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Israel's First, Tel Aviv's First

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Members of Tel Aviv Prime Timers at the new memorial to gay Holocaust victims. Members of Tel Aviv Prime Timers at the new memorial to gay Holocaust victims.

There are already many public memorials to the hundreds of thousands of gay men who were persecuted and killed by the Nazi regime. In Holland, Germany, France, Austria, Spain and other European countries the memorials are taken for granted. There are several in the USA – including in Alaska – as well as in Canada and Australia. Even Montevideo, Uruguay, unveiled one in 2005. Now Israel/Tel Aviv has joined the family of nations that have recognized the fact that many minorities suffered terribly under Nazi rule, including the homosexual community, Jewish and otherwise.

 

On Friday 10th January, in the presence of a respectable and somber crowd that encompassed several important dignitaries, including Ambassador Andreas Michaelis of Germany, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and at least four members of the Knesset, the city unveiled a beautiful memorial to the gay men who suffered or were murdered in World War 2 - and before – in Germany. In his address to the gathering Mayor Huldai referred to the Holocaust of the Jewish people, but added that the Nazi view, that everyone "...different to what they saw as the ideal and superior race – themselves – had to be eliminated" – and that included gay men. He added: "The message of this memorial is that in Tel Aviv we honor and respect everyone. Race, creed, religion, color, sex and gender identity are irrelevant. In Tel Aviv we want to welcome one and all. This memorial will help teach these values to the next generation".


tel-aviv-memorialHis Excellency the German Ambassador to Israel spoke from the heart – so much so that by the end of his speech he wiped a tear from his eye and was clearly choked up with emotion. He mentioned the relative openness of the Weimar Republic which was in power for 15 years before Germany succumbed to the Nazis in 1933, and the contrast with what followed. He spoke too of his youth in the 1960s: "I remember hearing the phrase "the 175ers" to refer to homosexuals, but I didn't understand the reference. Only later did I learn that it was ordinance #175 of the German Penal Code that criminalized homosexuality (in men only). The law was in effect in deeply homophobic Germany for over 100 years. Today Germany recognizes the awfulness of that period and accepts responsibility not only for the Jewish Holocaust, but for the gay holocaust as well." The ambassador added that although monuments are an important visual symbol of tolerance, "... actions speak louder than words or symbols. We need to act to rout out mindless preconceptions and ingrained intolerance." Needless to say, Ambassador Michaelis's words were greeted by lengthy applause.


The new Tel Aviv memorial is gracious in its simplicity; an open-ended pink triangle with a brief explanatory plaque in Hebrew and English. The memorial is located in Meir Park, just opposite the municipal community center for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, and was funded by city hall. The seeds of the memorial, planted by Eran Lev during his stint as city councilor, took root in fertile ground.


In his brief address to the gathering, Lev mentioned three important steps that the city of Tel Aviv has taken over recent years to bring the LGBT communities "out of the cold and into the fold": Beit Dror (a halfway house for LGBT youth with no other place to live, usually after having been spurned by their families), the community center itself, and now the memorial. Lev also gave credit to Professor Moshe Zimmerman, an historian, who cooperated fully to bring the project to fruition.


We overheard one of the young men in the audience: "Who would have thought! Just a few short years ago the LGBT community was roundly criticized for daring to hold a memorial service for gays slaughtered in Europe, on the same day as the official Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel. Now this commemorative monument. Israel sure changes fast."


Israel does change fast, and in the right direction. Though some say the changes are not coming fast enough. A man walking his dog had crude comments and made vulgar gestures as he passed by. Clearly, Ambassador Michaelis's reference to "ingrained intolerance" were for that dog walker and his ilk.



The writer is a former South African, a gay activist and is the author of "Flying Colors", in which he tells of his own coming out experiences as well as of his 30 years of flying as a flight attendant on El Al. He also established TEHILA, a successful self-help organization for parents and families of the LGBT community. Used with permission. Copyright © Jonathan Danilowitz 2014.

 

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Last modified on Wednesday, 05 March 2014 22:40