A Sacred Obligation

Remarks delivered by Barrett L. Brick on the occasion of
the dedication of the United States Holocaust Memorial
Museum and the National March on Washington for
Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation
Friday, April 23, 1993

We gather here today to fulfill a sacred obligation . . . an obligation of memory. To remember, and to bear witness. To pierce a silence that, too often, still seeks to enshroud us.

We come together at a juxtaposition of events that are rightfully intertwined: the dedication of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the National March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. The March, a clarion call for justice. The Museum, described by one writer as "a place of terrible beauty," standing as a reminder of the consequences of the failure of justice — of cowardice, indifference, appeasement, and silence, the fertile soils in which evil can flourish.

A year ago I stood at Mauthausen, a concentration camp in Austria. As you enter the site, there is a remembrance wall of memorial plaques. One is a triangle of pink stone, placed there nine years ago by the Austrian national Gay association. On the plaque, these words: "To the homosexuals killed by National Socialism---Totgeschlagen, Totgeschwiegen." Beaten to death, silenced to death.

It was not enough to beat, torture, and burn our bodies. When liberation came, they tried still to keep shackled our memory, our history, our souls.

And yet, we endured. And yet, we spoke. In the words of one Gay writer:

After the gruesome murders committed upon homophiles during the era of the late Dictator, it has now become intolerable longer to suffer banishment to prison and exposure to disgrace of men who have done nothing but that which is the commandment of their nature.

That was written in Die Insel, in Germany, in July 1952, translated and published in the first issue of the magazine One in the United States in January 1953 . . . forty years ago. It was not the first time we would speak out, nor would it be the last. Nor were we entirely alone, ourselves alone speaking for ourselves. Some, such as the historian Eugene Kogon, and the author Leon Uris, wrote of the experiences of Gays in the concentration camps. By and large, however, it was not until the late 1970s that the public at large began to become aware that the pink triangle was a real part of a real nightmare. As Richard Plant has written in The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals: "[F]or most historians, there was and still is a taboo in effect."

Such a taboo of silence truly does equal death. Silence completes the work of Hitler. Yet as we prove here today, as this Museum bears witness, the silence will endure no longer, but crumbles before the simple truth of our voices. Never again will the world deny that, in the words of President Clinton yesterday, we were killed for whom we loved.

For the living and for the dead, for ourselves and for future generations, we and this Museum bear witness to the truth of our heritage and our history: of community and survival, of terror and death, of love and resistance. We preserve our stories, and we tell them:

One day in Amsterdam, the Nazis conducted an arrest of some of the Jewish population. They were brought to a staging area near the train station before being sent to the concentration camp. One guard was standing over them. Two men — lovers — walked by and saw the situation. One of them took it upon himself to distract the guard, while the other helped as many of the Jews as he could to escape, while the guard's atten- tion was diverted. The Nazis came for the couple that night, and took them into the maw of terror. And in the camp they ended up in, as an example to the others, one of the guards began to beat and beat and beat one of the couple, near unto death. Finally his lover could stand it no longer, and raced from the crowd and threw himself upon the guard, screaming at the top of his voice, 'Let the world know that homosexuals are not cowards!' They shot and killed him over the dying body of his lover.

A year ago I stood at Mauthausen. The exhibits in the buildings that remain — some barracks, a kitchen, a gas chamber and crematorium — record the history of those incarcerated there, including our Gay martyrs. The barracks into which we were segregated no longer stands. There is just a gently raised mound. Grass grows over it, and wildflowers bloom. In that place of nightmare and death, new life shoots forth its fragile beauty. We here today are part of that new life. Each time we show the world that homosexuals are not cowards . . . each time we fulfill our sacred obligation of memory . . . each time we tell the truth of our history and our heritage . . . we demonstrate our commitment that indifference shall not stand, and that silence shall not descend ever again.