Rudolf Brazda, believed to be the oldest known gay survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, died Aug. 3 at the age of 98, according to reports from a leading German LGBT-rights group.
Brazda was one of thousands of gay men deported to concentration camps during World War II. The Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler viewed homosexuality as an aberration and a threat to the Aryan race. More than 50,000 homosexuals were convicted as criminals during the Nazi reign.
In August 1942, Brazda was brought to Buchenwald concentration camp after he admitted being gay. He stayed there until U.S. forces invaded three years later, and Brazda has likened his experiences in the camp to descending into hell.
"But they were never able to destroy me," Brazda said. "I am not ashamed. I have made my peace with the past."
The son of Czech immigrants, Brazda was born in Meuselwitz, Germany, on June 26, 1913. The youngest of eight children, he dreamed of working in a local gentleman's clothing shop, but ultimately trained as a roofer when he was unable to procure an apprenticeship elsewhere.
Although homosexual acts were outlawed in the Weimar Republic, Brazda was able to live as an openly gay man as he came of age in the 1930s. Local culture was relatively tolerant, and Brazda and his boyfriend, Werner, lived together in room they sublet from a Jehovah's Witness landlady.
That all changed when the Nazis came to power. "We gays were hunted like animals," Brazda has said. "Wherever I went with my companion the Nazis were always already there."
After several run-ins with Nazi officials and a handful of detentions, Brazda was brought to Buchenwald in 1942, at the age of 29. It is estimated that anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 gay men were held in concentration camps during WWII.
Known as "pink triangles" for the emblems they wore denoting their sexual orientation—Jews wore yellow, gypsies black, Jehovah's witnesses purple, etc.—gay men were subject to particularly harsh punishments in the camps. These included extreme beatings, "extermination through labor," castration and invasive medical experimentation intended to make the men "normal."
"The way Nazis treated the 'pink triangles' is unspeakable," Brazda told the French publication Têtu. "They had absolutely no mercy."
When the Nazi regime collapsed in 1945 and S.S. guards took most of Buchenwald's prisoners on a 'death march,' Brazda was saved by a guard who took pity on him. "He put me in a shed with the pigs, made me a bed and I lay there for 14 days until the Americans came," Brazda recalled. "After that, I was a free man."
Brazda settled in Alsace, France, near the French-German border after the war and maintained a relatively low profile. He met his partner Edi in 1950, and the couple remained together until Edi died in 2002.
Brazda came out as a gay survivor in 2008, when a monument dedicated to the thousands of gays persecuted by Nazis was revealed in Berlin. Brazda traveled to the city and met with its mayor Klaus Wowereit, an openly gay man who held a ceremony for Brazda.
"He is an example of how important the work of remembrance is for our future," Wowereit said. "Fewer and fewer people can give information about repression under the Nazi dictatorship authentically and from their own experience."
... what an open-minded landlady! wonder if she got in trouble with the congregation for subletting to a gay couple ...