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May 14: Magnus Hirschfeld vs. the Nazis

May 13, 2015

72dpi_magnus-hirschfeld2Pioneering sex researcher and gay liberation advocate Magnus Hirschfeld was born in Kolberg, Prussia on this date in 1868. He earned a medical degree in 1892 and five years later cofounded the Wissenschaftlich-humanitäre Komittee (Scientific-Humanitarian Committee) in Berlin, which sought to repeal the criminalization of homosexuality in paragraph 175 of the Imperial Penal Code of 1871 — the code that would later be used by the Nazis to persecute and murder homosexuals. In 1899, Hirschfeld began publishing a yearbook on sexual research, which continued annually until 1923. In 1919, he opened the Institute for Sexual Science, which amassed a huge library and published his writings on sexuality, health, political and legal reform, morality, racism, and more — including, between 1926 and ’30, his five-volume Sexual Science. As a leftwinger, a Jew, and a gay liberation activist, Hirschfeld began suffering savage physical attacks by German nationalists and anti-Semites as early as 1920. The rising Nazi Party harassed him until, following a 1932 worldwide lecture tour that encompassed the U.S., Japan, China, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Egypt, and Palestine, he decided to stay away from Germany. Hirschfeld settled in Nice, France, and watched on a newsreel the Nazis destroying his Berlin institute as one of their first acts after taking power. He died in France on his 67th birthday, May 14, 1935. “Through science to justice” is engraved on his tomb.

“If I frame the question as: ‘Are you a German — a Jew — or a world citizen?’ then my answer is always ‘world citizen’ or ‘all three.’” —Magnus Hirschfeld