Germany’s cabinet has just approved a bill stating that all convicted gay men who were prosecuted after World War 2 will have their convictions overturned.
Any gay man that was convicted between 1949 – 1969 who are still alive can expect to receive financial compensation for any suffering that they endured under the legislation. This refers to Paragraph 175 – which mentioned that any sexual relations between men were forbidden.
The law first came into fruition in the 19th century and proceeded to get stricter during the Nazi era, being strongly implemented by all authorities. Even though it was no longer considered a crime in East Germany in 1968 and West Germany in 1969, the legislation was not completely stopped until 1994.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet of conservatives and Social Democrats approved the bill on Wednesday morning. It paves the way for compensation payments of €3,000 (£2,600) for each conviction, as well as €1,500 (£1,300) for every year started in prison by convicted men.
The bill mentions a collective fund of €500,000 a year which will be paid into the Magnus Hirschfield Foundation, aptly named after a well-known German sex researcher and campaigner for gay rights. The foundation is currently going through the process of collating the life stories of those men who were convicted under the legislation.
Justice Minister, Heiko Maas, said that the rehabilitation of men who ended up in court because of their homosexuality has long been overdue. “They were persecuted, punished and ostracized by the German state just because of their love for men, because of their sexual identity.”
Maas said that the fund would not only recognise those who suffered, but also the stigma that they faced and the level of suffering they endured. A spokesperson in Germany said on behalf of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany that it welcomed the idea that “after long decades of ignorance, legal consequences are being drawn from the serious mass human rights violations that were committed against homosexual people by the democratic state”.
Fritz Schmehling, 74, was convicted under Paragraph 175 when he was just a teenager. Sitting in his apartment building in Berlin, he told AFP news agency “I don’t want to die with a criminal record,” commenting that time was running out for the victims of this legislation to get justice.
“I’ve had cancer twice and was operated on, but maybe I will still get to enjoy the moment my name is cleared. As sad as it is, in the time it takes, many of the older ones among us are going to die.”
The ministry of justice has said that it believes over 68,300 people were convicted under Paragraph 175 before it was disregarded in 1994.