municipalities and nation-states, the formal coordination and cooperation of local police forces by the end of the 1930s – from Berlin to Munich to Prague to Vienna – facilitated pursuit of old suspects across new borders. In short, Nazi coordination of the entire legal system, from police officers to presiding judges, and the annexation of Austria in 1938 and Czechoslovakia in 1939, facilitated a shift from micro-climates of local conflict and regional competition to macro-level cooperation. By recalibrating time and space to pursue same-sex attracted suspects on an unprecedented scale, Nazi officials procured over 8000 cases per year by 1939, a tenfold increase compared to 1933.

<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation