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Pierre Seel: The Death of His Lover


from Pierre Seel: I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual: A Memoir of Nazi Terror, (New York: Basic Books, 1995)

Pierre Seel is a still living Frenchman who was deported to the Schirmeck concentration camp in 1941. After the war, in shame, he hid and in fact married and had children. In 1982, spurred by the denouncement of homosexuals as "sick" by Msgr. Elchinger, Bishop of Strasbourg, Pierre Seel went public with his story. Here are some extracts.

I: Arrest

As a young man, Pierre Seel participated in the gay subculture of his home town of Mulhouse. His own real love was another young man called "Jo". After the Nazis tookover, Seel discovered that the local police had added him to their list of local homosexuals. He was ordered by the Gestapo to report to the local police station. To protect his family from retaliation, he did so. The day he was arrested, with others, they were taken to a police station and beaten.

"At first we manages to endure the suffering, but ultimately it became impossible. The machinery of violence accelerated. Outraged by our resistance, the SS began pulling out the fingernails of some of the prisoners. In their fury they broke the rulers we were kneeling on and used them to rape us. Our bowels were punctured. Blood spurted everywhere. My ears still ring with the shrieks of our pain." [pp.25-26]

II: Survival

Seel was sent to the concentration camp at Schirmeck, whose conditions he describes. One point is of especial interest to gay Catholics.

"Stripped of our torn filthy clothing, we were handed camp uniforms: ill-fitting shirts and trousers made of hard linen. I noticed a small, enigmatic blue bar on my shirt and on my cap. It was part of an indecipherable prison code that was known only to our jailers. According to documents I eventually checked 'blue' meant 'Catholic' or 'asocial'. In this camp blue also meant homosexuals." [pp. 29-30]

III: Death of His Lover

The worst things are unimaginable, though.

"Days, weeks, months wore by. I spent six months, from May to November 1941, in that place where horror and savagery were the law. But I've put off describing the worst ordeal I suffered. It happened during my earliest weeks in the camp and contributed more than anything else to making me a silent, obedient shadow among the others.

"One day the loudspeakers order us to report immediately to the roll-call. Shouts and yells urged us to get there without delay. Surrounded by SS men, we had to form a square and stand at attention, as we did for the morning roll call. The commandant appeared with his entire general staff. I assumed he was going to bludgeon us once again with his blind faith in the Reich, together with a list of orders, insults and threats - emulating the infamous outpourings of his master, Adolf Hitler. But the actual ordeal was worse: an execution. Two SS men brought a young man to the center of out square. Horrified, I recognized Jo, my loving friend, who was only eighteen years old. I hadn't previously spotted him in the camp. Had he arrived before or after me? We hadn't seen each other during the days before I was summoned by the Gestapo.

"Now I froze in terror. I had prayed that he would escape their lists, their roundups, their humiliations. And there he was before my powerless eyes, which filled with tears. Unlike me, he had not carried dangerous letters, torn down posters, or signed any statements. And yet he had been caught and was about to die. What had happened? What had the monsters accused him of? Because of my anguish I have completely forgotten the wording of the death sentence.

"The the loudspeakers broadcast some noisy classical music while the SS stripped him naked and shoved tin pail over his head. Next they sicced their ferocious German Shepherds on him: the guard dogs first bit into his groin and thighs, then devoured him right in front of us. His shrieks of pain were distorted and amplified by the pail in which his head was trapped. My rigid body reeled, my eyes gaped at so much horror, tears poured down my cheeks, I fervently prayed that he would black out quickly.

"Since then I sometimes wake up howling in the middle of the night. For fifty years now that scene has kept ceaselessly passing and re-passing though my mind. I will never forget the barbaric murder of my love - before my very eyes, before our eyes, for there were hundreds of witnesses. Why are they still silent today? Have they all died? It's true that we were among the youngest in the camp and that a lot of time has gone by. But I suspect that some people prefer to remain silent forever, afraid to stir up memories, like that one among so many others.

"As for myself, after decades of silence I have made up my mind to speak, to accuse, to bear witness." [pp. 42-44]

IV: Mary

In Shirmeck camp, there is a place where eyes turn.

"November 1941. Autumn had followed summer. The forest glowed around us. Beyond the barbed wire, nature, we saw, was flaunting her lavish beauty. Often, while gazing at the Vosages, which were beginning to turn white with snow, I wished that something would happen - anything, no matter how awful, so long as it put an end to their routine of debasement, this machinery of abuse.

"Sometimes as the morning haze dissolved I would look, along with the other inmates, at a statue of the Virgin that stood on one of the crenelated towers of the castle in the valley, by the side of a mountain. The eyes of several prisoners converged in that direction. we said nothing, but I know what filled my mind, and, no doubt, those of my companions: the only thought that was still a bit coherent - the thought of going home, finding our loved ones, sleeping in our own beds, our own room. Going home.", [pp. 45-46]

V: Today

Seel goes on to describe an extraordinary odyssey around war time Europe. At the end of the War, he is released, but like all homosexual victims of the Nazis denied any recognition. But he was ashamed in any case, and so married, worked, and had children. The gay rights movement passed him by, until in 1982, the outpourings of the Bishop of Strasbourg against sick homosexuals, moved him to go public. Both his birth family, and his wife and children stuck by him. This included a number of very difficult TV appearances. After one, Seel describes what he did.

"On February 9, 1989, I was interviewed on television by Frederic Mitterand. The telecast was preceded by major articles in Tele 7 Jours and La Depeche du Midi. Coping with my public image on as mass scale was terrifying, but I submitted to the ordeal...

"After the exhausting telecast, I returned home via Lourdes. I have always been fascinated by the cult of the Virgin Mary. It's like a silent adoration, a quest for a timeless serenity. Is my fascination the vestige of a faith? Of a still inexpressible love? My love for my mother? In any case, it comes from very far away. Why is it that after some great ordeal my eyes always turn toward Lourdes, just as they turned toward that Virgin on a mountainside, that Virgin I could see above the Schimeck camp on a clear day. As I have said, other inmates gazed wordlessly in the same direction, trying to make out her beloved silhouette. Why was it, when I reach a certain Polish church with the Russians, I buried the statue of the Virgin to protect her from vandals and bombings? I do not visit Lourdes to pray, for I no longer pray. All I do is greet Mary discreetly. I don't know what my respect and devotion are made of but they channel my anxieties and protect both my integrity and my identity". [p. 132.]

Seel is still working to gain recognition of the deportation of French homosexuals. Recently he received a check for 9,100 Francs, about $1300 dollars. But bitterness is not what drives him.

"When I am overcome with rage, I take my hat and coat and defiantly walk the streets. I picture myself strolling through cemeteries that do not exist, the resting places of all the dead who barely ruffle the consciences of the living. And I feel like screaming. When will I succeed in having the overall Nazi deportation of homosexuals recognized? In my apartment house and throughout my neighborhood, many people greet me, politely listen to my news, and inquire about the progress of my case. I'm grateful to the and appreciate their support. But what can I say to them?

"When I have finish wandering, I go home. Then I light the candle that burns permanently in my kitchen when I am alone. That frail flame is my memory of Jo." [p. 140]