Queer: January 2003 Archives

Since the nineteenth century, the Mount Morris bathhouse has survived punctured realty bubbles, white flight, home plumbing, moral crusades, wars, racism, depression, fashion, homelessness and AIDS. A beautiful article in the NYTimes today helps us to understand how.

The Mount Morris bathhouse, the only one in the city that caters to gay blacks, has been operating continuously since 1893 and survived the [early 80's bathhouse crackdown when panicked state officials banned many homosexual gathering places, but did little else] essentially for two reasons. First, it is far from the city's gay meccas, on a quiet, unassuming block of Madison Avenue at East 125th Street, across the street from the offices of the Rev. Al Sharpton. Second, it has matured through the years, remaining a place to meet new people and enjoy a steam, but with the reality of the city health code's prohibition on open sex.

"I always tell the clients, `If I can't bring my wife down here, it isn't right,' " said Walter Fitzer, who owns the place.

These particular baths offer much more than a place to "meet new people and enjoy a steam."
It may also be the only bathhouse anywhere to employ an education director. His name is Dr. Eugene A. Lawson, and he has worked as a principal at a handful of New York public and private schools.

Five nights a week, Dr. Lawson, whose degree is in education, oversees a lecture series in the back room, where speakers from advocacy groups like the Gay Men's Health Crisis and the Minority Task Force on AIDS discuss topics of particular interest to gay men. There are lectures on being gay in high school and on gay men raising families.

"A lot of our fellows are bisexual," Dr. Lawson said, "so we have lectures on that subject, too."

Six years ago, Dr. Lawson persuaded a handful of teachers, all bathhouse regulars, to start a G.E.D. program for local youths who had dropped out of school. Today, the program counts 270 students.

"It's a community thing," Dr. Lawson said proudly.

Mr. Fitzer does his own work for the community. He allows a dozen or so homeless men to pay $20 a night to sleep in the bedrooms, not much bigger than telephone booths, which once had holes drilled in their walls to facilitate anonymous gay sex.

"They have to be out in the morning and everything they have goes with them," Mr. Fitzer said. "I can't run a hotel, but it's the least that I can do."

In a great essay in this week's Village Voice, "Persecuting Pee-wee
A Child-Porn Case That Threatens Us All," Richard Goldstein manages to sort out a lot of scary stuff, and he warns us that Paul Reubens is the canary in the mine.

Most of Reubens's collection would be considered softcore by current standards, but nestled among the many portraits of naked bronco busters and javelin throwers in posing straps—typical of the types that graced the pages of physique magazines—were a few dozen photos that could be contraband today, though they were quite legal when they first appeared.

I like to think of myself as a proud activist queer with an enormous interest in history, but the awesome story of Willem Arondius [alternatively, "Arondeus"] and his friends was completely unknown to me until this week. It played itself out across the screen of my laptop only because I had been going through the website of the Holocaust Museum in connection with their latest special exhibit, "Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933-1945."

What follows is the story I composed as a collage, quoting and editing accounts from several web sources which deal with Arondius.

During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, on the evening of March 27, 1943, a resistance unit comprised of artists, students and two young doctors raided the Bevolkingsregister [residents' registration office] in Amsterdam. One of them, costume designer Sjoerd Bakker, had himself tailored [German] police uniforms for the entire unit. The leader of the group, artist and writer Willem Arondius, wore the uniform of a police captain. With the aid of these disguises, they managed to gain entrance to the building without attracting any attention and immediately set to work disarming all the guards posted there. While doing so, they took extra care not to harm any of them. The guards were temporarily rendered immobile after being injected with harmless amounts of a tranquilizing substance. After dragging the anaesthetized guards outside and laying them down in a garden, the next few minutes were spent planting incendiary benzole compounds all over the building that were then ignited by remote control. After five detonations, fire broke out in all the rooms. All the arsonists involved managed to escape the scene undetected.

