Dr Magnus Hirschfeld is my gay dead Godmother and y’all can’t tell me any different.
I just want to preface this by saying it’s gonna be a long one.
So make sure you’re comfortable. Get a cup of tea or coffee. If you drink, maybe add a splash of alcohol because you’re probably going to need it.
This is the longest Ancient Archive/ Grey Learns post I have ever done. I spent many hours researching it, writing it, editing it.
These posts usually take me a while no matter how much information there is readily available because I want to soak up as much as possible but boy did this one send me down so many rabbit holes!
I learned a lot and for me, it was well worth the time and effort.
Content Warnings: homophobia, Anti-Semitism, hate speech, brutal violence towards gay people, relationships with large age gaps, forced outing, sexism, domestic abuse and some language used for transgender people that is outdated now.
If there are any warnings I may have missed please don’t hesitate to let me know and I will add them! I did my best to include anything I’m aware of that could be triggering for people.
Also, here is a link for the Timeline I did of Magnus Hirschfeld’s life. It’s not 100% It’s just what I put together from the information I found online as I work better with some kind of chronological timeline otherwise I’m just jumping around all over the place and I lose track of what I’ve covered and what I haven’t.
That is Dr Magnus Hirschfeld broken down into five identities. But he was so much more than that.
Hirschfeld was a pioneer of understanding human sexuality and a huge advocate for LGBTQI+ rights in a time when it could have bought him an early grave.
Dr Hirschfeld was a trailblazer, a persister, a rebel and a pioneer and that is why he is the first male figure I’ve chosen to cover in an Ancient Archive post.
When I first started this series, I wanted to cover the history of women whose stories are often forgotten. But as I embrace my queerness more on my own personal journey, I realised I wanted to cover the history of queer people without the restrictions of gender.
Unlike cis straight people, our stories are rarely passed down through families. Often We are forgotten, our histories buried along with our bodies and that devastates me. We have to dig and dig and dig to find our history and I don’t want that to be the case for new generations.
I want them to grow up knowing the queer people who came before them and made their lives of freedom possible. But most importantly, I don’t want our steps forward to be erased again, like the many times in history it has happened before—much like it was when the Nazi’s destroyed Magnus Hirschfeld’s library.
“You have to encourage future generations so they don’t suffer the same destiny as your lover did.”– Different from the Others, 1919 film
So this is the start of my personal project, The Hirschfeld Library Files.
It’s a spin-off of the Ancient Archive posts, but with a queer focus, in honour of the library, Dr Magnus Hirschfeld built and in spite of the Nazis who burned it down—because I’m a salty bitch. So who better to start with than the brilliant man himself?
Before we jump into Magnus’s extraordinary story, I want to take a step a little further back. A year before Magnus’s birth.
1867, Munich. An audience of more than five hundred legal figures and the Sixth Congress of Germany Jurists sat and waited for a forty-two-year-old lawyer, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs to argue why Paragraph 175, forbidding sex between men, should be repealed.
Before walking into the room, Karl told himself “There is still time to keep silent, then there will be an end to all your heart-pounding.”
Nevertheless, he stepped in front of those waiting to place judgement and told them that being gay was natural.
This did not go over well. The same remarks still don’t go over well in certain circles over 150 years later. Can you imagine the fear he would have felt and the bravery it would have taken in 1867 to know it wouldn’t be received well, that it could put your life in danger, and doing it anyway?
In a pamphlet titled Gladius Furens or Raging Swords Karl later wrote, “I am proud that I found the strength to thrust the first lance into the flank of the hydra of public contempt.”
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was the first gay activist and although he went into exile, his beliefs and ideas took hold.
Homosexuality as a term was coined 2 years later by Karl Maria Kertbeny, who was also against Paragraph 175.
In the 1880s, a hundred years before the AIDS epidemic hit, Berlin police commissioner, Meerscheidt-Hullessem, instituted a policy of somewhat tolerance, instead of persecuting gay clubs, like those before him. Which hadn’t been an easy act, to begin with, you can’t punish anyone without proof and nobody was going to commit sodomy out in the open so instead, all the seeking of prosecution did before then encouraged blackmail.
Instead, the commissioner tolerated the public accommodations of suspected gay people, where they could gather and socialize. And so started what is now dubbed as Gay Berlin. Which sounds fucking amazing if you ask me.
