When it comes to commemoration, learning one individual’s story or being given a name is a powerful way to connect to the past.
On Saturday 5th February we partnered with the wonderful London Gay Men’s Chorus to run a special Foundation Stones event for LGBT History Month to commemorate the 10,000 gay men who were murdered by the Nazis. Foundation Stones invites everyone to paint a stone to become part of the UK Holocaust Memorial in London when it is built next to parliament.
Over 100 members of the London Gay Men’s Chorus took part and the Big Ideas team wanted to provide each choir member with an individual name to commemorate. Research revealed just a few: Pierre Seel, Richard Grune, Karl Gorath with Tadeusz and Zbigniew, Ernst Ellson, Franz Waldhauser, Michael Unger, Rudolf Brazda, and Friedrich-Paul von Groszheim.
UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation historian and author Martin Winstone gave a highly informative talk during the event. He showed archive photographs of Berlin in the 1920s, a city in which gay men were able to live openly, and explained how the Nazi ideology targeted and persecuted homosexuality. Thousands were imprisoned and it is shocking that many who survived Nazi concentration camps faced continued persecution after the war. Tragically many were reimprisoned as the notorious legislation paragraph 175 remained in place for decades. As a result of criminalisation and stigma gay their suffering and their stories were hidden. Dr Virginia Crompton, CEO of Big Ideas, says, “This is why when we set out to find 150 names to commemorate, we were only able to find 10. This story is not well documented which makes the survivor testimony we do have all the more important.”.
The London Gay Men’s Chorus is founded on singing for social justice so the choir was keen to raise awareness of this past injustice and the discrimination and hatred still directed at members of the LGBTQ+ community across the world today.
Choir members have strong connections with the Holocaust, including the experiences of Sacha Kester, the oldest singing member of the chorus and a Holocaust survivor. Sacha was a young child at the start of World War Two and both his parents were murdered in the Holocaust. He shared his story with fellow choir members, reflecting that ‘through the kindness of a few courageous strangers, [he] was spared the suffering of millions.’
The choir’s Foundation Stones are powerful tributes both to the gay men and Jewish people persecuted by the Nazis. Some stones are painted with the pink triangle, a symbol worn on concentration camp uniforms to label prisoners as ‘asocial’ and now reclaimed as a symbol of pride. Others pay tribute to the courage of survivors and their descendants who continue to speak out in the face of discrimination.
Edo Avraham spoke to the group about his stone, which commemorated his family’s immense loss during the Holocaust. 70 members of Edo’s family were killed in World War Two and he spoke about how ‘being Jewish and being gay, you are reminded every time you watch a World War Two movie – that would have been me.’ Many of the stones painted at the event echoed the sentiment of Edo, that the fight for the eradication of antisemitism and homophobia ‘is not over, not by a long stretch’.
The ethos of Foundation Stones is that each stone remembers the past and is also a promise to build a future free from hate.The 120 of stones painted by members of the London Gay Men’s Chorus do both these things powerfully.
The event closed with a fabulous performance of Stephen Sondheim’s “Somewhere.”
At Big Ideas we are passionate about bringing untold stories to the fore through our work and we are very grateful to both Martin Winstone and the London Gay Men’s Chorus for making this important event possible.