June 30, 1923– Gad Beck has a story not to be believed if it had been invented. But, it is a true story. He was a brave pioneering gay activist & educator in a profoundly homophobic, repressive post-WW2 German society. This Beck is not to be confused with the super-talented, Grammy Award winning musician, my second favorite Scientologist.
The 5 foot 3 inch Beck was famous for his witty, vigorous speaking style. On a German talk show, he told the interviewer:
“The Americans in NYC called me a great hero. I said no… I’m really a little hero.”
Beck’s wartime effort to rescue his boyfriend is worthy of a Spielberg film treatment. Beck donned a Hitler Youth uniform that was too large for his tiny frame & entered a deportation center to free his Jewish teenage boyfriend Manfred Lewin. 17 year old Beck was able to free Lewin from the holding camp in Berlin by bluffing an excuse to a baffled commandant. But Lewin decided he couldn’t abandon his family & voluntarily returned. The Nazis would later deport the entire Lewin family to Auschwitz, where they were murdered.
Beck was born in Berlin to an Austrian Jewish father & German Jewish convert mother. He was labeled a mischling, or half-breed, which brought him temporary protection from the Nazis. In 1943, Beck was held at Rosenstrabe, an internment camp in Berlin, but then was set free after street protests by non-Jewish relatives & friends, a reprieve that only allowed young people to exit the camp for a few days. He immediately joined the Chug Chaluzi, an underground Zionist youth group.
When Beck learned of the mass exterminations at Auschwitz, he began helping many Jews hide or escape to Switzerland. He became responsible for the vast sums of German currency necessary for the bribes & payola. His life was like a spy-intrigue film with many incidents of cat & mouse with undercover dealings & disguises in order to save those under threat of death by the Nazis. He had to be constantly on the move, but Beck managed to have a sex life where & when he could manage. As the leader of this illegal resistance group, Beck helped to organize the survival of hundreds of Berlin Jews during the last years of WW 2. He was just in his late teens at the time.
Close to his twin sister Margot, Beck spent his childhood years with his family in Berlin. His parents taught the children lessons of love & tolerance. As a young teenager he had his first experiences of antisemitism when his schoolmates spouted the Nazi jargon at him. With his special brand of honesty & openness he told his parents that he was gay. Surprised yet supportive, Beck quoted them saying:
“Oh my God, he’s Jewish & he’s homosexual. Either way, he’ll be persecuted. This cannot end well.”
In spring 1945, Gad & his boyfriend were ratted out by an informant & were arrested by the SS. They were liberated from prison by the Russian Army a few moths later. His parents & Margot also survived the war. After the liberation of Berlin by the USA & USSR, Beck moved to the newly formed Israel, but return to Germany in 1979, where he became active in Gay & Jewish life. He felt that his life in The Resistance had not ended. He took a position as director of the Jewish Adult Education Center Of Berlin, where he taught classes about the Jewish & Gay Culture before the war.
“I mustered strength from the individual moments of happiness that I was always able to wring out of life,” he said, “no matter how dire the straits.”
His fascinating story is told in his highly readable memoir An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew In Nazi Berlin (1999), & immortalized in the film The Story Of Gad Beck (2006), & is a small part in one of those terrific HBO documentaries Paragraph 175 (2012) about the persecution of gays by those nasty Nazis. I hate Nazis. Beck was a Gay Hero.
Beck left this world in 2012, just 6 days from his 89th birthday. He is considered to have been the last gay survivor of the Holocaust. He left behind his partner of 35 years, Julius Laufer.
Speaking about his life as a gay Jew, Beck stated:
“God doesn’t punish for a life of love.”