Imagine being a gay person in a city where people embraced the gayness of it all. Not just now, but the late 1800’s – early 1900’s???? That’s insane and wonderful. And it breaks my heart that it ever ended.
That Berlin isn’t still known as Gay Berlin further reminds me that throughout history, we have taken 5 steps forward and 4 steps back—sometimes even 6 step back—again and again.
In 1896, the first gay magazine by Adolf Brand was published in Berlin, Der Eigene or The Self-Owning.
And just a year later in 1897, our doctor founded the first gay rights organization, the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee.
This period was just the beginning for the gay rights movement and it continued strong for the next 30 years.
The first film to deal with homosexuality was made in 1919, with the help of Hirschfeld (He even starred as the doctor in it). Furthermore, awful representations were protested, successfully at that.
In 1927 a protest was made over a revue (which are light performances) that mocked gay men called Strictly Forbidden and it was successful, the theatre removed it.
In 1919 Hirschfeld set up the Institute for Sexual Science, for some of the first gender confirmation surgeries throughout the 1920s.
In 1920, the first gay anthem was written by Mischa Spoliansky and Kurt Schwabach called Das lila Lied (The Lavender Song).
“We are just different from the others who are being loved only in lockstep of morality.”– The Lavender Song (Das lila Lied), Kurt Schwabach & Mischa Spoliansky
Mädchen in Uniform became the first positive portrayal of lesbians in 1931, a film about a student falling in love with her female teacher.
Berlin society was not only set up for Dr Magnus Hirschfeld and his revolutionary thinking, but he made huge contributions himself and worked towards creating an environment that was not just tolerant but also accepting of an infinite number of gender and sexual identities.
And the world was better for it. But unfortunately when progress is made, too often it receives a conservative reaction in response. Not everyone thought the progress being made was a good thing, and like with much of the progress for LGBT+ people everywhere throughout history, it was met with violence.
But I’m getting way ahead of myself. First, let’s visit Baby Magnus.
Previous Ancient Archives
Magnus was born into a conservative Ashkenazi Jewish family in the province of what was then Kolberg, Prussia, and today is Kolobrzeg, Poland.
Which was awfully interesting to this history nerd, who upon hearing my family was from Prussia, thought my mum was lying to me because there couldn’t possibly have been a place called Prussia, it didn’t sound like a real place. It took years before I finally googled it and was proven wrong. Oops.
Also until I started researching for this post, I’d assumed Prussia was a country, which isn’t true. It was a state in Germany. The more you know.
Hirschfeld’s father, Hermann, was a highly esteemed physician known for his public health efforts. Who even had a statue erected in his memory in 1885.
As a teenager, Hirschfeld affiliated with the Social Democratic Party wrote newspaper articles and while growing up he became curious and fascinated with sex. Even as a child, Magnus saw sexuality as natural and wholesome.
But he didn’t go into further education with the intent to study sex. He first started at the University of Breslau to study modern languages.
In 1888 he switched gears and moved to the University of Strasbourg to study medicine with his brothers. Unfortunately, this led to a traumatising experience for the budding doctor when an incarcerated gay man was paraded before the students in a lecture on sexual degeneracy.
I’m sure I’m not alone in the absolute rage and fury I feel when I learn that things like this happened in the past.
I know whenever I sit down to learn history for one of these posts I will experience many feelings. If I’m lucky, it will mostly just be empowerment. But more often than not it is anger and frustration and absolute heartbreak, which I’m sure are all feelings Magnus experienced, at that moment, in class, where it was made clear to him that people like him were seen as beneath the rest of the population.
Hirschfeld moved around universities throughout his academic career until finally earning his doctorate in 1892 in Berlin. At some point, Magnus was further traumatized when one of his patients shot himself the day before his wedding because he could not take living a lie. In a letter to the doctor, he pleaded for Hirschfeld to educate the public for the sake of people like them.
“Please could you educate the public on the bad fate of people like me who are not fit for marriage. Please tell the public everything about us.”– letter left for Hirschfeld by the patient who committed suicide.
For two years Hirschfeld worked as an obstetrician in Magdeburg. Two years later he returned to Berlin and opened a naturopath practice where he encouraged looking after one’s immune system through nutrition and exercise. There, Magnus embraced the liberal culture of Gay Berlin and got involved in social politics.
