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The Story of Josef Kohout as a Holocaust Survivor by Preston Johnson

Josef Kohout’s story has impacted the view on the homosexual men in the holocaust. More research had been done because of his story and a new drive for LGBTQ+ rights had arisen. Though, it is very interesting how the Nazi party’s ideology has suppressed the LGBTQ+ community. 

  According to The Wiener Holocaust Library, prior to World War 2, Germany was on its way to gain homosexual and transgender rights. In 1919 Magnus Hirshcfeld founded the Institute for Sexual Research. This research would fall due to the rise of the Nazi party’s power. Berlin had a tolerance to those of the LGTBQ+ community, gay bars and gay rights campaigns. Due to the Nazi Ideology that had taken control over Germany, it was encouraged for women to have as many children as possible and individuals who were not cisgendered or heterosexual were seen as a threat. The experience and survival of Josef Kohout can explain the torture and the result of the holocaust for those apart of the LGBTQ+ community during World War 2. Josef Kohout’s story was the pushing force for the recognition of Homosexual victims in the Holocaust. (Wiener Holocaust Library) 

Josef Kohout was an Austrian man who had discovered his sexual orientation. He had held onto this secret for three years and told his mother, who was very accepting and gave advice to be careful. He would go on to have a relationship with a man named “Fred” who turned out to be the son of a high Nazi official. Josef had sent him a postcard with descriptions of Fred as his love, the postcard was discovered and Josef was interrogated in March 1939. (JewishCurrents)

When interrogated, the postcard was revealed to be in possession of the Nazi regime. Josef felt cornered and had confessed that it was his writing and signature, on the same day of his interrogation, he had been arrested for homosexuality. (JewishCurrents)

Once Josef was in jail, his inmates found out what his “crime” was through the policemen, this led to the inmates attempting advancements on Josef and he had refused. Dehumanizing insults were the results, even though the two inmates had engaged with each other in front of Josef. Written in “The Men With the Pink Triangle '' by Heinz Heger, he found that this was hypocritical. (JewishCurrents)

When he was placed in court and had his trial, the man he had a relationship with was not named or present. It is believed that the man's father helped him not face any prosecution. (JewishCurrents)

Josef Kohout was sentenced to seven months in prison, his time there had been more pleasant. He had work and helped around the prison with many chores, he had also learned about how those who were queer, would end up being tortured and murdered in concentration camps. On his day of being released he had discovered that he was being transported to a concentration camp near Berlin called Sachsenhausen. (Collections United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Josef had referred to Sachsenhausen as “the ‘Auschwitz’ for homosexuals,” this was because of the abuse in the camp. The SS guards had made the prisoners do unreasonable labor such as shoveling snow with their bare hands and working in clay pits that would lead to many deaths. The prisoners had died from either beatings or from heavy carts falling onto them while they were in the pits. Another part of being a queer prisoner in Sachsenhausen was forcing the prisoners to sleep with their hands outside of the blanket and not allow communication between each block. (Collections United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) 

In January of 1940, Josef was moved to Flossenburg Concentration Camp, where he would receive his prisoner number 1896 and a pink triangle to identify him. Homosexual men were given a pink triangle patch and it was placed on his chest, right leg and left arm. Flossenburg was known to be a labor camp with rapid spread of disease and brutal abuse from the SS guards. In March of 1941, the survival of homosexual men became more difficult because of the new commandment, he had degraded the homosexual men in the camp more than prior to his arrival. 

Josef became a Kapo of the factory in the camp, he would be the only homosexual Kapo and this title meant that he would supervise the other prisoners. (Jewish Virtual Library) With this, his parents had sent him letters, food and money, the new commandment had instructed Josef to write them back after being asked about his well being. (Collections United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) 

It is sad to say that Josef would never see his father ever again, for his father had taken his own life in 1942 because no one would help him get his son back. His father had asked for forgiveness in his last letter and Josef’s mother had kept the letter for many years. (Collections United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

In April of 1945, he had been liberated while on the death march to another camp, he had finally gotten to sleep in a real bed and gain civilian clothing. Josef had kept his breast patch from his prison uniform. Three years after his liberation, he had gained an annulment for his criminal charges. It wouldn’t be until the mid 1990’s that homosexual holocaust survivors were seen as victims. (Collections United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

He had gone on to reunite with his family and even gotten into a relationship with a man named Wilhelm Kroepfl. Joesf had died on March 15, 1994 in Vienna, he had lived to be 79 years old. While his partner went on to live until January 6, 2012 at the age of 89.

These stories had been found in the book “The Men With the Pink Triangle” by Heinz Heger (1972), though it would be discovered this was Josef Kohout. This book would have an English translation in the year 1980. This book has an incredible impact on the research into the homosexual victims in the holocaust.(Wiener Holocaust Library)

The men with the Pink Triangle. Jewish Currents. (n.d.). 

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (n.d.). United States holocaust memorial museum. 

Gilley, C. (2021, February 9). Persecution of gay people in Nazi Germany. The Wiener Holocaust Library. 

Malloryk. (2020, June 29). Recounting terror and sexual violence: Josef Kohout’s the men with the Pink Triangle: The National WWII Museum: New Orleans. The National WWII Museum | New Orleans. 

Concentration camps. Kapos. (n.d.). 


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