GLR September-October 2022

1935, and it was clear that the older boy was a hustler. After a trial in March 1934, O’Montis was sentenced to one year and nine months’ imprisonment and three years’ loss of civil rights, an exceptionally harsh sen tence. The usual penalty for infringing Paragraph 175 was a fine or three months in jail. This ended O’Montis’ career in Germany. On his release, he continued to attract enthusiastic audiences throughout countries with a sizable German-speaking populace: Switzerland (until he was expelled as an “undesirable alien”), Austria, where he was advertised as the “German Maurice Chevalier,” the Netherlands, and Czechoslovakia. Everywhere he was acclaimed by press and public alike and was very well paid. He ven tured farther afield to other polyglot nations—Poland and then Yugoslavia, where the reviews were equally glowing. In Zagreb, however, O’Montis again fell afoul of the police, who recorded that he worked in the Pik-Bar, where “many prob lematic types known as homosexual” hung out and the pianist was Jewish (he was actually Catholic). His criminal record was known to the Croatian authorities, who noted the homosexual contingent in his audiences and labeled him as “a typical exam ple of a homosexual whom you can spot at first sight,” offering swishy clichés from the stage and flirting with his accompanist. He was deported and in June 1938 returned to Prague. That September, in the fast-food restaurant the Koruna Au tomat, he met Josef Roška, an eighteen-year-old with blue eyes and bad teeth, a juvenile delinquent who had twice served time for theft. According to Roška’s subsequent testimony, O’Mon tis became his “sugar daddy” and they had “perverted inter course” in his apartment. Aware of his imminent arrest, O’Montis had nowhere to run. This time the sentence was three months’ hard labor and loss of civil rights, but in February 1939 the President of the Republic offered a general amnesty. It was Eduard Beneš’ last act in office before he escaped to London. O’Montis had barely returned to the stage when the troops of the Wehrmacht marched in. Czechoslovakia was now subsumed by the Third Reich. From this point on, the singer’s decline and fall were rapid. O’Montis was arrested a few months after the occupation and sent directly to prison for the crime of being “a homosexual.” After eleven months’ internment in Prague, in May 1940 he was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where his death and that of his fellow prisoners was assured. “Homosexuals” were segregated from the other inmates: of the 700 there from November 1939 to June 1943, 600 were murdered between April 1940 and April 1943. The few survivors called it “hell on earth” (Fig. 5). O’Montis, once again Paul Wendel, now wore the pink tri angle and was kept in isolation behind barbed wire. He and his fellow prisoners were given no work but had to kneel, arms be hind their necks, bare-headed in the rain, or in warm weather made to roll across a hundred-meter-long gravel path. It was customary in these barracks for the “block elders” (often polit ical prisoners who hated “queers”) to implement “suicides” when so ordered. The victim was commanded to go to a bedpost or a latrine and hang himself. In all likelihood, this is how O’Montis died on July 17, 1940, at the age of 46. Although in the course of his career O’Montis had been one

Figure 5. Prisoners at Sachsenhausen.

of the brightest stars in the German entertainment world, his squalid demise and his sexual orientation made him a non-per son after the war. (Paragraph 175 remained on the books in the German Federal Republic until reunification in 1994.) When I was in West Berlin in the 1970s researching German cabaret culture, I never came across his name. O’Montis was absent from all the publications, exhibitions, and recordings, both West German and East, devoted to this subject. It is noteworthy that the publication of Raber’s biography has been supported by the Bundestiftung Magnus Hirschfeld, an institution founded by the German Ministry of Justice and dedicated to the advancement of queer studies. Such efforts should eventually make invalid the term “hidden from history.”

September–October 2022


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