But it was his traumatising experiences and Oscar Wilde’s sodomy trial in 1895 that motivated him to study homosexuality, to prove that it was natural, to help have Paragraph 175 repealed.
His family was not on board with Magnus’s new focus of research, they argued studying homosexuality would not bring him joy or acclaim, and suggested studying cholera instead—a type of diarrhoeal infection. Hirschfeld answered their suggestion with the appropriate amount of shade.
“What are you saying: that cholera brings you more joy than sexuality?”– Magnus Hirschfeld
Magnus began his career as a gay rights activist with the publication of his pamphlet Sappho and Socrates, about a gay man who was being forced into a marriage with a woman and took his own life. Sound familiar?
He also told his growing number of gay patients to find support and information from the LGBT community in Berlin at the time and started a weekly support group for those who needed to talk about their experiences and feelings with people like them, likely the first kind of group therapy.
But Hirschfeld soon realised he would need help if he wanted to make a difference for LGBT+ people in Germany.
In 1897 Magnus established the Scientific Humanitarian Committee (SHC) to promote research and education in all areas to do with sex, and particularly to encourage gay people to take up the struggle for their own rights and help decriminalise homosexuality by repealing the anti-gay penal code. It was more than just an establishment for education on homosexuality but also a call to action.
It became the first gay rights movement in history. Their motto was ‘Justice through science’ and they even had a battle cry, adapted from the French Revolution.
“Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité, Homosexualité!” (Freedom, Fraternity, Equality, Homosexuality)– Scientific Humanitarian Committee
But the road to justice is not an easy one.
Many of the gay elite didn’t agree with Hirschfeld or his way of doing things, complacent and resigned to the lives they had. The committee earned themselves police surveillance for their subversive ways and, surprising absolutely no one, were subject to harassment.
Magnus started a petition that had over 5000 signatures from people like Albert Fucking Einstein and a bunch of writers I’ve not heard of before now who I’m sure are probably super esteemed and important but unfortunately public school and it’s heteronormative, straight-washing history failed me.
The bill is brought to parliament in 1898 where it’s debated whether to repeal Paragraph 175. It was sadly defeated but it also meant that homosexual equality was truly part of the mainstream political agenda for the first time!
But you didn’t think Magnus was without a plan B, did you? Oh no, he was gonna take on the police by opening their minds. Or well, one mind. Hirschfeld took the police commissioner on a nice little tour of a bunch of gay clubs.
This might have been the same police commissioner from the 1880s who decided not to persecuted gay people for existing but I can’t verify that and if I fall into another side hole of research I am never getting this post done.
No, but seriously, my list of sources for this post will be the longest of any Ancient Archive post to date. It is also the longest post full stop.
On this tour, the commissioner got to see first hand that these places for LGBT+ people to commune were really quite civilized and that the people who visited them were witty and stylish and well-behaved.
Oh what do you know, the anti-gay propaganda was all a lie. The government demonizing a minority??? Shocking.
Of course, he was a little disappointed because he had signed up for debauchery and was not served it in the slightest, I’m sure they were all very sorry to have disappointed.
Hirschfeld continued with his research into homosexuality and then was like ‘lowkey everything we knew about gender and sex is a lie and human sexuality is diverse af y’all’.
If you didn’t already guess, that’s not a direct quote but I feel like it has the same energy as what he would have said.
He concluded that gender and sexuality aren’t binary and that they are in fact a spectrum. Safe to say my gay mind was fucking blown that someone before the 2000s came to this conclusion and actively talked about it.
Anyway, Hirschfeld was revolutionary and I love him.
I T . G E T S . B E T T E R .
I mean it also totally gets worse, so much fucking worse, but let’s ride the high while it lasts.
Hirschfeld also gives thousands of lectures. Yes, you read that right, thousands of lectures, to the public where he basically said ‘1. Fuck your restrictive gender binary bullshit and 2. Fuck your villainization of human sexuality‘.
Also, in 1899, he started a medical journal called The Yearbook of Sexual Intermediaries which should totally be the name of a movie about baby queers discovering themselves and learning about queer history.
Hayley Kiyoko, Kieynan Lonsdale, King Princess, Janelle Monae and Troye Sivan will all feature on the soundtrack and it will star so many fucking queer actors and the trans characters will be played by trans actors and it’ll be hella diverse with not a single whitewashed or straight/cis washed casting in sight and no one will die but I’ll die of queer happiness and God, what a way to go??? Can you believe????
