The two sides of falling in love with Heartland Men’s Chorus

Kellie Houx | KC Studio

Heartland Men's ChorusIn major cities across Europe such as London, Paris and Berlin during the 1920s and the first couple of years of the 1930s, gay culture boomed. Cabarets popped up and the bawdy nightlife hit an all-time high. Then in just a few years the Nazi regime took the raucous gay culture of pre-war Berlin and made illegal. These two seemingly incongruous topics make up the two halves of Heartland Men’s Chorus spring show, Falling in Love Again. The shows are at 8 p.m. March 23 and 4 p.m. March 24 at the Folly Theater.

Dr. Joe Nadeau, artistic director of Heartland Men’s Chorus since 1998, calls Falling in Love Again a dramatic presentation. “It’s more of an event than a concert. Many people think of the history of the gay civil rights movement with the Stonewall riots in 1969 or Harvey Milk in 1978. Decades before in Berlin, Paris and London, there was a thriving gay community. This concert offers two parts; first that pre-1933 gay world of Berlin with the bawdy, gender-bending world with some very suggestive material that demonstrates the excitement before the Holocaust. Then in 1933, it’s like the whole gay community got shut down. That will be the second half of the show. It will be looking at reclaiming and finding love in your life.” Nadeau says the first half will have music from shows such as Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret and Three Penny Opera. Marlene Dietrich’s “Falling in Love Again” will be part of the show as will “The Lavender Song” (“Das Lila Lied”), a cabaret song written in 1920 that is often considered one of the first gay anthems.

Act II features the Midwest premiere of Jake Heggie’s For a Look or a Touch, a stirring tale of two lovers sent to the Nazi concentration camps — one who is exterminated and one who lives to recount a love lost and unspoken. Guest baritone Morgan Smith and actor Kip Niven join HMC to present this moving tribute to the power of love in the midst of devastating circumstances. Two Berlin teens, Manfred Lewin and Gad Beck, loved each other before Lewin and his family were arrested by the Nazis. Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer took Lewin’s entries in the tiny journal he wrote as a gift to Beck. Lewin and his family died in Auschwitz; Beck survived and lived in Berlin until his death in late June 2012 at the age of 88. In Look, cast as a staged song-cycle, Lewin’s ghost, sung by Smith, forever 19, visits the elderly Beck, played by Niven, asking him to revisit memories he’s kept buried. Lewin’s songs are interspersed with Beck’s spoken narration.

Niven has been a fan of the Heartland Men’s Chorus for years. He also met Nadeau when Nadeau was the music director at his daughter’s middle school. “We became friends. Joe knew I was an actor and that I started a group called E.A.R.Th (Equity Actors’ Readers’ Theatre). We rehearsed next door to the Women’s Chorus, which Joe directs, and he reached out to me in August of last year. Any actor would be interested in this, but it has particular resonance for me. I am liberal in my politics, particularly social issues. When people wield hatred against those who are not alike, it becomes a touch point for me.”

Niven says he looks forward to giving voice to Beck and his plight for Kansas City audiences. “Leading to World War II, Berlin was in its heyday of indulgence and then the world turned on itself to be one of the most terrifying times in history. Certainly being a Jew, gay, or gypsy was not tolerated. Not quite a direct parallel, but the journal of Lewin to Beck personalizes a greater story. It’s similar to those who read Anne Frank. It’s difficult to wrap your mind around 6 million people when the story can be brought closer with two people or a family like the Franks. It seems more approachable to understand the loss, pain and survivor guilt.”

Niven says he wants audiences to listen to the story and hear the humanity. “People were indeed slaughtered for their uniqueness.” Nadeau saw the first performance of For a Look in Seattle. “It’s a life-changing concert with healing and power. We are offering the Kansas City premiere that takes our vision to heart. We aim to provide enlightening and empowering stage. People will learn of Paragraph 175 which became part of the Nazi code which allowed persecution for an inappropriate look or touch. The chorus comes in about a third the way in as victims during the Holocaust. It’s quite amazing. When I experienced the show, the audience didn’t know what to do at the end. There was this silence because it’s so heart-wrenching.”

