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The second season of Transparent takes a bold move: through a series of delirious flashbacks we’re introduced to the vibrant life of Maura’s now uncommunicative mother Rose when she was a young girl in 1930s Berlin. These snippets of emotionally-charged narrative seem to be dreamed up in the head of Rose’s granddaughter, Ali, who is in the midst of not only grappling with new confrontations about gender and sexuality, but with her and her family’s place in the world as Jews. To add a further connection to Ali, Rose is played by the same actress who portrayed a 13-year-old Ali in the first season’s flashbacks.

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Gittel (Hari Nef) and Rose (Emily Robinson)

Ali possesses a large pearl ring, a symbol of the love and turmoil of her family, which incites a spark of recognition in Grandma Rose. From last season’s debacle with Josh’s ill-fated proposal to his Glitterish girlfriend, we learn it once belonged to the Pfefferman children’s great-aunt Gittel, who died in the Holocaust. This season, when Ali is the first of her family to visit Grandma Rose in a long time, Rose mistakes Ali for someone named Gershon, and grabs the ring with fierce possessiveness as it dangles from Ali’s neck. It turns out Gershon and Gittel are the same person: Maura’s transgender aunt who found her place in the world at Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Research. The place was a sprawling facility from 1919-33 that included a large library about sexuality-related topics, and a clinic where some of the first gender-reassignment surgeries were performed.ose

Hirschfeld, who was gay and Jewish, spent his life trying to understand the varieties of human sexuality from a scientific approach while exposing the political and social plights experienced by what’s now known as the LGBTQ community. Throughout the twenties, Hirschfeld and his Institute met with a lot of hostility, including bombings and other violent acts, but the real trouble, of course, came when the Nazis gained power in the 30s. There was no longer any hope for Hirschfeld’s progressive institute to survive in Germany. Being Jewish, gay, and a gay activist who studied the spectrum of human sexuality, Hirschfeld was an easy target for a regime dedicated to wiping out every bit of humanity they deemed unworthy. On May 16, 1933, while Hirschfeld was out of the country on a world speaking tour, the Nazis stormed the institute and burned all the books there. This destruction of research and archives set back advances in transgender surgery.


Homosexuality was banned in Germany during Hitler’s reign and between 1933-1945, 100,000 men were arrested for suspicion of gay activities, and half were sentenced. It’s estimated that somewhere between 5,000-10,000 of these men ended up in the concentration camps, where they wore badges bearing a downward-pointing pink triangle symbol, which was an inspiration for today’s gay pride symbol. It took many years for this persecution of gay people in Nazi Germany to be acknowledged on a world-wide scale. In fact, after the war was over some gay men freed from camps were arrested again on the same charges and re-imprisoned. In the 1980s, some governments started to recognize the treatment of gay people during this time, but the German government didn’t apologize until 2002.


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