Lost in History: The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee
On the eve of the Second World War, the LGBT people was intent on pushing for greater rights throughout the Europe. At the forefront of this movement was the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee of Germany.
Unfortunately, the Nazi rose to power in Germany and all their efforts were for naught as European gays were rounded up and sent to concentration camps.
Thus was the first LGBT rights movement smashed into nothingness, and the role played by groups like the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee.
The time of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee
The rise of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee in the 1920s in Germany was a time when there was humongous progress for the LGBT people.
John Broich, Associate Professor at Case Western Reserve University, wrote in The Conversation that this period saw the right of the first LGBT liberation movement in Europe.
“In the 1920s, Berlin had nearly 100 gay and lesbian bars or cafes. Vienna had about a dozen gay cafes, clubs and bookstores. In Paris, certain quarters were renowned for open displays of gay and trans nightlife. Even Florence, Italy, had its own gay district, as did many smaller European cities,” Broich wrote.
Supporting this tolerance, Broich added, were doctors and scientists who saw homosexuality and “travestism” as natural characteristics that a person could be born with.
During this time, Lili Elbe and her quest to become a woman (made famous in the film The Danish Girl) made headlines.
Also at this time saw the opening of the Institute for Sexual Research in Berlin 1919, led by Doctor Magnus Hirschfeld. The institute gave counselling and other services for the LGBT people.
Scientific-Humanitarian Committee: Who were they?
Another organization set up by Hirschfeld was the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee or the Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee (WhK), with their motto “justice through science,”.
This group of scientists and LGBT people was co-founded by Hirschfeld in 1897 and is regarded as the first LGBTQ organization with branches in most European capitals.
The group fought for the repeal of Article 175 of the German Imperial Penal Code, which criminalized sexual relationship between men, by assisting defendants in trials and campaigning for the LGBT recognition.
The WhK had some success that a Reichstag or German Parliament committee decided to repeal Article 175 in 1929. However, before the overall Parliament could vote on it, the National Socialists (or Nazis) came into power.
The fall of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee
As more LGBTQ people came out, and businesses started supporting them, more people began to become angry. This led to the rise of fascism– and the Nazis.
“One day in May 1933, pristine white-shirted students marched in front of Berlin’s Institute for Sexual Research,” Broich related, with protesters calling the institute “un-German” and raiding and burning the institute.
Adolph Hitler targeted gay men, calling them “undesirables,” even as he justified the arrest and murder of former political allies by calling them gay.
The Nazi secret police, the Gestapo– which even had their own special anti-gay branch– arrested more than 8,500 gay men possibly using a list of names and addresses taken from the Institute.
Article 175 was not repealed and it was even expanded and made more punitive.
With the destruction of the Institute, the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee was dissolved and its dream of a better future for LGBTQ people died.