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Nazi persecution of homosexuals focus of traveling exhibit at UMKC

When the Holocaust comes to mind, many people Jewish and non-Jewish alike, often forget that the Jews were not the only people persecuted by the Nazis. The persecution of the homosexual community is the theme of a traveling exhibition from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, entitled “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945” hosted by the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The free exhibition opened Feb. 16 and continues through April 10 in the Dean’s Gallery of the Miller Nichols Library.

The exhibition is being co-presented by the UMKC Division of Diversity, Access and Equity, in partnership with the Kansas City Museum and in conjunction with Heartland Men’s Chorus’ spring concert, “Falling in Love Again,” March 23-24 at the Folly Theater. It is also a project of GLAMA: the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America, a collecting partnership of the Kansas City Museum and the LaBudde Special Collections Department of the UMKC Libraries.

“Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933–1945” examines the Nazi regime’s attempt to eradicate homosexuality, which left thousands dead and shattered the lives of many more.

From 1933-1945, Germany’s National Socialist government attempted to root out those who did not fit its idealistic model of a “master Aryan race.” Jews were the primary victims and 6 million were murdered in the Holocaust. Millions of others were persecuted for racial and political reasons, including homosexuals. Visitors to this informational exhibition will learn about the Nazis’ attempt to wipe out homosexuality and terrorize German gay men into social conformity with arrests, convictions and incarcerations of tens of thousands of men in prisons and concentration camps.

Rick Fisher, the executive director of the Heartland Men’s Chorus, said the exhibit was brought to Kansas City as an educational resource for the community that ties into HMC’s upcoming concert “Falling in Love Again.” The program includes the Midwest premiere of the Jake Heggie opera “For a Look or a Touch,” which is based on the journal of Manfred Lewin that is housed at the USHMM.

“The journal tells the story of two gay lovers separated by the Holocaust as one was sent to the camps and exterminated. We see the exhibit as an opportunity for our community to learn about this often overlooked chapter of gay history in greater detail,” Fisher said.

Christopher Leitch, director of the Kansas City Museum at Corinthian Hall, said the museum became involved at the suggestion of HMC Artistic Director Dr. Joseph Nadeau.

“He had seen the exhibition and immediately saw the relevance in presenting it concurrently with the concert. He contacted GLAMA: the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America, which is a partnership of the UMKC Libraries and the Kansas City Museum. Stuart Hinds of UMKC and I had seen the exhibit at the USHMM in Washington and we agreed on the spot it would be good for our museum,” Leitch said.

UMKC’s Hinds, who is director of Special Collections, added that he thinks this exhibit tells a story unfamiliar to the majority of the university’s student population, and it provides an excellent opportunity for the library to enhance their educational experience in an unexpected and engaging manner.

“I serve as co-faculty adviser to Pride Alliance, our LGBTQ student association, and as a result I am privy to first-hand accounts of discrimination and intolerance they encounter, not only on campus but in the community as well. Members of the majority communities may have the impression that all is ‘hunky-dory’ for oppressed minority groups — gays are on TV, after all — but, as we know, this is not the case. Reminding visitors of how easily that oppression can expand and encompass entire populations is critical to its prevention in the future,” Hinds said.

Museum Director Leitch said it was important for the university and the museum specifically, to co-sponsor this exhibit because both are interested in important chapters of 20th-century history.

“We encourage all students and citizens to be better informed about the world, and the community, we all live in. And of course GLAMA is interested in the untold stories of marginalized LGBT persons across time and around the world. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a stellar reputation for scholarship and accuracy, and we all knew that working with them we would be presenting the best possible exhibit. There is a piercing honesty in all they do — bearing witness to such depraved truths is not easy, or comfortable. But if, as educators, we want to have a better world, where these things cannot be allowed to happen again, then we have to participate in exposing the deeds of the Nazis in all their horror and degradation,” Leitch said.

HMC’s Fisher hopes the exhibit gives those who see it a sense of history and reminds people to never forget the horrors of the past.

“Although great strides have been made toward LGBT acceptance and rights in Western countries, and are being made in the USA, there still is great persecution and atrocities being committed against our people around the world. We tell our stories and sing so that one day, we all may be free,” Fisher said.

The exhibition will be supplemented with special “brown bag” film viewings. “Bent,” the 1997 film adaptation of the Tony-award winning Broadway play about a gay couple imprisoned in a concentration camp, will be shown at noon March 6 in the Miller Nichols Library iX Theatre. The documentary film “Paragraph 175,” which shares the stories of individuals who were persecuted because of the law, will be shown in the same location at noon March 13. Brief discussions will be held after each film.

Visit kansascitymuseum.org/persecution for additional details and programming.