Through Knowledge to Justice: The Sexual World of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld

October 2016 – March 2017

Curated by Gerard Koskovich

An autographed portrait of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld (1926); frontispiece of volume one of Hirschfeld's five-volume survey of sexual knowledge,  Geschlechstkunde  (Stuttgart: Julius Püttman Verlag, 1926). Collection of Gerard Koskovich.

An autographed portrait of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld (1926); frontispiece of volume one of Hirschfeld's five-volume survey of sexual knowledge, Geschlechstkunde (Stuttgart: Julius Püttman Verlag, 1926). Collection of Gerard Koskovich.

The year 2016 marked the 85th anniversary of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld’s visit to San Francisco. Starting in the late 1890s, Hirschfeld was a groundbreaking defender of homosexual and transgender people in Germany and beyond. He was internationally renowned as a founder of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, the world’s first homosexual advocacy group, and as creator of the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin. Both organizations were banned when the Nazis came to power in 1933. Hirschfeld died in exile three years later.

Expressionist illustration of the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin (circa 1930); artist unknown. Reproduced from  Perles-Titus  (Berlin-Pankow: Titus), a booklet promoting a patent medicine for sexual rejuvenation developed by Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld. Collection of Gerard Koskovich.

Expressionist illustration of the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin (circa 1930); artist unknown. Reproduced from Perles-Titus (Berlin-Pankow: Titus), a booklet promoting a patent medicine for sexual rejuvenation developed by Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld. Collection of Gerard Koskovich.

This exhibition offered an introduction to Hirschfeld’s life, work and legacy, featuring first editions, vintage periodicals and ephemera largely drawn from the collection assembled by curator Gerard Koskovich over the past three decades. In addition, the exhibition included historic film documenting Hirschfeld’s impact and the fate of his work.

“Although the Nazi regime did its best to erase the memory of Hirschfeld and his contributions, it didn’t succeed. We remember Hirschfeld today not only because he helped found the movement to defend LGBTQ people more than a century ago, but also because his work as a sexologist was prescient,” Koskovich said. “With its emphasis on ‘sexual intermediacy,’ Hirschfeld’s thinking prefigures contemporary ideas about the continuum of sexual orientation, genderqueer expression and sexual fluidity.”

Among the scarce artifacts on display were the 1904 booklet distributed by the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee to advocate repeal of Germany’s sodomy law; one of the handful of volumes known to have survived the first book-burning of the Nazi regime, where the library of Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science was consigned to the flames; and a review copy of the last of Hirschfeld’s books published during his lifetime, inscribed by the author three weeks before his death in exile in Nice, France.

A souvenir booklet providing an overview of the exhibition is available in our online store.

A Nazi student and a member of the SA plundering the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin (May 6, 1933). Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

A Nazi student and a member of the SA plundering the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin (May 6, 1933). Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

About the Curator

Gerard Koskovich is a San Francisco–based historian, curator, and rare book dealer and collector. He is a founding member of the GLBT Historical Society, where he currently serves as senior public history advisor. He has curated LGBTQ history exhibitions for numerous institutions since 1985 and has presented and published widely in English and French. He served as editor for a French publication created to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the death of Magnus Hirschfeld in 2010.
 

About the Sponsors

Sponsored by the Hermes Foundation and the German Consulate General in San Francisco. Cosponsored by the Consulate General of France in San Francisco, the Goethe-Institut San Francisco and the Magnus-Hirschfeld-Gesellschaft e.V. (Berlin).

Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld and his partner Li Shiu Tong shortly after arriving in exile in France (1933); cover of the weekly magazine  Voilà  (July 1, 1933). Collection of Gerard Koskovich.

Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld and his partner Li Shiu Tong shortly after arriving in exile in France (1933); cover of the weekly magazine Voilà (July 1, 1933). Collection of Gerard Koskovich.