The estimates of gays killed is somewhere around 15,000. “When people were released, it was considered a crime and people who were gay just didn’t talk about it,” Nadeau says. “As society becomes more diverse and accepting, the lesson we learn from history, as long as there is another group called they or them and whether those lines are divided because of the color of their skin, gender, religion, sexuality or more, whatever that definition is, we need to not repeat what the Germans did to the Jews, the gays and other minorities to dehumanize them. It’s not about them, but about us and that we must respect differences and honor our sameness.”

In conjunction with Falling in Love Again, HMC co-presents the art exhibit Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945, on loan from the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Admission is free and the exhibit will be open to the public runs through April 10. The display will be in the Dean’s Gallery, 800 E. 51st, at Miller Nichols Library on the University of Missouri-Kansas City. This exhibit is presented by The University of Missouri-Kansas City in partnership with The Kansas City Museum. The exhibition is sponsored by the UMKC Division of Diversity, Access and Equality, and the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America.

Nazi persecution of homosexuals focus of traveling exhibit at UMKC

Barbara Bayer | Kansas City Jewish Chronicle

Courtesy Schwules Museum, Berlin: ‘Solidarity.’ Richard Grune lithograph from a limited edition series ‘Passion des XX Jahrhunderts’ (Passion of the 20th Century). Grune was prosecuted under Paragraph 175 and from 1937 until liberation in 1945 was incarcerated in concentration camps. In 1947 he produced a series of etchings detailing what he witnessed in the camps. Grune died in 1983.

When the Holocaust comes to mind, many people Jewish and non-Jewish alike, often forget that the Jews were not the only people persecuted by the Nazis. The persecution of the homosexual community is the theme of a traveling exhibition from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, entitled “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945” hosted by the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The free exhibition opened Feb. 16 and continues through April 10 in the Dean’s Gallery of the Miller Nichols Library.

The exhibition is being co-presented by the UMKC Division of Diversity, Access and Equity, in partnership with the Kansas City Museum and in conjunction with Heartland Men’s Chorus’ spring concert, “Falling in Love Again,” March 23-24 at the Folly Theater. It is also a project of GLAMA: the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America, a collecting partnership of the Kansas City Museum and the LaBudde Special Collections Department of the UMKC Libraries.

“Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933–1945” examines the Nazi regime’s attempt to eradicate homosexuality, which left thousands dead and shattered the lives of many more.

From 1933-1945, Germany’s National Socialist government attempted to root out those who did not fit its idealistic model of a “master Aryan race.” Jews were the primary victims and 6 million were murdered in the Holocaust. Millions of others were persecuted for racial and political reasons, including homosexuals. Visitors to this informational exhibition will learn about the Nazis’ attempt to wipe out homosexuality and terrorize German gay men into social conformity with arrests, convictions and incarcerations of tens of thousands of men in prisons and concentration camps.

Rick Fisher, the executive director of the Heartland Men’s Chorus, said the exhibit was brought to Kansas City as an educational resource for the community that ties into HMC’s upcoming concert “Falling in Love Again.” The program includes the Midwest premiere of the Jake Heggie opera “For a Look or a Touch,” which is based on the journal of Manfred Lewin that is housed at the USHMM.

“The journal tells the story of two gay lovers separated by the Holocaust as one was sent to the camps and exterminated. We see the exhibit as an opportunity for our community to learn about this often overlooked chapter of gay history in greater detail,” Fisher said.

Christopher Leitch, director of the Kansas City Museum at Corinthian Hall, said the museum became involved at the suggestion of HMC Artistic Director Dr. Joseph Nadeau.

“He had seen the exhibition and immediately saw the relevance in presenting it concurrently with the concert. He contacted GLAMA: the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America, which is a partnership of the UMKC Libraries and the Kansas City Museum. Stuart Hinds of UMKC and I had seen the exhibit at the USHMM in Washington and we agreed on the spot it would be good for our museum,” Leitch said.

