Thursday, April 17, 2014

Branded by the Pink Triangle by Ken Setterington

When most people hear the word "Holocaust" many of them think of the extermination of Jewish people under Adolf Hitler's reign. While this is very true, many other people were additionally affected by Adolf Hitler in the early 1900's. Jews, Political Figures, Criminals, Anti-Socials, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Homosexuals were all in fear of their lives during the 1930's and 40's. A novel by Ken Setterington depicts and explains specifically the lives of many homosexuals during this time period and what they endured when being seen as a disease. Branded by the Pink Triangle is a chilling piece that analyzes what it was like to be persecuted for being gay.

Ken Setterington starts the novel with an overview of how Germany was before the reign of Hitler. While it had always been illegal to have same sex relationships, this was law that was rarely enforced. In fact, Berlin, was once one of the most lenient countries to allow homosexuality in its borders. This once unenforced law known as Paragraph 175, however, would soon be seen as the most fearing law for all homosexuals. When Adolf Hitler claimed his place as Germany's leader, he not only enforced Paragraph 175 but revised it throughout his time to make it harsher than ever before. Instead of a fine or a night in jail, homosexuals were imprisoned and then sent to concentration camps to "work for their freedom" which usual meant until their death. Hitler saw homosexuality as a threat to the pure German race that he wanted and called it a disease that needed to be exterminated or separated from the Aryan race. His rationale to his hatred toward homosexuals was that they would weaken the German race because they were feminine and would not reproduce to create more German babies. He also did not want any men to recruit others into the homosexual lifestyle to make the race weaker. Due to this, countless men were arrested, persecuted, and sent to concentration camps for their "lewd" behaviors. At these camps, thousands of men unjustly died due to the awful conditions and the work they were forced to do on a daily basis. This book honors the men who were additionally a part of The Holocaust but were never really recognized following the war. The video below interviews one of the survivors that Setterington talks about in his book. This gentleman's name is Rudolf Brazda and he recently passed away in 2011. As one of the survivors, he was named a knight in France's Legion of Honor by the president just before his death.
The above photo shows a man with the pink triangle sewed into his uniform to determine his sexuality much like the Star of David was sewed into the uniforms of Jewish prisoners. Branded by the Pink Triangle is a stimulating book for young adults to read in school. It does not only explain personal stories from actual survivors but explains the time period's historical facts that led to these events. This novel could be used in both English Language Arts and History classes to engage the students with an eye opening story. While many students typically learn about the Jewish Holocaust, learning about the Extermination of Homosexuals during the same period could be another side of this fatal time in history. On the back of the book, Toronto Stars states, "Should be in schools, synagogues and human rights museum everywhere." To read and hear more about Toronto's review on Branded by the Pink Triangle, here is a podcast they had with the author. In it, Setterington explains why he specifically wrote this piece for young adult readers. While the book states a lot of historical facts, it is also very easy to comprehend and read. It additionally involves historical photos to help the reader understand the material. With its photos, graphs, and tables from the time period, the reader is critically engaged with a piece of literature that is both historical and educational.
The only problem I could see with this book being in schools is depending on the schools philosophy. If the school is very religious and does not care for this lifestyle, it may be deemed as a "bad" book for their students to read. There are additionally some graphic photos and information that the book provides to the reader that parents may not want their children to read. Many students read war novels in high school, however, so I would not see this being a huge problem in many schools.

To learn more about The Holocaust and The Persecution of Homosexuals, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a lot of insight and information about it. Here is a link to an article talking about the subject. I would also recommend visiting it in person for more information. Additionally, here is a link to a website made in dedication for the homosexual men who lost their lives during The Holocaust. It gives additional information about the arrests, the camps, the pink triangle, and Paragraph 175.

As a reviewer, I would strongly push this book into high school classrooms today. It depicts the untold story of homosexuals at the time and expresses their influential stories to the public. While many people only think of Jewish people when thinking about The Holocaust, millions of other men and women were affected during Hitler's reign of terror. Much like Jewish people, homosexual men were specifically looked at as a disease and were sought to be exterminated. Their story, too, deserves to be told to our students in remembrance of their sufferings. The unfair and untold stories of these men should be taught in schools to promote social justice among all people. By expressing these stories, it could put in perspective the fight we are still having today about Gay Rights in The United States and many other countries.

If you're interested in reading this novel by Ken Setterington, click here!


Sarah Millen said...

Very interesting, Karra. I love how you begin with relaying the fact that not JUST Jews were persecuted during this horrific time in our history. I think you’re right—people hear “The Holocaust” and automatically think “Jews.”

I agree with you—This novel would be a very eye-opening one for students. I think the photographs within will be effective, and they’ll be able to see the different colors of the “brands” that prisoners were forced to wear. Again, as you put, the fact that individuals were imprisoned for other reasons (than being Jewish) might be surprising for our students, so the tags will be interesting for them to observe.

Lovely video. Quite interesting to listen to/view his personal account.

I can see where you’d cite a potential problem of students reading this novel in a classroom. There are schools (and families of students) that do not approve of a homosexual lifestyle. Instead of using this novel as a learning tool, one might see, unfortunately, teachers as forcing their beliefs on students.

Thanks for the review, Karra. I have always been interested in history and The Holocaust in particular. I will put Setterington’s novel on my summer “To Read” list. :)


Vanessa Chairez said...

Great post Karra! I think it is very important to know the Hilter didn't only affect the lives of Jews but to many other people as well.

This books seems to tell a powerful story and I am very interested in reading it myself. The video you provided was great. I think it leaves a big impact on people to listen to someone who has gone through this horrible events.

I also think that you are right to want to push this book for high schoolers to read! Gay rights right now is becoming bigger and stronger and it is important for students to understand why these rights are so important.

One last thing I also enjoyed the link you provided that was about homosexuals that lost their lives during The Holocaust.

Thanks for a great post!

Laura Elizabeth said...

Wow! I am really blown away by this book, it's going on my summer reading list. I knew that the Jews weren't the only ones prosecuted by the Nazis but I didn't realize the extent to which gay people were.
I think that this would be a great book for high school students to read. My brother is gay and suffered a lot in high school because of the ignorance of his classmates, and I know that his story is more typical than not, unfortunately. I think that reading about how people have already been prosecuted for who they love would help to increase tolerance in schools. In this era, when we are truly beginning to recognize and address the bullying problem anything we can do to bring sympathy to the marginalized is a good thing. I would love to teach this book, though probably at an upperclassman level.