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social sciences

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Seel, Pierre (1923-2005)  
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While nothing could compare to that horrific experience, Seel continued to suffer mightily during the war. At Schirmeck, he, along with other gay men, was subjected to painful "medical experiments" and made to work on the construction of a crematorium at the nearby Struthof camp. Deprived of food, he was reduced to "wolf[ing] down a few carrots" when assigned to clean rabbit hutches.

Summoned to the commandant's office in November 1941, Seel feared that he had been turned in for stealing carrots and might be tortured or killed since any infraction of the rules could have catastrophic consequences. He could not have been more surprised when the officer informed him that because of his good behavior he was being released and given money for a train ticket back to Mulhouse.

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Weak, emaciated, and fearing his family's reaction, Seel arrived home at dinnertime, and his father conducted him to the table and gave him his gold watch--an ironic gift--to celebrate his homecoming.

While the reception for Seel was warm, his father cautioned that the family would not speak of what had happened to him. The reason for his imprisonment--his homosexuality--was not a topic that the family would discuss.

With Alsace annexed to Germany, Seel was subject to the military service requirements of that country. Called up in March 1942, at the age of eighteen, the former prisoner of the Third Reich was put into the Reichsarbeitdienst (state labor service) and, after six months of military preparation, was inducted into the German army.

His unit was sent to Zagreb, where he was wounded in hand-to-hand combat. Once released from the hospital, he was assigned to desk jobs, first in Berlin and then at a Lebensborn campus in Pomerania, where he felt repulsed and "terrified by [the] quasi-animal breeding" of handsome blond German soldiers and gorgeous blond women taken from Norway with the goal of producing perfect Aryan children.

Seel was subsequently sent back to Yugoslavia and then again assigned to Berlin in the summer of 1944. Forty days of intensive around-the-clock bombing by the Allies pinned the German forces in underground structures connected to the subway, where they tried to help civilians who had taken refuge.

Seel was next dispatched to the eastern front on a train on which, he wrote, he and his fellow conscripts "sat mute, realizing that we were headed toward the final slaughter."

Seel would again escape death, but his unit was under constant bombardment from Soviet troops and was short of munitions and basic supplies. Finally, in the early days of 1945, the officer to whom Seel was assigned as an orderly decided to desert and take Seel with him so that both could make their way home to the Rhineland, the officer to Cologne and Seel to Mulhouse.

On the third day of their trek, however, the officer was killed by a volley of machine-gun fire from a passing panzer division. Seel continued on alone, soon casting off his German uniform for civilian clothing that he found in an abandoned farmhouse.

Seel was captured by Soviet soldiers who initially suspected that he was a spy. He managed to convey to them that he was French, however, and they took him with them as they moved west across Poland. Subsequently sent to a repatriation camp in Odessa, Seel languished there for several months before arriving home in August 1945.

With French law re-established, homosexuality was once again decriminalized but was still not well accepted in Alsatian society. Seel therefore hesitated to attempt to make new social contacts, and in any event, he remained haunted by memories of his first love, Jo.

Seel's family maintained their silence about his sexual orientation and his wartime experiences, until, during his mother's final illness, she asked him for the truth. He poured out his memories while she listened with compassion. When she died in June 1949, he lost his one beloved and trusted confidante.

Despairing of being able to live openly as a gay man, Seel decided to marry and, through a matrimonial agency in Paris, met a young woman who was the daughter of a refugee from Franco's Spain. The couple married in August 1950 and initially settled in Mulhouse but soon moved to a small town near Paris. In 1968 they relocated to Toulouse.

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