Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld


Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld(May 14, 1868 - May 14, 1935)- was a gay German-Jewish physician, sex researcher, and early gay rights advocate.

Hirschfeld was born in Kolberg (modern Kołobrzeg) in a Jewish family, the son of a highly regarded physician and 'Medizinalrat', Hermann Hirschfeld. In 1887-1888 he studied philosophy and philology in Breslau, then from 1888-1892 medicine in Strasbourg, Munich, Heidelberg and Berlin. In 1892 he took his doctoral degree. Magnus Hirschfeld's career successfully found a balance between medicine and writing. After several years as a general practitioner in Magdeburg, in 1896 he issued a pamphlet Sappho and Socrates, on homosexual love (under the pseudonym Th. Ramien).

In 1897, Hirschfeld founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee with the publisher Max Spohr, the lawyer Eduard Oberg, and the writer Max von Bülow. The group aimed to undertake research to defend the rights of homosexuals and to repeal Paragraph 175, the section of the German penal code that since 1871 had criminalized homosexuality. They argued that the law encouraged blackmail, and the motto of the Committee, "Justice through science", reflected Hirschfeld's belief that a better scientific understanding of homosexuality would eliminate hostility toward homosexuals. The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, under Hirschfeld's leadership, managed to gather over 5000 signatures from prominent Germans for a petition to overturn Paragraph 175. Signatories included Albert Einstein, Hermann Hesse, Käthe Kollwitz, Thomas Mann, Heinrich Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke, August Bebel, Max Brod, Karl Kautsky, Stefan Zweig, Gerhart Hauptmann, Martin Buber, Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Eduard Bernstein..

In 1921 Hirschfeld organised the First Congress for Sexual Reform, which led to the formation of the World League for Sexual Reform. Congresses were held in Copenhagen (1928), London (1929), Vienna (1930), and Brno (1932).

Hirschfeld co-wrote and acted in the 1919 film Anders als die Andern ("Different From the Others"), where actor Conrad Veidt played probably the first homosexual character ever written for cinema. The film had a specific gay-rights law reform agenda — Veidt's character is blackmailed by a lover, eventually coming out rather than continuing to make the blackmail payments, but his career is destroyed and he is driven to suicide. When the Nazis took power they attacked Hirschfeld's Institut on May 6, 1933, and burned many of its books. Hirschfeld had long since left Germany and never returned. He died of a heart attack on his 67th birthday in 1935 in Nice, where he is buried.