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Queering the Antifascist State: Ravensbrück as a Site of Lesbian Resistance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 February 2023

Matthew Philpotts
Affiliation:
University of Manchester
Sabine Rolle
Affiliation:
University of Edinburgh
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Summary

ON 10 MARCH 1984, a group of lesbians from the Berlin-based “Arbeitskreis Homosexuelle Selbsthilfe-Lesben in der Kirche” (Lesbians in the Church — LiC) made their first “official” trip to Ravensbrück, the former concentration camp in Fürstenberg, north of Berlin where they visited the museum and wrote a passage in the visitor's book memorializing the victims of fascism, especially lesbians, and placed a wreath. All evidence of their visit was removed within a week. In response, the group registered a formal complaint and were informed the group's name was the problem. A year later, eleven women from the same group attempted to travel to Ravensbrück again, on the 40th anniversary of its liberation. The day before the memorial, one woman from the group was taken to the nearest police station and interrogated. Despite warnings against attending as a group, all eleven women decided to attend individually. They were followed from their respective homes, rounded up at the train station in Fürstenberg, and loaded into a truck. The local riot police harassed, interrogated, and finally allowed them to leave, without going to the memorial. After further complaint, the LiC were encouraged to find an “appropriate” way to honor the lesbian victims of Ravensbrück. On 20 April 1986, the LiC once again made their way to Ravensbrück accompanied by representatives from the peace organization, Aktion Sühnezeichen, where they received a tour of the grounds and museum, wrote in the visitor's book, and placed a wreath.

After reviewing these events, the following questions emerge: Why the fuss? What could possibly have been the problem, especially in an antifascist state, with honoring women who died at the hands of Nazis? How could this behavior be contrary to the GDR's antifascist agenda? The lesbians involved asked ministry officials a similar question: “Inwiefern würden wir, wenn wir als Gruppe auftreten würden, den gesellschaftlichen Interessen widersprechen?” To which they received only the answer, “Das kann ich nicht beantworten” (GZ, transcript of meeting, 31 May 1985). It is clear throughout the whole set of events that the problem was the identifiable, or even the threat of an identifiable, lesbian presence in a public venue; it was then, and still is, a question of space and power.

This article examines the conflict between a specific social group, LiC, and the ruling body, the GDR state. The GDR state blocked lesbian participation at Ravensbrück to control East German civil society.

Type
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Information
Edinburgh German Yearbook 3
Contested Legacies: Constructions of Cultural Heritage in the GDR
, pp. 76 - 89
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2009

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