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Josef Kohout/Wilhelm Kroepfl papers

Document | Digitized | Accession Number: 1994.A.0332 | RG Number: RG-33.002

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    Contains correspondence, camp vouchers, identification cards, certificates, court documents, and diary fragments relating to the imprisonment of Josef Kohout at Flossenbürg concentration camp (persecuted as a homosexual); attempts by his parents, Josef and Amilia Kohout, to visit him in the camp; his participation in a death march and liberation by American troops; and the reversal of criminal charges against him after World War II.
    inclusive:  1939-1948
    Collection Creator
    Josef Kohout
    Josef Kohout was born on January 25, 1915, in Vienna, Austria, to Josef and Amalia Zotrovec Kohout. Josef had a sister Heli. The family was Roman Catholic. Josef was a post office worker and also a hair stylist On March 12, 1939, German troops marched into Vienna and the next day the Anschluss, or political incorporation of Austria into the German Third Reich, was complete. Political opponents were purged and German laws were aggressively enforced by SS and SA security forces. Nazi ideology called for the racial and cultural purification of the German Reich and German policies persecuting Jews and other groups, including homosexuals and Roma, were immediate priorities..

    On April 13, 1939, Josef was arrested for homosexual activity as defined by paragraph 175, the German law similar to Austria’s statute 129. It was based on an 1871 statute, revised in 1935, Article 6, § 175, which punished indecent acts between men. The Nazi regime viewed homosexuality as a threat to the racial health of the Reich and its population policies that sought to increase the birth rate of pure Germans. Under the revised statute, even the suggestion of homosexuality was sufficient for arrest; gossip, kissing, and letters were accepted as evidence. A Christmas greeting card sent by Josef to another man, with a photograph of himself inscribed to his eternal love, was intercepted. Josef was taken to State Criminal Court on May 10. He was sentenced on September 26, 1939, to seven months in jail and transferred to Rossauerlande prison in Vienna. On November 13, Josef was taken into protective custody [Schutzhaft] by the Gestapo. This was a legal method that empowered the Gestapo to indefinitely imprison, without charge or trial, any person they decided was a potential danger to the security of the Reich. In December, Josef was transported to Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany near Berlin. He was assigned to forced labor in the Klinker brickworks. Josef later referred to Sachsenhausen as "the 'Auschwitz' for homosexuals." Gay prisoners were assigned to their own block and had to obey special constraints, such as always sleeping with their hands outside the blankets despite extreme cold, and not talking to prisoners in other blocks. They were assigned meaningless hard labor, such as shoveling snow with bare hands. The prisoners worked under brutal conditions in the clay pits that supported the brickworks. Many were beaten to death or killed by heavy carts falling down the steep slopes of the pits.

    On January 27, 1940, Josef was registered for Flossenbürg concentration camp as Schutzhafting, a protective custody prisoner, and violator of § 175, and assigned prisoner number 1896. He was transferred to Flossenbürg, near the Czech border in Bavaria, on May 15, 1940. Josef was issued a badge with his prisoner number 1896, and the pink triangle, rosa in German, used to identify homosexual prisoners. Identifying patches had to be worn on the left arm, right leg, and chest. He was assigned to Block 6. As in Sachsenhausen, gay prisoners were targeted for intensive persecution and punishment by the SS guards. Flossenbürg, est. 1938, was chiefly used to incarcerate asocial males, repeat criminals, and later, political prisoners. Most inmates were slave laborers in the SS owned stone quarry, the SS weaving shop, and, later, a Messerschmitt aircraft parts factory. Living conditions were squalid and, with no medical care, disease spread rapidly. The camp was notorious for the brutal, abusive behavior of the SS guards and the capos, most of whom were drawn from the veteran criminal offender population. In March 1941, a new commandant arrived. He especially hated the gay prisoners and designed several orders to further degrade them. By 1942, Josef was a kapo in the munitions factory, and the only gay kapo. Josef's parents sent him letters, money, and packages of bread and jam throughout his imprisonment. In 1943 and 1944, they wrote to the Flossenbürg camp commandant asking to visit Josef and requesting information about his well being. In one letter, the commandant replies that Josef was healthy and well and had been instructed to write to them immediately. In a February 1944 letter, the commandant advices them not to worry about how long it takes for mail to arrive, since the war has disrupted mail services.

    On April 20, 1945, as US troops approached the camp, the SS guards began forced evacuations. Josef was sent on a death march toward Dachau. He was liberated on April 25 near Cham, about 45 miles from the camp, by American soldiers of the 19th Infantry. He managed to keep a daily diary during this time, recording details of his experience (USHMM RG-33.002, 1994.A.0332.) He kept a list of the places he stayed, noting his first stay in a bed on April 26. During this journey back to Vienna, Josef acquired civilian clothing. Before destroying his filthy, torn uniform, he removed his Flossenbürg breast patch to keep as a memory of his experiences. The war ended with Germany’s surrender on May 7, 1945.

    On May 15, 1945, Josef reached Kirchberg, Austria, where his sister Heli had relocated after being evacuated from Vienna. He learned that his father had committed suicide in 1942. Josef returned to his mother in Vienna. In October 1945, he was issued an Arbeits-Freistellungschein [exemption from work and military service) card. In 1946, Josef met and began a relationship with Wilhelm Kroepfl (1923-2012.) In April 1948, Josef successfully petitioned for the annulment of the criminal charges for which he had been incarcerated. Without this annulment, which many did not obtain as homosexuality was a crime until 1969, the charges under the Nazi regime remained on their records. Gay camp survivors were not eligible for the monetary reparations secured by other classes of survivors and their pensions were reduced by the number of years in prison. In 1972, Josef’s story, as told to a friend, was published as a memoir under the name Heinz Heger, Die Männer mit dem rosa Winkel. It was the first published testimony by a gay survivor of the concentration camps. It was released in English in 1980 as Men with the Pink Triangle. It details the persecution of homosexuals by the Nazi regime and Josef's personal experiences in prison and the camps. It was not until the mid-1990s that Germany formally acknowledged gay survivors as victims of the Nazi regime. Josef, 79, died in Vienna on March 15, 1994. His partner of 48 years, Wilhelm Kroepfl, 89, passed away on January 6, 2012.

    Physical Details

    2 folders
    System of Arrangement
    Arrangement is chronological

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    There are no known restrictions on access to this material.
    Conditions on Use
    Material(s) in this collection may be protected by copyright and/or related rights. You do not require further permission from the Museum to use this material. The user is solely responsible for making a determination as to if and how the material may be used.

    Keywords & Subjects

    Personal Name
    Kohout, Josef.

    Administrative Notes

    Wilhelm Kroepfl the collection to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Archives in Nov. 1994.
    Record last modified:
    2023-02-24 14:02:44
    This page:

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