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Seel, Pierre (1923-2005)  
 
page: 1  2  3  

Their family had grown to include two sons and a daughter. With money often tight, Seel's wife frequently urged him to apply for a state pension for camp survivors, but he consistently refused since the reason for his original detention would be revealed, and he had never told his wife about his homosexuality.

The burden of his silence was, wrote Seel, "devouring me like a cancer." A doctor prescribed medication to combat his depression, but it was ineffective.

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In 1978 his wife filed for divorce, their marriage having long since deteriorated.

Alone and in the grip of a "suicidal despair," Seel joined a psychological rehabilitation group and gradually began to recover.

In May 1981 he attended a talk by Jean-Pierre Joecker, whose company had just published a French translation of Heinz Heger's Die Männer mit dem rosa Winkel ("The Men with the Pink Triangle"), a memoir of his experiences in a German concentration camp. Afterward, Seel approached the speaker and identified himself as a survivor from Schirmeck. Joecker, who had been unable to find anyone interned at an Alsatian camp, was eager to interview Seel, who agreed but insisted on anonymity. His story appeared in the gay magazine Masques, of which Joecker was the founder and publisher.

Breaking his silence was liberating for Seel, who began to take a more active role in the gay community, joining David and Jonathan, a social group in Toulouse.

Seel was moved to take a public stand against when, in 1982, Bishop Léon Elchinger of Strasbourg abruptly canceled the reservations of approximately one hundred members of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) who had been planning to stay at a Catholic dormitory during a convention. Elchinger explained his decision by saying that he regarded homosexuality as a sickness.

Outraged, Seel wrote an open letter to the bishop and sent copies to the media. The mainstream press ignored it, but the letter was published in the monthly magazine Gai Pied.

This proved to be a turning point to Seel, who became ever more vocal, determined to educate the public about the wartime atrocities and to fight for equality for glbtq people, and his message began to be heard. In 1988 he addressed a packed audience at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the following year he was interviewed on French television. He also told his story in a memoir, Moi, Pierre Seel, déporté homosexuel (1994).

Seel was one of five homosexual concentration-camp survivors who appeared in Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's documentary Paragraph 175 (2000), narrated by Rupert Everett. In a 2005 interview on National Public Radio, Epstein recalled that "the experience of filming [the piece] was a very painful one" for Seel. Reviewer Eric Harrison stated that Seel's anguish made his "one of the most moving interviews" in the film.

Although Seel stated in Paragraph 175, "I swore never to shake hands with a German again," Epstein took him to the Berlin Film Festival for the screening of the documentary. "It was full house, and at the end of the film there was a five-minute standing ovation for Pierre," he recalled. "He gave a very moving speech in which he said that he never imagined that he would ever set foot on German soil again, and here he was."

Director Isabelle Darmengeat interspersed excerpts of Seel's memoir with conversations with contemporary French gay men in her film Amants des hommes (2004), in which she sought both to document the dire consequences of homophobia in the past and to warn of its continuing menace. In November 2005 the French cable channel Pink TV asked Darmengeat for permission to broadcast Amants des hommes as an homage to Seel. She agreed, and the film was shown in prime time in January 2006 and subsequently re-aired seven times.

Pierre Seel died on November 25, 2005. He had spent the last two decades of his life with a loving partner, Éric Feliu.

The couple eventually shared their home with two dogs. "For forty years following the atrocious death of my friend Jo I didn't dare touch a dog, but thanks to [Feliu], I have been able to conquer my fear," stated Seel, who called the presence of the dogs "a daily pleasure" in his later years.

On December 21, 2007 the municipal council of Toulouse voted unanimously to rename a street in honor of Seel. At a well-attended ceremony on February 23, 2008, the rue Pierre Seel was formally dedicated with a tribute to the courage and commitment of Seel and a moving remembrance of the tragic loss of Jo.

Linda Rapp

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   Related Entries
  
social sciences >> Overview:  France

France, the second largest nation in Western Europe, has a rich, if markedly ambivalent, relationship to glbtq people and cultures.

social sciences >> Overview:  Germany

While Germany, until recently, never officially accepted or welcomed members of the glbtq community, German culture and homosexuality have a long and significant history.

social sciences >> Overview:  Nazism and the Holocaust

As part of its agenda to preserve an "Aryan master race," Nazism persecuted homosexuals as "asocial parasites"; more than 100,000 men were arrested on homosexual charges during the Nazi years, with 5,000-15,000 gay men incarcerated in concentration camps.

social sciences >> Overview:  Paris

One of the world's most iconic cities and an influential hub of Western culture, Paris is also a major international glbtq center.

arts >> Barcelona Monument

The gay monument in Barcelona, dedicated in March 2011, commemorates the sufferings of glbtq people.

arts >> Epstein, Rob

Writer, director, and producer Rob Epstein is one of the most accomplished documentary filmmakers of his generation, having worked on a number of landmark gay-themed films.

arts >> Everett, Rupert

Since 1989 when he came out in a press interview in Paris, Rupert Everett has defined and re-defined himself for the mass media as a gay male actor, being notably open about his homosexuality.

social sciences >> International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA)

The International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) is a worldwide federation of local and national groups dedicated to achieving equal rights for glbtq people.

social sciences >> Paragraph 175

Paragraph 175 was the German law prohibiting sex between men; strengthened by the Nazis, it was the statue under which homosexuals were sent to concentration camps.

social sciences >> Pink Triangle

Originally a mark of criminalization and persecution under the Nazis, the pink triangle was later reclaimed by gays both as a memorial and as a celebration of sexual identity.


    Bibliography
   

Block, Melissa. "Rob Epstein Discusses Pierre Seel, Imprisoned for Homosexuality by the Nazis." All Things Considered (National Public Radio) (December 2, 2005).

Darmengeat, Isabelle. "Amants des hommes." (2004): http://www.lesetoilesroses.com/article-13744093.html.

Harrison, Eric. "'Paragraph 175' Examines German Atrocities Targeting Gays." Houston Chronicle (May 18, 2001): Houston, 4.

Riethauser, Stéphane. "Les oubliés de l'horreur nazie." http://www.lambda-education.ch/content/menus/histoire/seel.html.

Seel, Pierre. I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual: A Memoir of Nazi Terror. Joachim Neugroschel, trans. New York: BasicBooks, 1995.

"Video Inauguration rue Pierre Seel." (2008): http://www.dailymotion.com/Romanou31/video/x4ib2x_inauguration-rue-pierre-seel-deport_politics.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Seel, Pierre  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2008  
    Date Last Updated July 27, 2008  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/seel_p.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2008 glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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