“Branded by the Pink Triangle” by Ken Setterington— A Horrible Historical Time

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Setterington, Ken. “Branded by the Pink Triangle”, Second Story Press, 2013.

A Horrible Historical Time

Amos Lassen

Berlin was once one of the most tolerant and accepting places for gays to live. They were supported by the intellectual German community who campaigned openly for the rights of gay people, both male and female but this all took a drastic turn when the Nazi party came to power. Gay people were then filled with fear and raids, arrests, expulsion and prison sentences replaced the freedom that they once knew. With the construction of the concentration camps, homosexuals were sent to them along with the Jews and any other prisoners that were taken there.

The pink triangle was sewn onto prison uniforms and became the symbol of persecution. Using historical research, first person accounts and individual stories, this book which was written especially for young people shows us inhuman cruelty and friendships that were forged in the camps as well as perseverance of the human spirit. They stories are also inspirations and educational. The Holocaust is perhaps the most difficult chapter of history to relate to and to teach about because we cannot understand how it happened and it is difficult to comprehend such hatred. Because of the ways that gay people were treated by the Nazis, the gay movement in its early days used the pink triangle as a symbol of pride and strength. In this book, we get descriptions of how the tolerance that once enjoyed by gay people in Germany became the opposite when Hitler rose to power and began what was known as the purification of the human race by ridding the world of those who were not Aryan. Using individual stories and bringing them into a broader tale about the treatment and persecution of gay people, we see the cruelty that became associated with the Nazis. The book contains first-person accounts from some who survived and these show us what they went through. There are also photographs and a nice bibliography.

As I stated earlier, this is a book that was designed for young readers and it “does an excellent job of describing the initial harassment of gay men by the Nazis…Young readers will now know this important piece of Holocaust history and understand the significance of the pink triangle, now the symbol of gay rights, once a mark of shame.” In my opinion, however, it could have been a bit stronger. We still do not know just how many people died at the hands of Hitler and his Nazis and we are led to believe that the mortality rate of those captured was 60%. We are reminded of a period in history where one’s sexuality and/or religion was possibly a death sentence and the fact that gay people were wiped off of the face of the earth is often overlooked. Most Holocaust memorial sites do not mention this but I am proud that at the Boston Holocaust Memorial it is clearly stated.

We would have thought that we learned something from the Holocaust yet there are similar happenings today which although are on a smaller scale still show the power of hate. Because the majority of survivors are now dying, we will lose the chance to get first person testimonies soon and this is a tragedy itself.

Setterington is a good storyteller and the book is a good introduction. I can only hope that we will get more like this.

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