IT HAPPENED; THEREFORE, IT CAN HAPPEN AGAIN


In Berlin’s German Resistance Museum, there is a picture of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, one of many intellectuals persecuted by the Nazis in the early 1930s.  Dr. Hirschfeld had done much research about homosexuality, concluding such was a variant of human sexuality.  Note the word “variant.”  It means different, like red hair is a variant of human hair color.  Or skin color.  Or ability to do different things. Said another way, some people’s brains are wired differently when it comes to sexuality.  They just are.  I am straight, but I didn’t choose it.  I just was.  It is sort of like how I deal with math.  I am good at it.  I just am.

The rise of Nazism was due to many factors,  the upshot’s being that a group of thugs took over one of the premier civilizations of the world, blaming certain groups, instilling fear, the need for law and order, and of course creating jobs.  My late father-in-law, a physician, had to learn German in medical school, because the important scientific literature was written in German. His son-in-law, also a physician, sees disturbing parallels between 1930s Germany and the current US Congress, especially when it comes to instilling fear, racism, sexism and being boorish.

Dr. Hirschfeld was heir to the scientific tradition of Germany.  What he had discovered was astounding, given it was 80 years ago.  Unfortunately, on 10 May 1933, twenty-five thousand books were burned in Berlin, right across from the university.  These were not just novels, they were classics, books about many different subjects, and …  Dr. Hirschfeld’s work.  Before a book was thrown into the fire, the author and the title were screamed aloud.  I say screamed, because I believe with a fire and a mob, one would have to scream.  But I could be wrong.

MONUMENT TO WHERE THE BOOKS WERE BURNEDEMPTY SHELVES SEEN BELOW DEMARCATING WHERE BOOKS WERE BURNED

Dr. Hirschfeld could have been wrong, too.  I suspect, however, he would have been the first to admit it, had someone discovered compelling evidence to dispute his findings.  Good scientists use terms like “margin of error,” “confidence intervals,” and “uncertainty,” which many lay people take to mean that scientists don’t know what they are talking about.  In fact, the absence of those terms from scientific discussion is a statement of ignorance.  If we taught basic statistics well, we might be able to have a citizenry who understood how we can make inferences about quantities that may never be exactly known, such as the state of the Earth’s atmosphere, and draw conclusions about our climate, to name one.

The SA did not know much about science, either, and felt intellectuals, the Jews, gypsies, and infirm did not belong in their society.  That is why they burned books.  They burned truth, they burned what might not have been truth, but an attempt to find it.  They burned the creations of human beings.  I might not agree with such creations, like those that Glenn, Rush, Ted Cruz, James Inhofe, and Pat Robertson; indeed, I think most of what they write are outright lies.  But I wouldn’t burn their books.  I don’t buy them, I hope others don’t, and that the paper is eventually recycled into something better.  Indeed, in a capitalist society, we would call that the “market forces.”

Robertson himself recently likened being gay, or homosexual, as Dr. Hirshfeld would have stated, to being a drug abuser.  Robertson is wrong.  He needs to retire, disappear from public view, and the media ought to stop covering what he says. His time is over, not because he is old, but because he is rigid, wrong, won’t consider other ideas, and spews venom.  He has no proof that homosexuality is a choice.  Jimmy Carter is 6 years older and still writes thoughtful books.

Dr. Hirschfeld died two years later in Nice, in exile.  At least he got out of Germany before the War, when he otherwise would have ended up in one of the concentration camps and have been murdered.

Notice the word “murdered.”  The German Resistance, Holocaust, and Jewish Museums use the word “ermordert,” rather than “gassed,” “shot,” “starved to death,” “jumped off a cliff without a parachute,” or “died from tuberculosis/typhus.”  They don’t mince words.  Those who died were murdered.  They were forcibly deported, after losing their livelihood, their possessions, their families, their health, and finally their lives.  Walk the streets of Berlin or Dresden, and occasionally you see a “Stolperstein,” a small sidewalk marker, where somebody or several somebodies once lived.  These people were deported to a concentration camp and then murdered a year, two years later.  Don’t believe me?  Here are four.  Two were my age.

STOLPERSTEIN

So was lost the truth, the potential, and in Dr. Hirschfeld’s case, work that was a minimum of 80 years ahead of his time.  The clock is still running, however, for even today, a majority of those in Congress feel homosexuality is sinful, that love between two people of the same sex is wrong, can be changed, and is a choice.  As recently as 1970, the American Psychiatric Association considered homosexuality a disease.

Dr. Hirschfeld was a great man who never lived to see the fruits of his labors.  Had the Nazis not intervened, who knows how the idea of homosexuality would have interpreted in the civilized world.  Perhaps nothing would have changed; somehow, I think it might have been a lot better for both gays and straights.

Maybe. Maybe not. Jews have been persecuted on and off for their entire history.  What I do know is that I learned something the day I stood over the spot where the books were burned, and two days later, when I toured the Resistance Museum and read about Dr. Hirschfeld.  From this great man, I learned a better term than “homosexuality” or “gay”.  I learned “variability of human sexuality.” I also learned that we often don’t live to discover whether we were right.  It’s OK.  We tried, and we honestly tried to advance human knowledge.  That is enough.

What isn’t enough is we can’t rid ourselves of the enemies of truth.  They wrap themselves in the Flag, a Holy Book, their interpretation of religion, and their ideology.  They bully others by loudness, by threats, by carrying out threats, and by joining with likeminded others.  They have always been out there, and they always will be.

By the way, if you think human sexuality doesn’t vary, read Dan Savage’s column sometime.  In the Eugene Weekly it is called “Savage Love.”  As ex-Navy guy, I thought I had heard of everything to do with human sexuality.

Oh, how wrong I was.

“It happened, therefore it can happen again. That is the core of what we are trying to say.” (Primo Levi)

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