UMKC’s Hinds, who is director of Special Collections, added that he thinks this exhibit tells a story unfamiliar to the majority of the university’s student population, and it provides an excellent opportunity for the library to enhance their educational experience in an unexpected and engaging manner.

“I serve as co-faculty adviser to Pride Alliance, our LGBTQ student association, and as a result I am privy to first-hand accounts of discrimination and intolerance they encounter, not only on campus but in the community as well. Members of the majority communities may have the impression that all is ‘hunky-dory’ for oppressed minority groups — gays are on TV, after all — but, as we know, this is not the case. Reminding visitors of how easily that oppression can expand and encompass entire populations is critical to its prevention in the future,” Hinds said.

Museum Director Leitch said it was important for the university and the museum specifically, to co-sponsor this exhibit because both are interested in important chapters of 20th-century history.

“We encourage all students and citizens to be better informed about the world, and the community, we all live in. And of course GLAMA is interested in the untold stories of marginalized LGBT persons across time and around the world. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a stellar reputation for scholarship and accuracy, and we all knew that working with them we would be presenting the best possible exhibit. There is a piercing honesty in all they do — bearing witness to such depraved truths is not easy, or comfortable. But if, as educators, we want to have a better world, where these things cannot be allowed to happen again, then we have to participate in exposing the deeds of the Nazis in all their horror and degradation,” Leitch said.

HMC’s Fisher hopes the exhibit gives those who see it a sense of history and reminds people to never forget the horrors of the past.

“Although great strides have been made toward LGBT acceptance and rights in Western countries, and are being made in the USA, there still is great persecution and atrocities being committed against our people around the world. We tell our stories and sing so that one day, we all may be free,” Fisher said.

The exhibition will be supplemented with special “brown bag” film viewings. “Bent,” the 1997 film adaptation of the Tony-award winning Broadway play about a gay couple imprisoned in a concentration camp, will be shown at noon March 6 in the Miller Nichols Library iX Theatre. The documentary film “Paragraph 175,” which shares the stories of individuals who were persecuted because of the law, will be shown in the same location at noon March 13. Brief discussions will be held after each film.

Visit kansascitymuseum.org/persecution for additional details and programming.

Exhibit filled with reminders of Nazis’ persecution of gays

Tim Engle | Kansas City Star

The gay scene in Berlin in the 1920s and early ’30s wasn’t as hidden as you might suppose. More than 100 nightclubs catered to gay men and women, including the Eldorado, which sported a banner above its entrance declaring (in German) “It’s OK here!”

Berlin and other major German cities boasted “recognized and recognizable” gay communities, says Stuart Hinds, UMKC Libraries’ director of special collections. During Germany’s Weimar Era of 1919 to 1933, Berlin’s estimated 350,000 gay citizens (among a population of 4 million) found a remarkable degree of acceptance.

But then came the Nazis and their vision of a “master Aryan race,” standards that did not include people whose behavior they considered aberrant.

Throughout the Nazis’ 12-year campaign of terror, starting in 1933, Jews had the biggest targets on their backs and suffered in the greatest numbers. By the end of World War II, an estimated 6 million had perished in the Holocaust.

But, as a traveling exhibit from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington makes clear, the Nazis had plenty of hate to go around: Besides Jews, German chancellor Adolf Hitler wanted to rid the world of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gypsies, Poles, the party’s political enemies and Germans with mental and physical disabilities.

And gay men. Sixty years before the Nazis took power, Germany already had an antigay law on the books. Known as Paragraph 175, it criminalized “indecencies between men,” punishable by imprisonment.

“Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945” is now on view at UMKC’s Miller Nichols Library, hugging an expanse of white wall in a hallway accessible to everyone, students in particular. The exhibit (which has been in KC once before) is not, in other words, tucked away in a dark gallery somewhere.

This is not a collection of rare artifacts. The display is made up of about 30 panels filled with text and images, such as the 1925 portrait of two well-dressed men titled “Freundespaar” (Couple) or a 1937 photograph of two men and a woman that turns out to represent two couples: the men (longtime partners) … and the in-the-know woman who married one of them so he could pass as straight.

