By the end of the 1970s, the pink triangle had emerged as a powerful symbol of the burgeoning gay civil rights movement. Originally intended as a badge of shame, the emblem was sewn onto the striped uniforms of the thousands of gay men who were sent to Nazi concentration camps during World War II, most to their deaths. Now, the last known survivor of the "Pink Triangles," as these men became known, recently died in France at the age of 98.
Trained as a roofer, Rudolf Brazda was about 20 when he met his first boyfriend in Leipzig, Germany in the early 1930s. The pair moved in together just as Hitler was coming to power and the Nazis were expanding anti-gay laws to make same-sex acts a felony. In 1937, Brazda was arrested. When presented with love letters he had written to his partner, he "confessed" to the relationship and was imprisoned for six months.
Following a second arrest and prison term, in August 1942, Brazda was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp -- joining about 15,000 gay men who were interned during the war. The conditions were murderous. The "Pink Triangles" were savagely beaten, worked to death in the quarries and subjected to castration and medical experiments to make them "normal." Brazda survived only because a camp guard intervened to have him removed from the quarry. Nearly three years later, a second guard hid him in an animal pen to save him from a forced "death march" to another camp, just before liberation by American troops.
It's a testament to Rudolf Brazda that after everything he went through, he didn't retreat to the closet in fear. After the war, he found love again when he met Edouard Mayer, and the pair remained together over five decades until Edi's death in 2003.
Just three years ago, the still flirtatious nonagenarian stood by the side of Berlin's gay mayor to help unveil a memorial to the "Pink Triangles." Like Brazda's life, the symbol has been reclaimed as a badge of honor, remembrance and pride.