Rupert Everett narrates this sensitive documentary about the Nazi persecution of homosexuals during World War II. "Paragraph 175" refers to the old German penal code concerning homosexuality, which was used to justify the ... more »prosecution of gay men during the war (the code ignored lesbians, still considered viable baby-making vessels). As mere rumor became enough to justify imprisonment, over 100,000 were arrested and between 10,000 and 15,000 were sent to concentration camps. In Paragraph 175, Klaus Müller, a historian from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, sets out to interview the fewer than 10 who are known to remain alive. The film covers the astonishingly quick rise of Hitler (one interviewee points out how ridiculous a figure he seemed at first) and the shock that more liberal Germans felt as it became clear that he was a force to be reckoned with. Some of the film's most touching moments come when the participants reminisce about their first loves and the "homosexual Eden" that was Berlin in the 1930s. This is a beautifully well made documentary that poignantly captures a piece of nearly forgotten history. --Ali Davis« less
"This is a beautifully executed documentary that is approached with great sensitivity. An official selection of the 2000 Sundance Film Festival, the film is named after Paragraph 175, Germany's anti-sodomy law, which was enacted in 1871 and was gender specific to males. It is this statute upon which the Nazi regime relied to round up homosexual men for internment in its infamous concentration camps. Once interned, they were reduced to wearing the now infamous "pink triangle" to herald their homosexuality. This documentary focuses on poignant reminiscences by the handful of homosexual men, now in their eighties and nineties, as well as one elderly lesbian who had managed to escape from Germany to England, who survived their experiences, were still alive at the time of filming, and willing to talk about this painful time in their lives. Their stories, sensitively handled by interviewer and historian Klaus Muller, are coupled with wonderful archival footage of a Germany of long ago, and come to life under the expert hands of directors Jerry Friedman and Rob Epstein. The film discusses Weimar Germany's tolerance of homosexuality in the post World War I era, which tolerance continued up until the time the Nazis took control of the country. Berlin was a mecca for homosexuals before the Nazis took over, and Paragraph 175 was largely ignored. The film is highly successful in capturing the joie de vivre of that era, with wonderful archival film footage, stills, and music of a pre-Adolph Hitler Berlin, interspersed with clips of Marlene Dietrich in the film "The Blue Angel" (1931). The use of that film, as well as its signature song "Falling In Love Again", is a perfect marriage with this documentary, as it captures the flavor of the Weimar Republic before Adolph Hitler cast his shadow upon it.The film shows how the Nazi regime stealthily encroached upon the tolerance that had been so pervasive, rendering gay Berlin a thing of the past, no longer a mecca for homosexuals. Its rigid application of Paragraph 175 was the end of an era of tolerance. It was replaced by the persecution of and intolerance for Germany's homosexual men. The film, narrated by Rupert Everett, is a brief ode to the suffering of this segment of Germany's population, but it is, nonetheless, a powerful one. The DVD is limited in terms of bonus features. It does, however, provide two additional interviews with concentration camp survivors who shed more light on the treatment of homosexuals during the Nazi era, as well as an insightful and intelligent film commentary by the directors and producer."
Painful, defiant, angry, joyous
Karlis Streips | Riga, Latvia | 10/22/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a magnificent piece of documentary filmmaking, not only from the perspective of the production values, but especially of the reportage. It is made clear throughout the documentary how extraordinarily difficult it was to get the extremely elderly men who were the survivors of the Holocaust to think back to what must have been a horrifying period in their lives. The producers managed to get through, however, sometimes with the help of friends, sometimes on their own, and the effect is a devastating one. I cannot agree with the reviewer from Louisiana who carped about "too many Nazi movies". First of all, the Holocaust is a horror which must never be forgotten, and there is no point at which there will be too much information about a "civilized" Western European country which slaughtered millions upon millions upon millions of people at a time which is still in the living memory of countless Europeans, Americans and other citizens of the world. Second, I would have a hard time in coming up with any short list, let alone long list of written, audio or video material which treats the specific subject of the extermination of gay people in Hitler's camps. Gay men were one of the secondary groups of slaughter, of course, in comparison to the breathtaking horror that was visited upon the Jews, but they were a major group nevertheless, and if the critic in Louisiana thinks that this is a story that does not need telling, then I'm sorry, but he's wrong. It does need telling, and the point to this documentary is that not many more years will pass before all of those who survived the terror are gone, gone, gone. The fact that the Holocaust is a throbbing and living thing even in the lives of people in the late 20th and early 21st century was neatly encapsulated in "Paragraph 175" when, if I understood it correctly, a French interviewee said that the interview was the first time that he had ever spoken to a German since World War II. "Paragraph 175" brought tears to my eyes again and again, because I had to ask, again and again, "why, why in God's name, why?" Whether Nazi atrocities have been treated in the media to a greater, lesser, more significant or any other extent than the atrocities of Stalin's Gulag (and as a Latvian, I am perfectly aware of what Stalin did, thank you) is entirely not the point. No human terror can be measured up against any other. This was terror. This was pain. But the survivors also represent a point of joy. They did survive. They had something to say. "Paragraph 175" allowed them to say it. I think that we are better for the story having been told."
