On Sunday, at a senior citizens' home in Berin, Gad Beck passed away. He was 88 years old. He was also the last known gay Jewish survivor of the Holocaust.
Beck's story has been well documented. He was the subject of a documentary, The Story of Gad Beck.
He was also featured prominently in the documentary Paragraph 175, the name of which is taken from the anti-gay law that predated the Third Reich but was used by the Nazis to send thousands of gays to their deaths in concentration camps. Tens of thousands of others were arrested.
Beck also wrote a book, An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin. His story is truly a remarkable one. Follow me below the fold.
This diary isn't going to be a long one, mainly because I don't know much about Beck's life. Although, reading about his story makes me determined to read his book.
First, a little background. The purpose of this diary isn't to discuss at length the persecution of gays under Hitler, but musing85 wrote a brilliant diary a couple of years ago that does just that. Click here to check it out. From the diary:
Paragraph 175 (from which directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman took the title of their 2000 documentary film) was a provision of the German Strafgesetzbuch or criminal code. It was first enacted in 1872 when the brand-new nation of Germany was getting organized....Here's the video clip musing85 linked to, which tells the story of Rudolph Brazda, one of the many concentration camp survivors who wore the pink triangle.
Within months of taking power, however, the Nazis both broadened the law and the terms of its application, and made violations of the law felony crimes.
Prosecutions under the expanded Paragraph 175a skyrocketed. Again from figures provided by the Statistisches Reichsamt, the total number of convictions rose from 853 in 1933 to 2,106 in 1935, to 5,320 in 1936, to 8,271 in 1937. Convictions remained at that level until after the outbreak of war in 1939, but never again fell below 1,000 per year through the end of the Nazi regime, at least as far as the surviving figures show.
Moreover, as you will see in the video clip below (and as is well-attested elsewhere in the historical record), the Nazis were not content with catching queers and locking them up for a few months or a few years. It was quite common (virtually routine, in fact) for someone serving a penal sentence for homosexual behavior to have that sentence extended--usually by means of a deportation to a concentration camp. Schutzhaft ("protective custody"), the Nazis called it.
Gad Beck was born in 1923 in Berlin. He was just ten years old when the Nazis came to power in Germany. He endured antisemitism on a regular basis in his school, which did not have a large Jewish population. After being enrolled in a Jewish school for a time, he had to drop out at the age of 12 because his parents could not afford the tuition.
Because he was a mischlinge, or the child of a mixed marriage, he was not deported to the east with the other Jews. Instead, he helped Jews escape to Switzerland from Berlin while taking part in the gay Berlin underground. After being betrayed by a Jewish spy for the Gestapo, he was then detained in a Jewish transit camp.
But, as his obituary notes:
Perhaps the single most important experience that shaped his life was the wartime effort to rescue his boyfriend. Beck donned a Hitler Youth uniform and entered a deportation center to free his Jewish lover Manfred Lewin, who had declined to separate himself from his family.A survivor, Beck helped Jews emigrate to Palestine starting in 1947 and emigrated to Israel himself in 1947, where he lived for a number of years. However, he returned to Berlin in 1979 and was appointed head of the Jewish Adult Education Center, where he would organize gay singles meetings and was loved by many.
The Nazis would later deport the entire Lewin family to Auschwitz, where they were murdered.
Beck is survived by his partner of 35 years, Julius Laufer.
We lost a very special man in Beck, and with him, a piece of history. But his life and work live on in the fruits of his activism and in what he has written.
For more information on Beck, check out his book, An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin.
If you want to know more about the persecution of gays during the Holocaust in general, I recommend Richard Plant's book The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals.
The line Beck often cited is perhaps the best way to bring this diary to a close:
God doesn’t punish for a life of love.Rest in peace.