“Only ignorance or bigotry can condemn those who feel differently. Don’t despair! As a homosexual, you can still make valuable contributions to humanity.”
– Magnus Hirschfeld, Anders als die Andern, 1919
MAGNUS HIRSCHFELD IS DEAD; 1920 AND “THE
WELL-KNOWN EXPERT ON SEXUAL SCIENCE”
IS DEAD. MAGNUS HIRSCHFELD IS NOT DEAD. 1920 AND IT
IS SUCH A SHAME THAT “THIS
SHAMELESS AND HORRIBLE POISONER OF OUR PEOPLE”
HAS NOT COME TO “HIS WELL-DESERVED END.”
Some Nazis tried to stomp Magnus Hirschfeld’s face
into 17 million bloody butterflies 13 years before the first concentration camp.
They kiss the wind with their wings, but the ripped planes
of his boot-torn face pull them back in with every beat of his heart.
I cannot find any information about what his compound eyes in his
pre-bronzed face saw at that first blow.
Newspapers were so eager to hear
of him choking on his own looped proboscis tongue
that they had to issue a statement three days later correcting themselves:
“We apologize, Mr. Hirschfeld is still alive, and this is not to say
that we wanted him dead as much as whoever attempted to blind rather than blacken
both of his odd, many-lensed eyes did.”
Magnus Hirschfeld smiles in his hospital bed. The paper flutters under his fingertips. Who else
gets to read their own obituary? He asks.
MAGNUS HIRSCHFELD IS DEAD; 1932 AND WE HAVE SET HIS
PERVERTED TEXTS AFLAME. MAGNUS HIRSCHFELD IS DEAD; 1932 AND
WHAT A SHAME WE COULDN’T CATCH HIS FLESH.
Like a gentle wind before a forest fire, I think Magnus Hirschfeld
had a feeling he wasn’t coming back when he slipped out Germany’s door.
In some dream I’m always forgetting, I see indistinct flames, people’s black outfits matching
the black sky that, in disgust, pulls its coat of smoke around itself to protect the bright, multicolored
eyes of potential existences. I feel more than see
Magnus Hirschfeld’s eyes struggle to tear the darkness of the night in France, and there is nothing
to smile about now when all those bloody butterflies are nothing
but flaming thorax shreds and wing dust across black gloves’ too-straight fingertips; they will not
help any future keepers of looped tongues. They only float
up to join the sky in its foggy disgust
and miss all of the starry eyes under its coat.
MAGNUS HIRSCHFELD IS DEAD; 1935 AND IN
THIS FOOTNOTE, WE WISH THE MAN A HAPPY POSTMORTEM BIRTHDAY.
MAGNUS HIRSCHFELD IS DEAD; 1935 AND
WE MEAN IT THIS TIME.
We brighten in our twinkling; do you hear
that? The collective question, the sky shuffles its coat,
a pumping set of butterfly wings enters, stopped in one life but stronger than anything
in ours. Our grandparents are barely born, if they are at all, and
Magnus Hirschfeld wishes us all luck on his way
she, her, hers or ce, cer, cers
College of Arts & Sciences
Class of 2021, Undeclared
In my poetry writing class, our assignment was to write a poem of “witness.” Ever since I learned about him, I’ve always felt a special sort of attachment to Magnus Hirschfeld, so figured I definitely wanted to write about him and his life. I researched him a bit more in depth and found out that he was once beaten so badly by Nazis that newspapers sent out an obituary of him while he was still alive. I found something really special in that concept of him having multiple obituaries.
Oswald, Richard, dir. Anders als die Andern. 1919; Berlin, Germany: Richard Oswald Produktion Filmmuseum München, 2004. DVD.
“Kill Dr. M. Hirschfeld: Well-Known German Scientist Victim of a Munich Mob,” New York Times (New York, NY), Oct. 12, 1920, 14, quoted in Heike Bauer, The Hirschfeld Archives: Violence, Death, and Modern Queer Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2017), 7.
Charlotte Wolff, Magnus Hirschfeld: A Portrait of a Pioneer in Sexology (London: Quartet, 1986), 198, quoted in Heike Bauer, The Hirschfeld Archives: Violence, Death, and Modern Queer Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2017), 7.