Sexualized Suffering: On Some Lithographs by Richard Grune

Thomas Röske, Sammlung Prinzhorn, Psychiatrische Universitätsklinik Heidelberg

Thomas Röske in his own way reacts to a shared culture of violence in his essay “Sexualized Suffering: On Some Lithographs by Richard Grune.” Grune was arrested at the end of 1934 for his homosexuality and subsequently spent eight years in and out of different concentration camps until he was able to flee during the death march from the camp Flossenbürg. The lithographs depict the torture and murder of prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. Röske’s inspiration for this piece came from what he terms a fundamental “irritation” he felt when he first saw them exhibited in the former camp Neuengammen. This irritation is based on a tension he perceived between Grune’s declared intention to remember fellow prisoners by making visible the horrors prisoners experienced at the hands of their torturers and to remember them and the unintentional revelation of a homoerotic fascination with both perpetrators and victims. Röske interprets the gap between the overt and covert meanings of the images as a manifestation of the trauma Grune experienced as a homosexual in Germany not only during, but also after National Socialist rule. For the notorious paragraph 175 that criminalized homosexuality in Germany remained in effect until 1994, preventing gay survivors of the regime from claiming victim status or from receiving reparations after the war. Hence, as Röske argues, Grune’s publication in 1945 of his lithographs was meant to show that he was as much a victim as anyone else and certainly not to reveal homoerotic tendencies. The culture of violence, which in the case of homosexuals persisted long after 1945, influenced the very act of representation and reception of Grune’s work: only a temporal distance to that time has allowed for the detection of the sadomasochistic elements in Grune’s work, which can be understood as the trace of traumatic experiences that were hardly ever acknowledged and certainly never resolved.

Keywords: Richard Grune, homosexuality, Concentration Camp, sadomasochism, punishment

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