“Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate” Captures a History of Life and Death

I am the only queer person in my entire family. Or at least that’s what I’m told. I know, statistically, even if none of my living relatives are queer that there have been queer people in my family’s past — clandestine meetings, grand love stories, one night stands, gender deviance, angst, joy.

Ancestry has never been important to my family — a byproduct of death and Jewish assimilation. My grandpa on my dad’s side changed our last name from Greenberg to Gregory to help business. My grandparents on my mom’s side both lost their own parents at a young age. I know very little about my direct ancestors. But I know they were Jewish and I know on my mom’s side they were German.

Our Judaism was the one aspect of family history that was ingrained in me from a young age. We weren’t religious, but I went to a Jewish preschool, I went to Hebrew school, we celebrated the major holidays, and I was Bar Mitzvahed. Throughout all of this I was taught about the Holocaust. My direct ancestors had fled Europe due to other antisemitic persecutions decades earlier, but my broader Jewish ancestors had suffered. While I’ve since learned that I didn’t have to venture too deep into my family tree to find Holocaust deaths, as a child I was taught that our Judaism connected us regardless of immediate lineage.

Maybe this is why upon coming out as trans, the first books I bought were not memoirs or Imogen Binnie’s Nevada, but Leslie Feinberg’s Transgender Warriors and Robert Beachy’s Gay Berlin. The latter taught me about queer German history — my history. Even as I feared the response of coming out to my present-day family, I found comfort in my broader queer family, my broader queer Jewish family. My ancestors.

Robert Beachy is one of several historians featured in Benjamin Cantu’s new documentary Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate. The film begins as a portrait of the queer nightclub Eldorado that flourished in 1920s Berlin before expanding to a wider portrait of Nazism and the erasure of history. Beachy is joined by a variety of other scholars including Morgan M Page whose trans history podcast One from the Vaults was another important text to me when I first transitioned.

The film tells this important story through several smaller stories — each deserving of its own epic film. There’s tennis star Gottfried von Cramm and his dual love stories with queer woman Lisa von Dobeneck and gay Jewish man Manasse Herbst. There’s one of Hitler’s right hand men Ernst Rohm who believed his loyalty to Nazism would exempt him from queer persecution. There’s the still-living Walter Arlen recounting his romance with another Jewish boy named Lumpi. And, most thrilling to me, there’s the story of Charlotte Charlaque and Toni Ebel, two of the first women to attain gender reassignment surgery who also had a grand t4t romance with one another.

These real-life characters are well-intertwined along with the broader history. And their stories are dramatized in beautiful recreations that capture the exuberance, sexuality, and love that would soon be taken away. While recreations are commonplace in documentaries, here they feel especially important. They grant these stories an immediacy, a humanity. Walter Arlen is proof that this is recent history. It’s wonderful to get glimpses into these lives, reminders that a hundred years ago there were queer poly sluts just like today.

But even more significant than this recreated footage is the actual footage that exists of Charlotte and Toni and another post-op trans woman. Morgan notes the rarity of this footage, to see three trans women from this time together, filled with joy and self-actualization.

Of course, this joy was fleeting. And the film does a good job, not only displaying the rise of Nazism, but the embrace of the Nazis’ homophobia by those who were supposedly against their principles. Queer people faced ostracization even in the death camps. After the war, Gottfried von Cramm was not allowed to play tennis in the US and the UK due to his criminal record born from the Nazis’ anti-homosexuality law.

The parallels between this past and today are obvious if not dwelled upon in the film itself. The importance of these stories is not just to prevent them from happening again — the importance is that they happened at all. It’s true our progress is fleeting. The terror of the present echoes the terror of the past. But there are people fighting, loving, fucking. There have always been people fighting, loving, fucking. Their stories — then and now — deserve to be told.

I’ve never been to Berlin. Whenever I’m asked where I’d most like to travel, it is, without hesitation, my first response. I don’t know how deep into my family tree I’d have to go to find documents of queer relatives who lived in Berlin during this time, who went to Eldorado. But when I finally get to Germany, when I stand in that city where so much life was lived and stolen, I know I will think about Charlotte and Toni and so many other names unsaid. I know part of me will feel at home.


Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate is now streaming on Netflix.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!
Related:

Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 521 articles for us.

5 Comments

      • When I first realised I was trans, the only trans-related media I knew about was Transparent. The scenes related to the Nazi book burnings were how I learned that trans and other queer people were targeted in the early days of the Nazis’ rise to power. And how queer history was destroyed. I felt a very intense despair upon learning about that.

        I suppose I want to watch this movie, but that feeling is coming back just reading your article about it. I don’t get how people can be so gleefully evil.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!