Like all people, Magnus Hirschfeld is a man who adjusted to his situation. He was a researcher, a scientist, and a supporter of sexual minorities. He founded the Scientific-Minorities Committed and World League of Sexual Reform. He purchased and then set up the Institute of Sexual Research on 6th July 1919, in the liberal atmosphere of the newly founded Weimar Republic. The institute came to house his immense archives and library on sexuality and provided educational services and medical consultations; it also housed the Museum of Sex. This all ended in 1932 when Chancellor Franz von Papen carried out a coup that exposed the Braun government in Prussia. Papen was a conservative Catholic with a long vocal history of criticism of homosexuality. He ordered the Prussian police to start enforcing Paragraph 175 (Does anyone see similarities with Section 28 in the UK much later in history from Margaret Thatcher?). In January 1933, Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany, and less than four months later after the Nazis took power, and the Hirschfield’s Institute was sacked, this was followed by another ‘attack’ on May 6th, and the institute was finally forced to close.
Magnus Hirschfeld, had by this stage left Germany, but throughout his travels, he hoped for a a return to Germany and to the liberal country that he had known. (Switzerland, France). But his impact was felt worldwide, e.g. Henry Gerber formed the Society for Human Rights following World War 1, and Harry Hay in 1950 formed the Mattachine Society because one of the members of the Society for Human Rights had communicated the existence to Harry Hay. In Ireland, the National LGBT Federation established the Hirschfield Centre in 1979.
But as I put in my title, was Magnus Hirschfeld a saint or a sinner? Fred Sargeant has written a large, extremely well-researched article ‘The dark legacy of Magnus Hirschfeld’ published 1st October 2023 in Spiked. The article concludes:
…Magnus Hirschfeld’s attempts to decriminalise homosexuality are to be admired. But his belief in eugenics, his flirtation with racial theory and his contribution to gender ideology are all deeply troubling. The legacy he has left is far more ambiguous than his contemporary champions would have us to believe…
I am going to leave you to make your own mind up, and I will leave you with links to various articles/websites for you to read and then come back and let us have your thoughts.
- Wikipedia – Magnus Hirschfeld
- Britannica – Magnus Hirschfeld
- Holocaust Encyclopedia -MAGNUS HIRSCHFELD
- Scientific American – The Forgotten History of the World’s First Trans Clinic
- Spiked – The dark legacy of Magnus Hirschfeld
- ACOMSDave – Gay History: 50 years ago today, gay rights activists took to the streets
- ACOMSDave – The History of LGBT (now LGBTQ+) in Northern Ireland