Other images include Nazi propaganda posters, concentration camp records, newspaper and magazine articles.

“Our interest was in getting (the exhibit) in front of the students,” says Hinds at UMKC. “Because young people, this is completely new to them, in large part.” As well as plenty of adults in general.

The Heartland Men’s Chorus and the Kansas CityMuseum also had a hand in bringing the exhibit here. Karen Dace, UMKC’s deputy chancellor for diversity, access and equity, serves on the chorus’s board as well.

The exhibit, Dace says, offers “a great opportunity for us to talk about the Holocaust, to talk about LGBT persecution and to do it in a way that is educational and culturally significant.”

The spring concert of the gay men’s chorus March 23-24, “Falling in Love Again,” will examine through music “the halcyon days” of gay life in prewar Berlin and the subsequent persecution of gays during the Holocaust.

One point the exhibit makes is that the Nazis didn’t intend to exterminate all homosexuals. Instead, they wanted to change gay behavior through forced “re-education” or, failing that, isolation from the rest of society.

And what evidence did German police require to collar someone as a suspected homosexual? It didn’t take much. A wayward glance could do it.

Over the dozen years the Nazis were in power, German police arrested more than 100,000 men for violating Paragraph 175, according to the exhibit. Of those, about half were sent to prison. An unknown number went to mental institutions.

“Fragmentary records” suggest that between 5,000 and 15,000 gay men ended up in concentration camps, where, like Jews and others, many died from starvation, disease, beatings and murder. Gays in particular suffered vicious physical abuse from SS camp guards. They were also assigned the worst jobs.

Some gay camp prisoners, perhaps hundreds, were castrated to suppress their “degenerate” sex drive. Medical experiments were conducted on others.

In the camps, homosexuals were marked by the pink triangle patches on their prison uniforms. Gay men found themselves on the lowest rung of the camp caste systems, shunned by other prisoners, Hinds notes.

Even in 1945, when hundreds of thousands of concentration camp prisoners were liberated by Allied troops, some gay survivors were re-incarcerated because they hadn’t completed their sentences for violating Paragraph 175, which would remain law in West Germany until 1969. And gays would not be offered reparation payments like other victims of the Nazis.

One of the key lessons from the exhibit is how quickly a vibrant community can be wiped out, Hinds says.

“If you’re not vigilant,” he says, “it’s very easy for something like this to happen again.”

KC Magazine 100 List

Kimerly Winter Stern and Katie Van Luchene | KC Magazine

A Heartland Men’s Chorus performance is not to be missed, period. The talent, passion and theatrics of this beloved KC choral group are divine, thanks in large part to artistic director Nadeau, who has led the men since 1998. Watching Nadeau conduct the chorus—whether it’s a romantic, campy or Broadway number—is akin to soaking in a ballet dancer’s well-rehearsed leaps and turns. He consistently takes us on a delightful roller coaster that quite often sounds like a male choir in a musical heaven.

KCMetropolis.org Editor’s Picks 2011-2012 season

Two HMC concerts were chosen my the editors of KCMetropolis.org as “Best of 2011-2012 Season.”

Heartland Men’s Chorus: “All You Need is Love” (June 2012)

HMC’s debut performance in Muriel Kauffman Theatre was everything we love about HMC with even more elaborate and polished production value. The men of Kansas City’s resident feel-good choir radiate fun and joy, and beloved Beatles pop tunes were a perfect fit. This uplifting, heartwarming tribute to the Fab Foursome was full of HMC’s signature costumes, dancing, energy, and emotion.

Read Kristin Shafel Omiccioli’s full list

Heartland Men’s Chorus: “When I Knew” (March 2012)

This touching, energetic concert paid tribute to the moments when chorus members or their friends and family realized that they were gay. The program was half adorable-kids-story and half tear-jerking testimonials, and I was not the only one who was just openly weeping by the end, so moved was I by the experiences of these brave men and their families.

Read Karen Hauge’s full list