Last Known Gay Jewish Holocaust Survivor Dies at 88
The last known gay Jewish survivor of the Holocaust died Sunday, June 24 in a senior citizen’s home in Berlin, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Gad Beck, an anti-Nazi Zionist resistance fighter, died just six days shy of his 89th birthday, which would have been June 30.
The prominent gay activist was known for his wit and unique way of speaking and for promoting gay rights during an anti-gay repressive post-World War II German society, the article notes.
At one point during the war, Beck disguised himself as a member of the Hitler Youth in order to attempt a daring rescue of his boyfriend, Manfred Lewin. But Lewin refused to leave his family, who were being detained at a deportation center. Lewin and his family were later sent to Auschwitz, where they all died.
"God doesn’t punish for a life of love," Beck said about being a gay Jew. In a 2001 interview with the Miami Herald the activist said that he knew he was gay since he was 12 years old.
"At the age of 12, it was clear to me I was in love with a boyfriend, " he said. "In the time I was a young boy, there was no way you could speak of it."
After World War I, gay life flourished in the Weimar Republic. The first modern gay rights organization was founded at this time. After the Nazis came to power, Hitler quickly instituted a reign of terror among LGBT Germans. Estimates vary, but experts on the Holocaust believe as many as 100,000 gay men were arrested while Nazis were in power. Of those, about half were incarcerated, and at least 15,000 were sent to concentration camps.
Although it is unclear how many gays died in the death camps, Holocaust scholar Ruediger Lautman believes the death rate of gay men in the camps may have been as high as 60 percent and that, even by the standards of the death camps, they were treated in an unusually cruel manner by their captors. Their experiences inspired the Broadway play and movie "Bent." The pink triangle that the Nazis forced gay prisoners to wear on their sleeves (similar to the Star of David Jews were made to wear) has been appropriated by the modern gay rights movement as a symbol of empowerment.
Beck and his father were once put in a holding compound but were released in 1943, thanks to the Rosenstrasse (a large street protest held by non-Jewish wives of Jewish men who had been arrested for deportation). The Jerusalem Post obituary detailed a life that became even more fascinating after he was freed.
Beck joined an underground Zionist resistance youth group called Chung Chaluzi, where he helped rescue some of Berlin’s Jews by working with gay non-Jewish friends. A Jewish spy who worked for the Gestapo betrayed Beck just before the war ended in 1945, however, and he was sent to a Jewish transit camp in Berlin. Beck was soon freed by Allied forces and continued to be a gay activist long after the war ended.
In 1947 he immigrated to Israel, but he came back to Germany in 1979 when he was appointed the director of Berlin’s Jewish Adult Education Center. Judith Kessler, editor of Juedisches Berlin, a Berlin Jewish magazine, told the Jerusalem Post that Beck used to organize gay singles meetings in the center and that he would wave the Israeli flag during Berlin’s gay pride events. "He was open, sweet, and would speak with everybody," she said.
Beck is survived by his partner of 35 years, Julius Laufer. Considering his eventful life, it’s probably not surprising that it was the basis of documentary, "The Life of Gad Beck." Beck and Lewin’s experiences also formed the basis for a musical treatment of their respective fates, "For A Look or A Touch," which draws on Lewin’s journals for its libretto.
Beck also featured prominently in another documentary, "Paragraph 175," the name given to the anti-gay German law that dated back to 1871 and was greatly expanded by the Nazis.
Paragraph 175 was not fully rescinded until 1994. Like other Western democracies, Germany’s history of LGBT persecution is a blot on its history. But individuals like Beck are also there, as exemplars of personal courage.