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Seel, Pierre (1923-2005)  
 
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Sent to a Nazi concentration camp because of his homosexuality, Pierre Seel remained silent about his ordeal for decades but finally chose to speak out, demanding recognition of the atrocities committed against gay men by the Third Reich and advocating for equal rights for the glbtq citizens of France.

Pierre Seel came from a comfortable middle-class family. The youngest of five sons, he was born on August 16, 1923 in Haguenau in the north of Alsace and grew up in the southern Alsatian city of Mulhouse, where his parents bought and operated a pastry shop.

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Seel recognized his sexual orientation by the time he was about fifteen but, having been raised in a devout Roman Catholic household, was reluctant to accept it. He turned to his confessor, but the priest not only refused him absolution but also, over a period of months, grilled him about his thoughts and activities until, recalled Seel, "I was convinced that I was a monster."

Nevertheless, by the age of seventeen, he identified as a Zazou, the then-current French slang for gay. Although still not out to his family, he began frequenting a local club where gay men, including some of the stalwarts of the city, met for same-sex encounters.

On one of these visits, his watch was stolen, and he reported the theft to the police, who were initially courteous but became intimidating when they learned the scene of the crime. Seel was shaken by the experience, but there were no immediate repercussions--nor any apparent attempt to pursue an investigation--and he hoped that the incident would be forgotten.

Unsatisfied with the club scene, Seel longed for a truly loving relationship and found one with a young man identified in his memoir and elsewhere only as Jo. He delighted in the time that they spent together, when both were able at last to speak freely about their feelings.

In June 1940 German troops took control of Alsace. "Our family wept," wrote Seel, as they watched "a human tide" of French citizens marched through the streets of Mulhouse on their way to prisoner-of-war camps.

In May of the following year, Seel himself had to face the Gestapo. Because of the report of the theft of his watch, he was rounded up with about a dozen other gay men and viciously tortured by German officers seeking to force them to give the names of other homosexuals.

Once Seel had disappeared into Gestapo custody, his frantic family sought word of his fate. When his father and a brother went to headquarters, an officer informed them--using a German slur--of the reason for his detention. "And that was how, in the most humiliating manner, my family learned of my homosexuality," stated Seel.

With the adoption of the criminal code promulgated in 1791 in the wake of the French Revolution, homosexuality had been decriminalized in France, but the Germans had annexed the conquered territory of Alsace to the neighboring state of Baden-Württemburg and imposed their laws on it; thus, when the Seel family attempted to secure legal help, attorneys advised them that there was no recourse for their son.

Seel was interned at the Schirmeck concentration camp, where he was beaten and brutalized. His prison garb bore a blue bar marking him as a gay man. (The more common sign of the pink triangle was not used at Schirmeck.) The stigmatizing symbol caused Seel to be excluded from such groups as prisoners were able to form. "In a universe of inmates I was a completely negligible element that could be sacrificed at any moment," he wrote.

Seel did not meet such a fate, but others did. Not long after his arrival at the camp, he and the other prisoners were summoned to the roll-call site and forced to watch as an eighteen-year-old man was stripped, had a metal bucket put over his head, and was set upon by vicious German Shepherd dogs who first savaged and then devoured him.

The victim was Jo.

As Seel looked on in horror, he "fervently prayed that [Jo] would black out quickly." The terror of that moment never left him: "I sometimes wake up howling in the middle of the night," he stated. "For fifty years now that scene has kept playing and replaying through my mind. I will never forget the barbaric murder of my love--before my very eyes."

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