Rudolf Brazda is an old man on this summer day of 2008 in Berlin, Germany. A very old man. Pictures show the 95-years-old gently holding a red rose and unabashedly flirting with Berlin’s openly gay major Klaus Wovereit. He smiles, laughs and even strokes the major’s head. It’s a gesture of friendship, affection and most important, a gesture of forgiveness. A gesture that moves, a gesture that shows very clearly that reconciliation is possible.
Just weeks before Berlin opened a memorial for the LGBT victims of the Third Reich. About 6000 gay men were killed in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. In 2008 they were finally honored with their own memorial in the center of Germany’s capital. By then everyone was certain that no LGBT person who had survived a concentration camp was still alive. That was until a woman saw the news about the memorial on TV and remember her uncle. Her uncle Rudolf Brazda who had told stories about his time in the concentration camp Buchenwald, sent there because of his “unnatural desire” for men. Immediately she contacted the biggest German LGBT association. After over six decades Rudolf was now invited by the German government to share his story. And he did.
Rudolf was born in 1913 in today’s Thuringia. He led a happy life. At the age of twenty he met his first love and even moved in with him. But when Hitler came to power in 1933, Rudolf’s life changed. In 1935 he was charged with violation of §175, the anti-gay paragraph of German law. In court he spoke proudly of his partner and made very clear that he was not ashamed of loving him. He was sentenced to six months in prison. After his release he found a new partner and joined a traveling theater company. For years he worked as an actor and dancer. He remembered even in very old age that his Josephine Baker imitation was hilarious. But in 1938 he was arrested again and in 1942 sent to the concentration camp Buchenwald. There he was forced to wear the pink triangle, the symbol for gay men. He escaped the hard physical work that gay men had to do there because a Kapo, a prisoner who was assigned by the SS guards to supervise forced labor, fell in love with him. This man saved his life by giving him better jobs. Many others weren’t that lucky and died from exhaustion or torture. Many gay men were executed, many used for medical experiments, castrated and subjected to inhumane treatments that were supposedly designed to “heal” their homosexuality. Rudolf however was able to survive until the US-Army freed the camp in April 1945.
And then, 63 years later there he is in the capital of Germany holding a red rose and flirting with the gay major. How much times have changed. Rudolf, who passed away in 2011, saw men being killed for loving other men. He then saw the abolition of §175 in 1994, the very paragraph that sent him to prison in the first place. He watched country after country not only legalizing homosexuality, but even civil unions and yes, marriage. How amazed he must have been to see the world changing so fast around him. From gas chamber to altar in not even 70 years. So just imagine, my friends, all the good the next 70 years will bring for the LGBT community. Yes, we are still confronted with homophobia and homophobic laws but this is a time of changes and a time of hope. History is on our side now. Or as Rudolf put it:
“Happiness always came to me.”