Richard Grune (August 2, 1903 – November 26, 1984) was born in Flensburg, a small coastal town in northern Germany. His parents supported his interest in art and sent him to an art college in nearby Kiel. At 19, Richard applied to study at the renowned Bauhaus Institute. His application was rejected, but this did not stop Richard from pursuing art. He premiered his first solo exhibition in Kiel in 1926.
Richard found it impossible to live openly as a gay man in the conservative towns of his childhood, so in February 1933, he moved to Berlin (Germany’s capital) to find a place for himself in the city’s famous LGBTQ+ culture.
Unfortunately, Adolf Hitler had been named Chancellor of Germany only weeks before Richard’s arrival. Richard’s parents were Social Democrats. The ideals they instilled in him, in combination with the Nazis’ homophobic messages, probably influenced Richard’s stance against the Nazi government. Richard began contributing his artistic efforts to a series of anti-fascist pamphlets.
The Nazis had already begun closing down LGBTQ+ meeting places in Berlin, so LGBTQ+ people had to meet each other in private. Because Richard had his own apartment, he hosted a couple of parties for his gay friends in fall 1934. During the parties, one of the attendees – Princess Inge Ellen zu Bentheim – made note of the names, professions, and addresses of the men in attendance. In November, she turned in a long list of gay men to the Nazis.
Between December 1-5, 1934, the Gestapo (secret police) arrested Richard and 70 other men who had attended his parties. Richard was put in “protective custody” in a jail for 5 months without trial. Eventually, a judge sentenced Richard to 15 months in prison under Paragraph 175, Germany’s law that criminalized “unnatural indecency among men.”
As soon as the police released him from prison at the end of his term, the Gestapo put Richard back in “protective custody,” arguing his sentence had been too lenient for someone who had thrown parties that “seduced” so many men into “indecency.” In October 1937, the Nazis sent Richard to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He was transferred to Flossenbürg concentration camp in April 1940, where he stayed until he escaped during liberation in April 1945. In total, Richard survived nearly 10 years in prison and concentration camps.
“After I was liberated in 1945, I saw it as my duty to educate people about the concentration camps and the terror of the Third Reich,” Richard said. He sought to do this by creating nearly 40 drawings, which he curated into a travelling exhibit in 1945 that premiered in Nuremberg at the same time as the international war crime trials against former Nazi leaders. The exhibit was unsuccessful. The German public was not interested in learning about what had happened under Nazi leadership. In 1947, he published his artwork into a portfolio. His exhibit and portfolio were the first visual works on this topic to be made available to the public.
Richard tried to gain recognition as a victim of Nazism, which would make him eligible for legal and financial aid in rebuilding his life. But the authorities rejected his claims since he had been imprisoned for being gay. Richard was arrested under Paragraph 175 again in 1948. When he was released, he moved to Barcelona, but financial hardship forced him to return to Germany in 1962. He passed away in Kiel in a retirement home in November 1984.
SOURCES & FURTHER READING
- “Live On” online exhibit by the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial and the Foundation of Bavarian Memorials (2021).
- “Richard Grune – Bearing Witness,” YouTube Video (3 mins, 25 secs) KZ-Gedenkstätte Flossenbürg. (April 15, 2021)
- Röske, Thomas. “Sexualized Suffering: On Some Lithographs by Richard Grune,” intervalla Vol. 2 (2014): 80-96.
For citation: Jake Newsome, “LGBTQ+ Stories from the Holocaust: Richard Grune” (2022) wjakenewsome.com/stories/grune.
For more LGBTQ+ Stories from the Holocaust, visit wjakenewsome.com/stories.