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Berlin memorial honors Nazis' gay victims

The monument not only pays tribute to those killed but also speaks to the discrimination that continues.

BERLIN - Germany yesterday unveiled a memorial to the Nazis' long-ignored gay victims, a monument that also aims to address ongoing discrimination by confronting visitors with an image of a same-sex couple kissing.

The memorial - a sloping gray concrete slab on the edge of Berlin's Tiergarten park - echoes the vast field of smaller slabs that make up Germany's memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust, opened three years ago across the road.

The pavilion-size slab includes a small window where visitors can view a video clip of two men kissing.

Berlin's openly gay mayor, Klaus Wowereit, said the monument was a reminder of the struggles that still confronted gays.

"This memorial is important from two points of view - to commemorate the victims but also to make clear that even today, after we have achieved so much in terms of equal treatment, discrimination still exists daily," Wowereit said as he inaugurated the memorial alongside Culture Minister Bernd Neumann.

Nazi Germany declared homosexuality a threat to the German race and convicted 50,000 homosexuals as criminals. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 gay men were deported to concentration camps, where few survived.

"This is a story that many people don't know about, and I think it's fantastic . . . that the German state finally decided to make a memorial to honor these victims as well," said Ingar Dragset, who designed the memorial along with Danish-born Michael Elmgreen.

The commemoration "unfortunately comes too late for those who were persecuted and survived in 1945," said Guenter Dworek, of Germany's Lesbian and Gay Association. "That is very bitter." He said the last former prisoner that his group knew of died in 2005.

Wowereit echoed his regret over the time it took to honor the Nazis' gay victims. "That is symptomatic of a postwar society which simply kept quiet about a group of victims, which . . . contributed to these victims being discriminated against twice," he said.

Few gays convicted by the Nazis came forward after World War II, because of the stigma attached to homosexuality. The law used against them remained on the books in West Germany until 1969.

Not until 2002 did parliament issue a formal pardon for homosexuals convicted under the Nazis.

The memorial to Jewish victims and the new monument will soon be joined by a third honoring the Roma and Sinti, or Gypsy, victims. Up to 500,000 Gypsies were killed during the Holocaust.