Jul 20, 2014

Triangles

The Richmond Triangle Players (RTP) just recently closed on an extended and sold out run of Cabaret. The story of Cabaret takes place in Nazi Germany prior to World War II. A young bisexual American goes to Berlin to experience and to write. His wide-eyed excitement upon arriving turns dark as he realizes that he is helping the Nazi Party by trafficking contraband and money from France to Germany. When he finds out that his first friend in Germany is an enthusiastic Nazi Party member, and his new friend, a Jewish merchant, is being threatened by the coming rise of fascism, his dream world falls apart. The final scene shows the concentration camp and the characters we have just grown to know. The last vision as the stage lights dimmed was the Emcee of the cabaret standing in the camp wearing the infamous yellow Star of David with a pink triangle.

I knew the story of the pink triangle, yellow Star of David, the black triangle, and the other colored stars used by the concentration camps to indicate the reason for the imprisonment of each inmate, but I was so glad to see that those explanations were made available for all those that came to RTP’s Cabaret. The following is the text of the explanation as it appeared on RTP’s Cabaret playbill:

Many people don’t know that the name Richmond Triangle Players is rooted in the history of the pink triangle, a symbol originally sewn onto prisoners’ garments in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany to identify a person known to be gay.

The history of the pink triangle begins before WWII, during Adolph Hitler’s rise to power. Paragraph 175, a clause in German law prohibiting homosexual relations, was revised by Hitler in 1935. The revision included a ban on kissing, embracing, and gay fantasies as well as sexual acts. Convicted offenders were sent to prison and then later to concentration camps.

An estimated 25,000 people were convicted from 1937 to 1939. Homosexual men were viewed as a threat to the state because they would reduce the capacity to wage war and purify the German race. Initially the sentence for this crime was sterilization, usually by castration, but in 1942, the punishment was extended to include death.

Each prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps was labeled with a color-coded geometric figure that identified the reason for incarceration. The designations also served to form a sort of social hierarchy among the prisoners:

• The green triangle marked its wearer as a regular criminal.
• The red triangle denoted a political prisoner and Christian clergy.
• The pink triangle was for gay men.
• The black triangle was for lesbians, prostitutes, gypsies, women who refused to bear children, and “asocials”.
• The purple triangle for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
• The yellow triangles overlapping to form a Star of David designated a Jewish prisoner.
• A yellow Star of David under a superimposed pink triangle marked the lowest of all prisoners – a gay Jew.

Although homosexuals were not shipped en masse to the death camps of Auschwitz, a great number of gay men were among the non-Jewish prisoners who were killed there. Stories of the camps suggest that homosexual prisoners were given the worst tasks and labors. Pink triangle prisoners were also a focus of attacks from the guards and even other inmates. Although the total number of homosexual prisoners is not known, official Nazi estimates are around 10,000. Estimates of the number of gay men killed during the Nazi regime range from 50,000 to twice that figure.

When the Allied forces liberated the Nazi concentration camps, the horrors they discovered shocked the world. When liberation came in the mid-1940’s, most of the survivors were set free. But many homosexuals remained prisoners in the camps or were taken by the U.S. Army to allied prisons, because Paragraph 175 remained law in West Germany until its repeal in 1969.

In the 1970’s gay liberation groups reclaimed the pink triangle as a popular symbol for the gay rights movement. In the 1980’s, ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) began using the pink triangle for their cause. The triangle was inverted so it pointed up, to signify an active fight back rather than a passive resignation to fate.

Today, for many, the pink triangle represents pride, solidarity, and a promise to never allow another Holocaust to happen again.
The predecessor of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia, the Virginia Partisans, also took the pink triangle as a symbol when it first began 20 years ago. Today, we often see the pink triangle and the black triangle in jewelry. The wearing of these symbols is a sign of determination and resilience that we will never allow another Holocaust. I, in fact, am one of those people who where the black triangle proudly each day. We must fight not just to assure that a Holocaust never occurs again, but that LGBT people in the United States and elsewhere have full equality. Our work, unfortunately, still has a long way to go before we have no need for groups such as our own.

For the last two years, the LGBT Democrats of Virginia have supported RTP by advertising in their program for the season. This year we look forward to advertising again for their 2014-2015 season. We invite each of you to attend one or more RTP performances this year as they again plan for an amazing season bringing a variety of wonderful musicals and plays to life. Their coming season ranges from a Noel Coward play entitled Design for Living to Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: Millennium Approaches. For full information on all shows offered in the coming season, or to buy tickets, please go to http://www.rtriangle.org/.