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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 29, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 26
Last known Gay Jewish Holocaust survivor dies
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Last known Gay Jewish Holocaust survivor dies

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Gerhard 'Gad' Beck, anti-Nazi resistance fighter and the last known Gay Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, died in Berlin on June 24, six days short of his 89th birthday.

He is survived by his partner of 35 years, Julius Laufer.

Beck was born in Berlin in 1923, the son of a Jewish father and a Lutheran mother who had converted to Judaism. The family lived in a predominately Jewish neighborhood.

Nazi racial laws prohibited intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews, and defined the children of such marriages as mischling, or 'half-breeds.' Consequently, Beck and his father were arrested and carted off to a holding compound in central Berlin.

After the non-Jewish wives of the prisoners staged a massive street protest in 1943, Beck was released. There were 'thousands of women who stood for days ... my aunts demanded, 'Give us our children and men!' he later recalled.

The Rosenstrasse demonstration, as it came to be known, helped debunk the myth that nonviolent resistance against Nazism was futile.

'The Rosenstrasse event made one thing absolutely clear to me - I won't wait until we get deported,' said Beck.

Following his release, Beck joined Chug Chaluzi, or 'Circle of Pioneers,' an underground Jewish youth group dedicated to providing Jews with supplies and hiding places, and smuggling them across the border to neutral Swtzerland.

According to an entry about him at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, Beck said, 'As a homosexual, I was able to turn to my trusted non-Jewish, homosexual acquaintances to help supply food and hiding places.'

During this time, he conceived a daring plan to rescue his boyfriend, Manfred Lewin, who was still in Nazi custody and was to be deported to Auschwitz.

Donning a Hitler Youth uniform, Beck approached the commander of the holding compound where Lewin was being held. He told the Nazi officer he needed Lewin to work on a construction project, and the commander released him.

Once outside the compound, however, Lewin refused to go with Beck.

'Gad, I can't go with you,' Beck remembered him saying. 'My family needs me. If I abandon them now, I could never be free.'

The two parted without saying goodbye.

'In those seconds, watching him go,' he recalled, 'I grew up.'

Lewin and his entire family were sent to Auschwitz, where they were murdered.

Shortly before the end of the war in 1945, a Jewish spy working for the Gestapo betrayed Beck and some of his fellow resistance fighters.

He was arrested and held at a Jewish transit camp in Berlin. After the defeat of Nazi Germany, Beck helped Jewish survivors emigrate to Palestine. He lived in Israel between 1947 and 1979.

After his return to Germany in 1979, the first post-Holocaust head of Berlin's Jewish community, Heinz Galinski, appointed Beck director of the Jewish Adult Education Center in Berlin.

Judith Kessler, editor of the Berlin Jewish community's monthly magazine, Juedisches Berlin, remembered Beck organizing Gay singles' meetings at the center.

'He was open, sweet, and would speak with everybody,' she said.

Kessler, who knew Beck since 1989, added that he would attend the annual Pride parade in Berlin and wave an Israeli flag.

Beck was featured in the film The Life of Gad Beck and the HBO documentary Paragraph 175. The title refers to the part of the German penal code that outlawed same-sex relations.

In 2000, Beck published his autobiography, An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin.

'The Americans in New York called me a great hero,' he once said on a German talk show. 'I said no - I'm really a little hero.'

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