Less a Documentary than a Reminiscence
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 07/29/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"PARAGRAPH 175 is a beautifully photographed, historicaly accurate, sensitively enlightening film about the Nazi persecution and slaughter of the Pink Triangle, as male homosexuals were designated in Hitler's concentration camps. But for once a documenting film does not focus on grotesque pictures of bodies, wretched camp conditions or images of abuse and torture. The film's makers instead opt for the more sensitive approach of interviewing the few remaining men (and one woman)who survived the period. From these elderly gentlemen we hear memories of how fun Berlin was from 1914 to 1918, the between war period when life was raucous and liberated. We then learn through their words and through film clips of the growing influence of Hitler and his own gay SA General, the response of a people wilted from WWI needing hope for a future and not realizing the depravity of the promises of the Nazi party, the ugly truth. It is this insidious perpetration of evil that becomes most pungent in the faces and words of the survivors. This is a beautifully realized documentary and one that will open eyes to a fact that most people remain unaware of even today."
Survivors of the Pink Triangle
J. Michael Click | Fort Worth, Texas United States | 08/05/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"From the Oscar-winning producers of "The Times of Harvey Milk" (Best Documentary Feature, 1984) and "Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt" (Best Documentary Feature, 1989) comes this exquisitely composed film about the persecution of homosexuals by the Nazis during the Third Reich. Narrated by Rupert Everett, the film combines archival footage and photographs with recent interviews with a handful of gay survivors who were still living at the end of the 20th century. What emerges is a stunning, emotionally raw portrait of individuals who were thrown into a living hell only to crawl back out into a world where their perceptions of humanity - and self - would never be fully healed. This is a film with moments both heartbreaking (a man in his mid-ninties tells that his mother never asked even one question about his lengthy internment, and confides his unfilled yearning to talk with his father), and mind-numbing (another survivor describes the horrific meaning of the place known as the "singing forest"). One of the few works to explore the Nazi persecution of gays (along with the play and film "Bent", the books "The Pink Triangle" and "The Men with the Pink Triangles", etc.), "Paragraph 175" is by far the best at personalizing this incomprehensible chapter in gay history, and is a definite "must-see". The DVD edition is highly recommended. In addition to the film, it includes the original theatrical trailer, and two bonus interviews from the Shoah Foundation featuring non-homosexuals offering their personal accounts of how gay men were treated in the concentration camps. Fascinating and deeply moving, a worthy double-feature companion to Steven Spielberg/The Shoah Foundation's Oscar-winning documentary feature, "The Last Days"."
From a Dark and Lonely Place In The Soul
Gary F. Taylor | Biloxi, MS USA | 12/31/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The German Penal Code of 1871, Paragraph 175, states "An unnatural sex act committed between persons of the male sex or by humans with animals is punishable by imprisonment; the loss of civil rights may also be imposed." The law was widely disregarded, and the post-World War I Weimar Republic saw a flowering of gay and lesbian culture, most particularly in Berlin. When the Weimar Republic collapsed and the Nazi party rose to power, few gays and lesbians felt any reason to fear: was not Ernst Rohm, head of the SA, well known for his homosexuality?
On 1 July 1934, later known as "The Night of Long Knives," the Nazi party conducted a bloody purge of their ranks. Rohm was among the victims, and as the Nazis swept to full power over Germany they moved to broaden the scope of Paragraph 175. The glory days of gay and lesbian Berlin were over. Somewhat oddly, lesbians were not regarded as a threat to the Nazi party, and many lesbians either left Germany or simply withdrew from public life, thus escaping with their lives. Gay men, however, came under full attack. A special branch of the Gestapo was formed to identify gay men; once their lists were established the arrests began.
With many records destroyed by the Nazis as the Allies swept through Europe at the close of the war, it is now very difficult to estimate how many homosexuals were arrested. Most historians agree there is hard evidence to support a figure of 100,000, but many note that the total may have been well in excess of that, possibly to the extent of 600,000 total. Of those fed into the Nazi meat grinder, perhaps 4,000 survived--a much lower survival rate than that found even among political prisoners. There is considerable evidence that homosexuals were regarded as the "lowest of the low" in the prison pecking order and suffered not only from Nazi atrocity but were also sometimes savaged by their fellow prisoners as well. And to them was given a final curse: the victorious Allies retained Paragraph 175 as law following the collapse of Nazi Germany. Fearing possible re-arrest at Allied hands, homosexuals who survived the prisons and concentration camps dare not speak of their lives and experiences. Most would remain silent until their deaths.
The documentary PARAGRAPH 175 does not attempt to examine the full scope of Nazi atrocity or even Nazi atrocity against the gay community. It instead focuses on the memories of a handful of men and women who recall their experiences. Perhaps the single most famous of these is Pierre Seel, who saw his lover killed by dogs in the death camps and who closeted himself to a remarkable extent after the war. "I am ashamed!" Seel cries at one point in his series of interviews. "I am ashamed for humanity!" It is a memorable moment of pain echoing across the decades. Seel died in 2005.
While most of the interview subjects are male, lesbians are represented by Annette Eick, a remarkably charming woman, and while their stories vary considerably in detail they are the same in content: I was there, I saw it, and I bear witness for those who cannot speak. At times the film seems excessively languid, but overall it does justice to its interview subjects, who emerge as fully-depicted individuals, sometimes passionate, sometimes restrained, but never without the dignity that should belong to all mankind as birthright.
The DVD contains several extras. Although it contained several points of interest I was not greatly impressed with the audio commentary; on the other hand, I was greatly impressed with two bonus interviews and particularly so by subject Kitty Fisher, a Jewish woman who recounts how a homosexual prisoner came to her aid--and whose advice ultimately saved her life.
These are painful memories, all of them, and all the more so because the Holocaust has been increasingly downplayed over the past few decades--downplayed to a point at which some few now attempt to deny that it ever occurred at all. But facts remain facts no matter how many misguided people attempt to change or refute them, and in the name of humanity itself we owe all those who have suffered in the killing fields of the world the dignity of truth. PARAGRAPH 175 is a part of that truth.