In the spring of 1945, elements of General George S. Patton’s Third Army advanced into the German city of Ohrduf, and discovered the concentration camp there. Their progress had been so rapid that the defending Nazis had no time to destroy the site, with all its unspeakable evidence of atrocities carried out against its inmates, which included Jews, the disabled, gays, lesbians, and political opponents of Hitler’s regime.
When Patton himself arrived at the camp, he was so incensed at what he saw, that he ordered Ohrduf’s Burgermeister, his wife, and every local resident who could be found, to be marched through the camp. Although the townspeople professed ignorance at what was going on at the camp, the official, his wife, and many of his neighbors went home and promptly committed suicide.
Patton urged his boss, General (later President) Dwight Eisenhower to tour the camp immediately. This the Supreme Allied Commander did, and he sent cables to Washington and London that sane day, requesting as many reporters and photographers be brought to Ohrduf as possible. When asked why he gave that order, he replied, “because I know that somewhere, someday, someone will come along and say this never happened.”
Until the Allies defeated the Axis, public acknowledgement of what the Germans were doing was minimal, at best. Even when direct evidence was brought to the leadership of the mass exterminations happening under the swastika, no action was taken.
Winston Churchill was shown aerial reconnaissance photos of concentration camps in actual operation, he is said to have ordered, “Get anything out of the Air Force that you can, and invoke my name, if necessary.”
However, the head of Bomber Command replied that he was “loath to risk assets for a target of no military value“. This was the attitude towards a modern state government–the enemy, in fact–carrying out systematic, industrialized, mass murder against millions of human beings.
It’s all beginning again.
In Chechnya, a federal republic of Russia, hundreds of gay men are being rounded up and detained, in the wake of an attempt to organize a LGBT Pride march in the capital city of Grozny. The independent Novaya Gazeta reports that a massive “anti-gay purge” is occurring in the former Soviet republic, with detainees being sent to a “concentration camp” in Argun, outside the capital. “Right now, there is a situation where homosexual men are being detained,” says Svetlana Zakharova of the Russian LGBT Network.
“They are being tortured and heavily beaten, and people who contacted us said sometimes, they are being beaten to death. People are being tortured with electricity, this is the information we know“. Zakharovka cited eyewitness accounts of gay men being forced to give up the names of other homosexuals, who were then swiftly taken into custody by “men wearing the uniforms of the ‘Terek’, or ‘Special Rapid Response Team’.”
Of course, both the Chechen and Russian governments are flatly denying any such thing is happening. “There are no gay people in Chechnya,” Ramzan Kadryov, governor of the Chechen Republic, asserted. “If there were such people in Chechnya, law-enforcement wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them, because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.” Kadryov is referring to the practice of “honor killing”, in which the families of gay men murder them, because of the “shame” brought upon them by these individuals’ sexuality. Russian President Vladimir Putin also dismissed the reports of wholesale murder and torture, calling them “lies”.
The Human Rights Watch organization has received corroborating accounts of the roundups in Chechnya, and even our own State Department cited “numerous credible reports” about the torture and killing of these gay men. “We categorically condemn the persecution of individuals based on their sexual orientation or any other basis,” said acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
Even though the Trump administration is aware of the Chechnya situation, the White House declined comment on the issue this week. Silence. Willful ignorance. Unsympathetic, vulnerable victims in a faraway land. Shades of World War Two.
People often wonder how the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany could have been allowed to continue, even as reports trickled out from time to time, describing what was actually going on? Even before the outbreak of war, the treatment of Germany’s minorities was well-known, yet people remained indifferent to their plight, until Eisenhower’s and Soviet General Zhukov’s armies exposed the Holocaust for all the world to see.
A significant number of the concentration camps, the full extent and degree of the horror, wasn’t revealed until after V-E day, far too late for the dead, and hundreds of thousands of survivors.
Will we once again stand idly by as this kind of inhuman savagery rears its unspeakable head again? Will the blood of our fellow LGBTQ people cry out for rescue in vain, because our leaders don’t think they are deserving of intervention? Will we fail, as we did 75 years ago, to speak with our votes, until action is taken by our Congresspeople and Senators, to bring pressure to bear on the Russians, in whose power the ability to stop the carnage rests?
We cannot later plead ignorance as to the deeds of those who are clearly intent on extirpating LGBTQ people through any means possible, and by the most violent means available. We cannot say this was a task for other men in other places. We dare not sit quietly while the unquiet souls of our brothers and sisters half a world away, are forced to depart from this life in utter agony.
What are we doing about this?