Okay fine, back to reality.
“My view is that Hirschfeld’s biggest contribution was to introduce this idea of the many intermediate stages between men and women which we are still exploring to this day, he sought to dissolve this myth that gender was binary and to give sexual minorities a voice for the first time.”– Ralf Dose, author of Magnus Hirschfeld: The Origins of the Gay Liberation Movement
The Yearbook is super respected by medical doctors because our doctor is legit af, and this helps to establish Magnus as a sexuality sexpert. He argues that homosexuality is natural and should not be punished. This medical journal continues to come out regularly until 1923.
And how did he become an expert on all this sex and attraction??? By listening to the marginalised.
Instead of doing super grotesque and fucked up experiments on people like some cis straights in the medical field, he believed that talking with his patients and actually listening to them was the best course of action.
But also he collected data through a questionnaire that he had every patient who visited him fill out. And it was the data from these questionnaires that became the basis/reinforced his ideas on gender.
In 1905, Magnus also joined the feminist organization, Bund für Mutterschutz (League for the Protection of Mothers).
In 1906, Karl M. Baer, a patient of Hirschfeld, underwent one of the first-ever gender confirmation surgeries. And he’s the first trans person to have their correct gender acknowledged in any official capacity. This was over 100 years ago!!!!!
T R A N S ! ! P E O P L E ! !
H A V E ! ! A L W A Y S ! !
B E E N ! ! H E R E ! !
🍃 │History is Gay Podcast│Episode 8: Nazi Punks Fuck Off, Pt 1: Magnus Hirschfeld│Notes│Gretchen & Leigh│
History is Gay is where I first heard about Hirschfeld and the reason I decided to cover him on Ancient Archive. However, the only thing I used from them for this post was their notes page because I’m bad at taking notes when taking in info verbally.
🍃 │Magnus Hirschfeld: The Origins of the Gay Liberation Movement│Ralf Dose│Translator: Edward H. Willis │
🍃 │Youtube│DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS: A Legacy Preserved (2012)│Jeffrey Schwarz│
🍃 │Youtube│Queer History: The Story of Magnus Hirschfeld│Charlie the Prophet│
🍃 │Youtube│ABQH ep. 8: “through science to justice,” Magnus Hirschfeld, Weimar Germany, and the Nazis│A Brief, Queer History│
🍃 │Youtube│Magnus Hirschfeld and the Queer Narratives of Modern Sex Research│Dartmouth│
The link should take you to the place in the video where they actually start talking about Dr Hirschfeld.
Hirschfeld’s expertise eventually led him to the courthouse in several cases where he spoke about homosexuality being natural but no case was bigger and more public than the Eulenburg Affair which is an event I don’t think I totally understand??? So I’m not really going to get into it.
From what I can gather Emperor Wilhelm II’s bestie, Prince Philipp von Eulenburg was accused of having an affair with a high-ranking general. It was such a big deal that it set the stage for the First World War which is fucking bonkers. It spanned three years of absolute imperial mayhem between 1907-1909 and caused public discourse over whether or not the gays were dangerous.
Listen, I want it on the record that we’re totally capable of being dangerous so don’t fuck with us but mostly we just want to paint ourselves in rainbows and hold each other while we cry about our joint traumatic experiences.
“My field is the world and not only Germany and Europe,”– Magnus Hirschfeld
What I will say is that from my understanding, Hirschfeld had good intentions behind some shitty actions. This includes outing someone, thinking it would help get rid of Paragraph 175. Which did not work and even if it did, it was still a shitty thing to do.
Hirschfeld definitely made mistakes during his time and I’m not going to try and hide that.
When it came to the Eulenberg Affair, Hirschfeld realised that instead of helping the gay rights movement as he’d hoped, the whole fiasco had set the movement back.
The Government came away from the affair with the view that it was better to come down harder on homosexuality instead of repealing Paragraph 175. Of course, that can’t all be credited to Hirschfeld’s mistakes but it didn’t help matters, that’s for sure.
But after the war, the Weimar period brought in an era of somewhat freedom for those living in Berlin.
Hirschfeld assisted in making the first film to deal with homosexuality, Different from the Others. It was a silent film that showed a love story between two musicians, the teacher and the student.
