Abstract

In the summer of 1935, Nazi legislators revised §175 of the German penal code to close what state prosecutors had long regarded as an irritating loophole. Instead of requiring proof of penetrative sex acts for a conviction for homosexuality, courts could henceforth apply much wider interpretations of a homosexual act. Historians have hitherto assumed that the amendment to §175 was a reaction to the Röhm Purge one year earlier, but this article shows that it was part of a much more general law reform initiative. The main focus rests on a case in Weimar in the spring of 1935, in which no fewer than fifteen men were charged with homosexual offences. The judges chose to apply the new, sharper version of the law, even though it had not yet officially come into effect. A subsequent challenge to the supreme court upheld the retroactive application of the new law. In this and many other cases, the testimony of the accused shows that they did not understand the wider sweep of the law, nor did they feel that they had carried out particularly immoral or criminal acts. The Nazi response to the absence of remorse was to toughen the punishment over time, leading to a death sentence in some cases during the war. But this radicalization came as much from lawyers themselves as from any Party or police office.

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