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In Tel Aviv, gay Holocaust victims recalled

A man in Tel Aviv placed a rose on a memorial honoring gays and lesbians who were persecuted by the Nazis.
A man in Tel Aviv placed a rose on a memorial honoring gays and lesbians who were persecuted by the Nazis.OLIVER WEIKEN/EPA

TEL AVIV — Israel’s cultural and financial capital unveiled a memorial on Friday honoring gays and lesbians persecuted by the Nazis, the first specific recognition in Israel for non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Tucked away in a Tel Aviv park, a concrete, triangle-shaped plaque details the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people under Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. It resembles the pink triangles Nazis forced gays to wear in concentration camps during World War II and states in English, Hebrew, and German: ‘‘In memory of those persecuted by the Nazi regime for their sexual orientation and gender identity.’’

The landmark joins similar memorials in Amsterdam, Berlin, San Francisco, and Sydney dedicated to gay victims of the Holocaust. While Israel has scores of monuments for the genocide, the Tel Aviv memorial is the first that deals universally with Jewish and non-Jewish victims alike and highlights the Jewish state’s rise as one of the world’s most progressive countries for gay rights.

‘‘I think in Israel today it is very important to show that a human being is a human being is a human being,’’ Mayor Ron Huldai said at the dedication ceremony, where a rainbow flag waved alongside Israel’s blue-and-white flag. ‘‘It shows that we are not only caring for ourselves but for everybody who suffered. These are our values — to see everyone as a human being.’’

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Israel was born out of the Holocaust and its 6 million Jewish victims remain seared in the nation’s psyche. Israel holds an annual memorial day where sirens stop traffic across the nation, it sends soldiers and youth on trips to concentration camp sites, and cites the Holocaust as justification for an independent Jewish state so Jews will ‘‘never again’’ be defenseless.

But after 70 years, Tel Aviv councilman Eran Lev thought it was time to add a universal element to the commemoration.

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‘‘The significance here is that we are recognizing that there were other victims of the Holocaust, not just Jews,’’ said Lev, who initiated the project in his term in office.

As part of their persecution of gays, the Nazis kept files on 100,000 people, mostly men. About 15,000 were sent to camps and at least half were killed.

Unlike their persecution of Jews, however, there was no grand Nazi plan to exterminate gays. Nazis viewed being gay as a ‘‘public health problem’’ since those German men did not produce children, said Deborah Dwork, director of the Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University in Worcester.