Tuesday, May 10, 2011

May 10, 1933

Dr.Magnus Hirschfeld in 1919 founded the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Research) in Berlin.   It became renowned not only for its immense library collection, it also provided medical consultations, treatment and educational services for the 20,000 people a year who visited it.  

In addition to its research, the Institute treated STD's, advocated for sex education and contraception and the human rights and social acceptance of gay and trans people

The Institute was also doing pioneering research on trans people.   Some of the first trans surgeries were performed in the early 1930s under its auspices.  Trans people were on its staff and part of its clientèle.  Dr. Harry Benjamin, who would later expand on trans concepts he would learn there in the United States was a colleague of Dr. Hirschfeld.   .  .

But unfortunately the rise to power of the Nazi party would bring that progress to a screeching halt.    As Ernst Rohm's moderating influence weakened, the Nazis launched a campaign in February 1933 that shut down GLB clubs, banned gay rights organizations and outlawed sex publications.  The pressure got stepped up another notch a month later when Kurt Hiller, the main administrator of the institute, was sent to a concentration camp.

On May 6 while Dr. Hirschfeld was on a lecture tour in the United States, the Deutsche Studentenschaft raided the Institute, seized its extensive list of names and addresses and looted its archives and library.   Four days later in the Opernplatz (now the Bebelplatz) the 20,000 books and 5000 images from it were burned along with the works of other 'un-German' books as Joseph Goebbels spoke to a crowd of 40,000 people.

Hirschfeld never returned to Germany and tried to rebuild his beloved institute in Paris, but died of a heart attack on his birthday in 1935.

In 1934 Hitler launched Operation Hummingbird, the murderous purge against the Ernst Rohm led SA by the Gestapo and the SS.   Aided by what some historians believe was the address list that was confiscated from the Institute, followed up recently passed harsh anti gay laws with round ups of gay people that hadn't already fled Germany.   Many people caught in this dragnet ended up incarcerated in slave labor or death camps.

One of the books that was burned that day in the Opernplatz was Heinrich Heine's Almansor.   It had a chillingly prophetic line in it in which he states, "Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people."

The tragedy of the May 10, 1933 book burning is that not only did Heine's quote tragically come true a few years later, a lot of research and a major chunk of TBLG history went up in flames.that day which will never be recovered.

You are also as a transperson left to wonder how far along SRS research and gender studies would be if it had been able to build on Magnus Hirschfeld's work.

No comments: