Someone said : A letter to â€¦ my great-uncle Richard
I never met you, and no one ever talked about you, except Mum from time to time, late at night, when we were alone together, and we had drunk a few glasses too many. She never talked about you with Dad or my sisters. Yet I have always been aware of you, and this weekend I will think of you again. You lived in the wrong place, Berlin, at the wrong time â€“ the 1930s â€“ with the wrong sexual orientation, although they didn't call it "gay" in those days. You were way ahead of your time in believing that this shouldn't be a barrier to enjoying a full and happy life.
Like me, you became a lawyer and used your skills to work for gay equality. You were remarkably brave to get involved with Magnus Hirschfeld's Institute for Sexual Research and to campaign for the decriminalisation of gay sex in Germany, although you didn't see it that way at the time.
But it meant that the Nazis could find out about you when they shut the institute in May 1933 and seized the names and addresses of supporters. You were unlucky to have a brother-in-law â€“ Mum's adored father â€“ who was a loyal Nazi party member, and who had become rich by means no one talked about either. He was involved with supplying the Wehrmacht and had to be above suspicion. You had become an embarrassment, maybe even a liability, to the family.
Mum heard that you "disappeared" at some stage in 1934 or 35. You were arrested, but she was only a girl at the time and nobody told her why. What is clear, though, is that when they came for you, nobody in the family tried to help you.
When there was no more news about you from whichever camp you were in, nobody made any further inquiries. You were considered a non-person. Did you survive? Unlikely, given the way gays were worked to death in the camps and certainly none of your family ever heard from you again.
Your brother-in-law, my grandfather, loved England and regretted the war with the country. He would have been pleased that his only daughter married an Englishman, and that her children would grow up English. He did not long survive its ending, so I never met him either.
But when I learned about you in my early 20s, as I was trying to come to terms with my own homosexuality in a world that was still hostile, you inspired me. Dad always blamed Mum's side of the family for my "condition". When I went on my first momentous Gay Pride march back in the early 70s, and others in later years, I was doing it for you too. When I visited a concentration camp in the 90s, I also shed some tears for you.
You, and grandfather, would have been amazed that earlier this month the British parliament passed a law to allow gay people to marry, going further and faster for gay equality than Germany, where today you would feel much more at home. He would not have been too happy that his only grandson turned out to be gay and much more like you than him.
Nor would he have been too pleased that I have a lovely partner, whom I will soon be able to call my husband, who is non-Aryan, and who feels as fully at home in my family as I do in his. But I'm sure you would be delighted and so this weekend, when we raise our glasses in celebration, we'll drink a few for you.
Your great nephew, Peter