It’s a tragic story, mirroring the experiences of homosexual men at the time. The couple is blackmailed after being discovered which was the real-life narrative for many gay people thanks to blackmailing usually being the only way to persecute them under Paragraph 175.
Hirschfeld not only was the scriptwriter but he also appeared in the film as the sexologist who validates that homosexuality is natural and beautiful when he appears as an expert witness who pleads on the violinist’s behalf.
Unfortunately, the violinist is still convicted, for a week in prison, loses his concert tour and takes his own life. His lover contemplates the same fate for himself but Hirschfeld comes to the rescue and tells the man he must live to encourage future baby gays so they don’t meet the same fate as his lover did. He talks about justice for those before, with, and after him.
“Through knowledge to justice!”– Different from the Others, 1919 film
Hirschfeld drew on a lot of his own and many other’s experiences of homosexuality of the time to tell a story that expressed the hard realities of Paragraph 175 while still giving gay people hope for the future.
In the same year, Magnus set up the world’s first Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin. This was a place for education and acceptance and support.
Magnus was a huge advocate for consent and thought that premarital sex was acceptable so you can imagine the institute would have brought these ideas to the patients there as well.
Also, this place was huge not just in terms of what it was accomplishing but also in actual size. It had 50 rooms and saw over 20,000 people per year. It also had a lecture hall which helped to share information more widely. And a question box for people who wanted to ask specific questions while still keeping their anonymity.
And the library, god the library. It had an archive of 35,000 photographs of all sorts of gender expressions and perhaps up to 20,000 books which were a wealth of knowledge on sexuality and gender.
It was a priceless location for transgender people. Not only did it aide the research into transgender life and experiences, but it also provided work and accommodation for transgender citizens.
And on top of all that, it was the site for several gender confirmation surgeries.
Hirschfeld didn’t do the surgeries himself but he did have doctors at the institute carrying them out. One of the most well-known patients of the institutes’ gender confirmation surgeries was Lili Elbe, whose story was portrayed by Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl.
I’d like to think that if Hirschfeld had been alive to see it, he would have been royally pissed off that Lili wasn’t played by a trans woman.
On a more personal note, it was in 1920 that Hirschfeld met the first love of his life.
Karl Giese heard Hirschfeld lecture and fell in love. He moved into the doctor’s rooms at the institute and became the ‘woman of the house’. Earnest and intelligent, he was a campaigner for sexual freedom just like Magnus.
The young man served as Magnus’s secretary, gave tours of the institute, held lectures there and headed the institute’s archive department.
The age gap between the two is uh, not great. Karl, after all, was only 22 when they met, whereas Magnus was 52.
Unfortunately, finding love didn’t bring on the happily ever after ending one might hope for.
In the same year, Hitler begins referring to Hirschfeld as ‘Jewish swine’, cementing Hirschfeld as a much-hated figure of all those who were anti-Semitic.
And the Brown Shirts, a paramilitary organisation that was founded before the Nazi party, but from what I can gather, had much of the same anti-Semitic beliefs, began to target Hirschfeld.
These assholes labelled Hirschfeld as perverse and on one occasion attacked him at his lecture in Munich.
They beat him and Karl Giese, they fractured Hirschfeld’s skull. He was in such bad shape that journalists thought he was dead on the scene and the next morning Hirschfeld read his obituary in the newspaper.
But Hirschfeld continued to persevere and his institute continued to grow throughout the 1920s.
In 1923 Magnus coined the term transsexualismus which would later turn into transexual in 1949, a term many transgender people would use to refer to themselves before transgender became the most widely accepted identity.
In 1921 Hirschfeld founded the First Congress for Sexual Reform which led to him forming the World League for Sexual Reform in 1928. It held congresses in Copenhagen in 1928, London in 1929, Vienna in 1930 and Brno in 1932.
And in 1929 the bill to rid Germany of Paragraph 175 made it through the committee again, only for it to be adjourned. Ugh, the frustration!!!
Towards the end of 1930, Magnus landed in New York City, beginning his world tour of lectures about sex. He would never return to his home in Berlin.
Throughout his tour of America, Hirschfeld lectured about the importance of a healthy sex life for the straights in English. In German, he’d lecture about the gay agenda, you know that nasty little thing where we demand to be treated as human beings and not punished for our love.