The bombing of Amsterdam's Bevolkingsregister had an enormous psychological effect on the Dutch people: Even if all files were not destroyed by the flames, the German occupiers were now extremely nervous, and many Resistance groups throughout the country felt encouraged to follow suit with similar actions. The Netherlands had been occupied by the Wehrmacht (regular German army) since May 1940, and from the beginning of July 1942, deportations of Jews to the Polish death camps had already begun. Approximately 25,000 of the ca. 140,000 Jews living at that time in Holland resided there illegally. Most of them were forced by the circumstances to live in hiding-places and be provided for by non-Jews. The artists active in the Resistance were mainly busy with fashioning forged identity cards for these victims of persecution. However, even perfectly made I.D. imitations could be dangerous for their holders, as soon as they were compared with the duplicates that existed in the bevolkingsgregister. Thus came the idea of bombing the registration office, in order to destroy as many of those files as possible.

The homosexual writer and artist Willem Arondius was the chief coordinator of the operation. Two other gay comrades-in-arms were the tailor Sjoerd Bakker and the writer Johan Brouwer. They were later betrayed by a person or persons unknown, arrested and sentenced to death. During the Nazi show trial Willem Arondius assumed full responsibility for the bombing. The only ones to survive the Nazi era, by their receiving long sentence terms instead of the death penalty, were the two doctors (Cees Honig and Willem Beck) who had tranquilized the guards.

Shortly before his execution Willem Arondius had his lawyer promise that she would pass the following words on to others so that future generations might not forget: [In Dutch: "Homo's hoeven niet minder moedig te zijn dan andere mensen"] "Homosexuals aren't any less courageous than other people."

Even in the liberal Netherlands it took until April 1990 for the larger part of the population to receive this message. Toni Bouwman's highly praised 1990 documentary on Arondius' life was broadcast that year on Dutch television:["Na het feest, zonder afscheid verdwenen--Notities uit het leven van Willem Arondius"] "After the Party: Gone Without Saying Good-Bye.--Notes from the Life of Willem Arondius."

[slightly edited from the Ben Boxer's Silver Foxe Clubhouse site's excellent account]

There's apparently only a little more available on the net in English, and this is just about all of that:

Arondius had been born in Amsterdam in 1895. An artist and author, Arondius [fabulous photo!] was commissioned to do a mural for the eighteenth-century villa then serving as provincial capital, or Provinciehuis, for North Holland in Haarlem in the 1920's (which still survives) and later published a biography of Dutch painter Matthijs Maris. But he would never become a really successful artist. One account says that he was subject to mood changes and that he suffered from a inferiority complex [actually, the words used are "He suffered from a minority complex," but although I believe they really meant, "inferiority complex," I entirely understand the heavy impact of the other possibility, and it may say even much more]. He seemed to both love and hate the capital. He moved a couple of times to the countryside, but always returned. Prior to World war II he lived with Jan Thijssen, the son of a green grocer, in the countryside near Apeldoorn, but they moved to Amsterdam in the late thirties. Arondius joined the "Raad van Verzet" resistance movement shortly after the invasion. This underground unit specialized in falsifying registration papers.

The efforts and courage of such units of the resistance are attested to in works such as The Diary of Anne Frank. Monuments to the resistance commemorate the brave acts of Dutch citizens who participated in the general strike that brought the country to a standstill in reaction to the Nazi's violent attacks on the Jewish community in Amsterdam. Streets are named after the brave leaders of the resistance who gave their lives in defense of others. However, the social attitude towards Gays in post-war Europe made recognition of a homosexual such as Arondius more difficult.

The world that survived the war was not ready to endure a homosexual hero.

[edited largely from the account found on Lambda's site and including material from the site of Hans and Thomas {see another, more conservative, photo of Arondius}]

Would we be able to do as much as did Willem, his friends and so many others?


Those who can read Dutch may want to look at the brief biographical text from the Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis [Institute for Netherlands History] site.


Willem was of course not alone. The story of at least one other member of his circle. Frieda Belinfante, will need her own post.

The United States Holocaust Museum in Washington currently includes an exhibit on the Nazi persecution of homosexuals, the first in a series on specific groups other than Jews who were victimized by the regime.

