By Ken Williams
Editor, San Diego Gay and Lesbian News
BERLIN – Rudolf Brazda, thought to be the last surviving person forced to wear a “gay triangle” in a Nazi concentration camp, has died. He was 98.
The Berlin branch of the Lesbian and Gay Association announced today that Brazda died on Wednesday, but did not say where he died or what was the cause of death.
Germany's leading publication, Der Spiegel, wrote a compelling story on Brazda that was published on July 6. It described an emaciated Brazda as lying in a hospital bed in the French Alsatian city of Mulhouse, "waiting at death's door."
Ninety-eight-year-old Brazda is believed to be the last gay man alive who can recount what it was like to live as a homosexual man during the Third Reich. He's a man who can also remember the persecution, the legal proceedings against gays, the punishment and murder of his friends. But he also remembers what it was like to have sex in a concentration camp and what it felt like to be liberated.
Der Spiegel also delved into Brazda's life before Hitler came to power in Germany. Brazda describes how he had a wonderful life in the countryside and even staged a mock wedding to marry his boyfriend that was attended by his mother and siblings.
The faux wedding occurred during the summer of 1934, about the time that Hitler was plotting how to get rid of Ernst Röhm, the head of the SA, and his Stormtroopers paramilitary unit that posed a significant hurdle to his seizing of power. Hitler concocted a phony story that he needed to purge homosexuals from the Nazi ranks, paving the way for a witchhunt against gays that would lead to deportations to concentration camps.
Brazda told the paper that he and his boyfriend continued to show affection in public, despite an increasing degree of disapproval from locals influenced by the Nazi propaganda.
For Christmas 1936, their last together, Brazda gave his boyfriend a large chocolate heart. While the two were celebrating the holiday, police and prosecutors were busy tightening the noose. Now that the Nazis had rid the big cities of the "festering sores," they had turned their attention to stamping out homosexuality in the countryside. Their strategy was to arrest Meuselwitz's gays, interrogate them and get them to make incriminating statements against one another.
On April 8, 1937, Brazda finally got caught in their noose. At first, he insisted that he was not "attracted to men whatsoever." The official investigating Brazda's case, however, noted that the accused displayed the "typical appearance of a man with homosexual tendencies." Officials also presented further pieces of "evidence" like letters and love poems.
Following a month in custody, Brazda finally collapsed in tears and confessed his "crimes." A short time later, he was sentenced to six months in prison because, according to the verdict, "he felt love for his friend" instead of "conquering his unnatural urges."
Four years later, the Nazis arrested Brazda a second time, and in August 1942, he was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp.
The goal of the Nazis was to work homosexuals to their death by imposing excessive forced labor in quarries. Brazda told Der Spiegel that he survived because the camp "Kapo," the man appointed by the SS to run the quarry, found him attractive and used him for sex.
"One day I was alone in the clinic when the Kapo guy came in," says Brazda. "He took me in his arms and kissed me -- he had his hands all over me." Brazda let the Kapo have his way with him in order to escape the quarry and a slow death by exhaustion.
Brazda said American troops liberated him on April 11, 1945. He moved to Mulhouse, France, met his life partner, and lived a full life as a roofer who built his own home. Brazda buried his life partner a few years ago.
On Sept. 25, 2010, a feeble and frail Brazda attended the dedication of a plague in memory of the thousands of gay men who were deported to Nazi concentration camps during World War II. The somber ceremony was held in the former concentration camp Natzweiler-Struthofz (Bas-Rhin).
The plaque reads: "To the memory of victims of Nazi barbarism, deported on grounds of homosexuality."
Almost 52,000 people were sent to Struthofz, and 22,000 of them died in the concentration camp. Among those deported there were 215 people who were forced to wear pink triangles to signify that they were being prosecuted simply for being gay.
During WWII, the Nazis killed more than 6,000 gay men, according to historical records, along with more than 5 million Jews, plus other groups including Gypsies, Slavic people, the disabled, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Communists and Socialists.