“There are not two lands and two populations with a complete match of sexual characteristics,”– Magnus Hirschfeld
He was labelled the Einstein of Sex and when asked about it, Hirschfeld joked that Einstein should be called the Hirschfeld of physics.
Magnus knew how to cater to his audience, he wasn’t going to give up his fight for homosexual rights but he also knew not to piss off a country that had the power to boot him out. Unfortunately, journalists did find out about his fight for gay rights in Germany and so it came time to move on.
In 1931, Magnus continued his tour into Asia. He visited Japan, China and Indonesia (then the Dutch Indies) and it was in Shanghai, China that Magnus met the second love of his life, Li Shiu Tong who would later gain the nickname, Tao Li, which means beloved disciple. He was 24 at the time, Magnus was now 63 which again, holy age gap.
When Hirschfeld left for Beijing, Li went with him as his Chinese interpreter and travelling companion, with Li’s father’s blessing.
“It is my wish and my hope that my son will one day become the Dr Hirschfeld of China.”– Li Shiu Tong’s father
Later that year, the two arrive in India and Magnus goes on to call out the book Mother India which was written by an American white supremacist, Katherine Mayo. I mean come on! Her last name was MAYO.
Mayo painted the sexuality of Indians as brutal and perverted because white people love painting other cultures as savages with no self-control.
Hirschfeld, on the other hand, highlighted that white people were no saints and exposed the pervasive problem of child prostitution in London to prove his point.
Later that year still, the pair travel to Cairo, Jerusalem and Egypt and everywhere they went, they collected artefacts and literature about the sexual practices of the locals to be sent back to the Institute.
In March 1932, Hirschfeld arrived in Athens and declared his doubts of returning to Germany and eventually moved to Zurich in Switzerland where he published several books about his experiences on tour and what he had learned of sexuality during his life.
The following year on his birthday, Hirschfeld and Li move to Paris, unfortunately, the move did not begin a new chapter of pure love and safety.
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The same year of Hirshfeld’s move to France, the National Socialist Student’s League ransacked the Institute of Sexual Science and the young Nazi’s destroyed the most important research material on sexuality of the time.
“Brenne Hirschfeld” (“Burn Hirschfeld”)– National Socialist Student’s League
Four days later the books from the library were burned in the now well-known bonfire of ‘enemy books’.
But what most people don’t know is that the famous photograph often used when talking about the Nazi’s burning of books was of Hirschfeld’s books being burned. His institute was their main target.
As much as I am distraught over the decimation of such a rich library, the most heartbreaking part of all this is that because of this raid, the Nazi’s got a hold of the institute’s list of clients. These were used to compile their ‘pink lists’ and led to the arrest and deportation to concentration camps of German LGBT people.
In one swift move, the Nazi’s took out a generation of LGBT people and knowledge. It cost us detailed notes of procedures, stories and education of those before us. And Magnus had to watch as his life’s work was burned to ash in a Paris cinema that showed newsreels of the horror that had taken place somewhere I’m sure he and many others called home.
Yes, I am absolutely crying.
Li and Hirschfeld tried to set up an institute in France. The doctor lectured again and they managed to bring back a small number of his books but he was old, not well and in debt.
They relocated to Nice where they were met by Karl Giese and the three of them lived together. Hirschfeld declared Karl and Li his heirs. But in 1934 Giese was expelled by French authorities after a dispute at a bathhouse and he relocated to Vienna and then Brno.
Li attended medical school for a semester and then went to Hong Kong to visit his family, before resuming his studies until he was recalled to France in 1935.
On his birthday, May 14, 1935, Magnus spent his 67th birthday with his great-nephew and a friend. They opened birthday letters and then went for a walk but when they returned Hirschfeld collapsed, he died of a heart attack.
Giese never received Hirschfeld’s inheritance, he lived in poverty until he committed suicide in 1938 while on the run from Nazis.
In 1942, Hirschfeld’s sister, Recha Tobiasm, died in a concentration camp. She never left Germany.
In 1943, the Institute of Sexual Science was once and for all truly destroyed in an air raid and in 1950 the site was finally cleared.
But that’s not where the story ends. Far from it. Hirschfeld’s reach extended past his life, making change beyond the grave.