The numbers of victims identified with a pink triangle never rivalled those of Jewish victims*, but there was a particular horror awaiting those who managed to survive in the camps until "liberation," and for the world's memory of those who did not survive.

As the Allies swept through Europe to victory over the Nazi regime in early 1945, hundreds of thousands of concentration camp prisoners were liberated. The Allied Military Government of Germany repealed countless laws and decrees. Left unchanged, however, was the 1935 Nazi revision of Paragraph 175. Under the Allied occupation, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment regardless of time served in the concentration camps. The Nazi version of Paragraph 175 remained on the books of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) until the law was revised in 1969 to decriminalize homosexual relations between men over the age of 21.

The continued legal and social prohibitions against homosexuality in Germany hindered acknowledgement that homosexuals were victims of Nazi persecution. In June 1956, West Germany's Federal Reparation Law for Victims of National Socialism declared that internment in a concentration camp for homosexuality did not qualify an individual to receive compensation. Homosexuals murdered by the Nazis received their first public commemoration in a May 8, 1985, speech by West German President Richard von Weizsäcker—the fortieth anniversary of the war's end. Four years after re–unification in 1990, Germany abolished Paragraph 175. In May 2002, the German parliament completed legislation to pardon all homosexuals convicted under Paragraph 175 during the Nazi era.

Some of this history is current events in the U.S., where "don't ask, don't tell" remains the law of the land, where homosexual activity remains a crime punishable by prison in many states, where there is no federal protection for homosexuals and where gays have always been generously tolerated during wartime but hunted out at other times when seeking careers in military service.
With the reintroduction in 1935 of conscription for all men ages 18 to 45, Germany's homosexual men became liable for service in the armed forces, the Wehrmacht. The German military code did not bar homosexuals, even convicted homosexuals, from serving in the armed forces. As a result, thousands of homosexual men were drafted to serve a regime that persecuted them as civilians.

Homosexual activity in the military was regulated by §175 and §175a. As huge numbers of men were called up, convictions rose, but the long–held fear that homosexuality would spread as an epidemic through the often–isolated all–male military proved to be unfounded. Still, arrested soldiers faced brutal punishments. Individuals convicted as "incorrigibly homosexual" or for abuse of authority under §175a were discharged, imprisoned, then dispatched to a concentration camp. Those sentenced for having "erred by seduction" served terms in prison and returned to service.

As an option to enduring the notoriously wretched military prisons, men convicted for any but the worst crimes under §175 could petition to join the "cannon-fodder" battalions. Commanders mercilessly used such troops in battles that in most cases were suicide missions.

From its founding the Museum has always been extraordinarily inclusive about the area of its concern, making available materials and literature on the persecution of homosexuals, the handicapped, Gypsies, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war and Jehovah's Witnesses.

The Museum website exhibit, which includes primary source material and photographs, is as excellent as it is horrible.

After it closes in D.C. on March 16, the entire installation travels to New York, San Francisco, other cities and in fact to any additional venues which might still request it (check the site for that information). We were planning a special visit south this winter until hearing the exhibit would be coming here. Actually, as enthusiastic patrons of the Washington Museum, we may decide to travel anyway, take the family, and go back with friends when it gets here.

In any event, the Museum itself should be visited by everyone who possibly can, ideally with some frequency, for the permanent as well as the changing exhibits.


* Umm. When I went to link here to Yad Vashem as a source for the numbers of Jewish victims (usually given as around six million), I failed at first to find a specific figure. While distracted by other information I did notice that wihin the site there are various references to other victims of the Nazis, and that all but one of the usual categories are enumerated specifically. The category of homosexuals is not included. In fact, with further effort, using their own search engine, to locate any reference to homosexual, homosexuality, gay, queer, paragraph 175 or the pink triangle, I only turned up, repeatedly, the answer, "No documents matching your query were found." I was shocked and not a little angry.

This page is an archive of entries in the Queer category from January 2003.

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