“Soon the day will come when science will win victory over error, justice a victory over injustice, and human love a victory over human hatred and ignorance.”– Magnus Hirschfeld
In 1938 Rassismus (Racism) was Hirschfeld’s last book to be published. It was released posthumously in English.
In 1979 the National LGBT Federation in Ireland established the Hirschfield Centre which was home to the Gay community News until 1997.
In 1982 in West Berlin, German researchers and activists founded the Magnus Hirschfeld Society who work tirelessly to track down whatever they can of Hirschfeld’s life and work, which I’ll tell you a little more about further down.
1988 is the year East Germany repealed Paragraph 175, but West Germany didn’t follow suit until 1994, the same year this history nerd was born.
Only 26 years ago, being gay was still a crime in Germany, the place that once held a city known as Gay Berlin.
In 1990 the German Society for Social-Scientific Sexuality Research established the Magnus Hirschfeld Medal and in 1992 the Magnus Hirschfeld Society established the Research Centre for the History of Sexology which awards those who contribute to sexual research and sexual reform.
In 2007 the Hirschfeld Eddy Foundation is established, named after both Hirschfeld and FannyAnn Eddy, a lesbian activist.
In 2011 the Federal Cabinet of Germany granted 100 million euros to establish the Magnus Hirschfeld National Foundation which supports research and education about Magnus Hirschfeld, the Nazi persecution of homosexuals, LGBT culture and community and how to counteract prejudice
In the same year, the Magnus Hirschfeld Society publicly displayed a selection of their collection for the first time, until March 2012.
“Movements are made up of moments, and those moments can be spread over decades, even centuries.”– Dagmar Herzog
If the Nazi’s had truly been successful, I would not be writing this post, sharing the extraordinary life of a gay Jewish doctor who was a supporter of his trans siblings, who supported feminism and wanted to make the sex lives of people all over the world better and free from shame.
I take great delight in knowing that despite all the Nazi’s work trying to make sure history forgot or at least looked unkindly on Dr Magnus Hirschfeld, they failed.
He might not be a household name but people are still fighting to ensure his name is not forgotten and I take pride that this post might reach at least one person who hadn’t heard of him until that I might have passed on his words and work to others.
The Nazi’s failed in so many things, and I’m really glad that wiping Hirschfeld from the memories of history was one of them.
But we have one person, in particular, to thank for the history of Hirschfeld we do have. Li Shiu Tong preserved his memory and he has no idea just how well of a job he did.
It wasn’t until 20-30 years after World War II that people started to celebrate Hirschfeld’s life.
The Magnus Hirschfeld Society began to research him and collect materials from his life in the late 1970s. They were told there was no point, the Nazi’s had destroyed everything after all, but the society didn’t give up hope.
Li was left Magnus’s personal effects. He had Hirschfeld’s last diaries (1929-1935), the portrait mask that was cast after his death and books rescued from the Nazis. He carried them with him throughout the rest of his life.
But he basically dropped off the face of the earth.
“As Hirschfeld witnessed, progress is not guaranteed. The backlash can be swift and brutal. The battle for justice that Hirschfeld waged—that we are fighting now—has been fought before, and will be fought again and again. Our hard-won rights are not written in stone. But our resolve can be.”– Eric Marcus, Making Gay History Podcast
Ralf Dose of the Magnus Hirschfeld Society refused to give up . In 1999 the World Congress of Sexology put out a call to anyone with information about Li without success.
Dose did discover Li had a brother and he visited him in hopes of finding out more, luckily, it was Li’s brother who had cleared out Li’s apartment after he died. Dose is taken to the basement where Li’s brother stored what was left of Hirschfeld’s library.
Li had taken it everywhere with him, across the globe. He was nothing short of devoted to Hirschfeld until the very end.
But there was more of the remains of Hirschfeld’s life to be found, left in 1993.
And one day in 1993, Adam Smith walked into the room that held his apartment building’s dumpster and found a collection of beautiful old leather suitcases.
Inside one of them were papers, two diaries written in German, old photographs of an old German man and a young Chinese man and a plaster death mask. Which I had never heard of until now. It’s a cast made of Hirschfeld’s face after his death.
Smith could sense the history in these items so he took them home with him and posted on a site that was a precursor to forums asking if anyone knew anything about Hirschfeld and that he had some of his items. Then brought the suitcase with him on his move to Toronto where it stayed in a storage room for years.
“I’m looking for information about Dr Magnus Hirschfeld. Can anybody tell me who he is? I have some things that may be significant about him.”– Adam Smith, posted on Usenet News, 1993
One night in 2003 Ralf Dose was drunk and decided to search Magnus Hirschfeld on the internet and pressed some wrong buttons and ended up with the oldest result by accident. That entry was Smith’s from 1993, 10 years prior.
Dose managed to track down an email that could belong to Smith and asked him if he’d been the one to post the message on the internet looking for Hirschfeld. 10 minutes later Dose received an answer. He’d found the right guy and he still had the suitcase, he’d send photos of it in the morning.
Dose flew to Canada months later to collect the suitcase where he finally got to come face to face with Dr Magnus Hirschfeld, well his death mask that is. All because one night he got plastered and fucked up his search while pissing about on the internet.
Today the suitcase sits in Berlin in the office for the Hirschfeld Society. And 150 years after his birth, in 2018 members of his family from all over the world, came to Berlin to celebrate the life and work of an incredible man who sacrificed everything to fight for the rights of LGBT+ people in not just Germany, but all over the world
“Hirschfeld’s epitaph, etched into his headstone in Nice, repeats his guiding principle: “through science to justice.” Or perhaps: through radical social action, protest, organizing, and supporting communities of colour, trans, and non-binary folk… to justice. Oh, and vote. That, too.”– Eric Marcus, Making Gay History Podcast
This is the largest Ancient post I’ve done to date, it took me weeks just in research alone, and then longer still to write up this post. I wanted to make sure I did the work and life of Dr Magnus Hirschfeld justice and I hope that I have.
This was a personal journey for me, I got to learn more about the history of people like me, people who the world wanted to forget, people the Nazi’s tried to destroy. And we’re still here, we’ve always been here, and we always will be.
Hirschfeld changed the lives of many, he stood up for gay rights, assisted trans people in giving themselves the freedom to be their true selves, and came to the same conclusions about gender and sexuality it took us decades to reach again.
He was far from perfect and he made mistakes but he did the best he could to fight for a world where people like he and I no longer had to live in the shadows of society and instead can live in the light, painted head to toe in rainbows and glitter while we dance in a parade where we can be proud of who we are and who we love.
🍃 │People’s World│This week in history: Sex scientist Magnus Hirschfeld│Peter Tatchell│
🍃 │Making Gay History│Magnus Hirschfeld (Hirschfeld’s family)│Eric Marcus│
🍃 │Haaretz│This Day in Jewish History 1868: The ‘Einstein of Sex’ Is Born (And Dies)│David B. Green│
🍃 │The Guardian│The Danish Girl and the sexologist: a story of sexual pioneers│David Cox│
🍃 │Gay City News│The Einstein of Sex at 150│Benjamin Weinthal│
🍃 │Hirschfeld Institute│Karl Giese│Institute Archivist│
🍃 │Xtra│The mystery of Li Shiu Tong│Ron Dutton│
🍃 │NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project│Magnus Hirschfeld at the Hotel New Yorker│
🍃 │The New Yorker│Berlin Story│Alex Ross│
🍃 │Teen Vogue│LGBTQ Institute in Germany Was Burned Down by Nazis│Lucy Diavolo│
🍃 │NPR – Fresh Air│Between World Wars, Gay Culture Flourished In Berlin│Terry Gross and Robert Beachy│
🍃 │Encyclopedia│Hirschfeld, Magnus│
🍃 │People Pill│Magnus Hirschfeld│
🍃 │Advocate│A Peek Inside Berlin’s Queer Club Scene Before Hitler Destroyed It│Clayton J. Whisnant│
🍃 │History is Gay Podcast│Episode 8: Nazi Punks Fuck Off, Pt 1: Magnus Hirschfeld│Notes│Gretchen & Leigh│
Now let’s hope this is the longest Ancient Archive I will ever do.
Like this was 100% worth the time and effort but also if all my AA posts are like this then I’m only ever going to post like 2 a year.
Yes, I know, I’ve only posted like two a year so far but I’m trying to post more than that this year!
Look out for future Ancient Archive – Hirschfeld Library Files posts where I’ll be covering more queer people from history!
Did you know about Dr Magnus Hirschfeld?
What queer person from history do you want to know more about?
What famous library lost to hatred do you mourn for most?