Voices from the Archive

Under the Shadow of Paragraph 175: Part 3: Gad Beck

Mon, 06/15/2015 - 11:47am

Gerhard “Gad” Beck was born on June 30, 1923, in Berlin, along with his twin sister Margot (Miriam). His birth came as a surprise to everyone including the doctor, who had left after Margot was born thinking that the job was already done. The midwife had to call him back when Beck’s mother became feverish, and Gad was born.

Beck was what the Nazis would classify a Mischling, a child of mixed race: his father was a Jewish business man from Vienna who had moved to Berlin to set up business, and his mother was a Gentile woman who came from a large family of sisters. The Becks celebrated both Christian and Jewish holidays, with the extended family living in ecumenical harmony with each other. The strong ties between both sides of the family will sustain them throughout the war and eventually save them. Both his parents and his twin sister survived the war, a very rare happy ending. As Gad Beck notes in his testimony, “if a Jew survived for at least two years during the War, he was helped by seven Christians.” For Gad, seven of those Christians came from his own extended family of aunts and uncles.

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Gad Beck on coming out to his family

In this clip, Gad Beck recalls the day he ran in to tell his mother that he "had his first man" and her surprising reaction. It is a sweet story of family acceptance and support.

What makes Gad Beck’s story so remarkable, however, was that not only was he a “Mischling” but he was also a gay teenager living in Nazi Berlin, the epicenter of a military power antagonistic to both Jews and gays. His coming out is a touching story of a naïve confession surprisingly met with the loving support of his family. Any troubles that he had with his identity as a gay half-Jew did not come from within his family but rather from without. And yet perhaps because of his identity, Gad Beck demonstrated remarkable courage in defying the Nazis on their own turf.

GB: "If a Jew survived for at least two years during the War, he was helped by seven Christians"

Gad’s first startling act of heroism involved the rescue attempt of his first boyfriend, Manfred Lewin. They were the same age and both members of the same Zionist youth movement. Eventually the Nazis came to arrest Manfred’s family for deportation to Auschwitz, and Manfred not wanting to abandon them to their fate, joined them in the detention center. Gad was horrified to learn that his lover was arrested so he hatched a plan to get him out. Wearing a borrowed Nazi Youth uniform, Gad showed up to the center and demanded that Manfred be turned over to him in order to finish some construction work. The trick worked. The Nazi officer conditionally released Manfred, and the two walked away. However, as soon as Gad handed him some money and told him to run straight to Manfred’s uncle’s house without delay, Manfred stopped him in his tracks. He couldn’t leave his family behind, he said, and feel that he was free. He had to stay with his family. Manfred turned around and went back inside. Gad Beck never saw his boyfriend again. Manfred along with the rest of his family were sent to Auschwitz where they were murdered not long after their arrival.

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Gad Beck on the Rosenstraße protest

Gad Beck recalls how the Gentile women in Berlin, including his aunts, came en masse to Rosenstraße in order to protest for the release of the Jewish men detained by the Nazis for deportation to the concentration camps. Gad and his father were among the detainees arrested during the Fabrikaktion.

Manfred Lewin, Gad Beck's first love
Eventually, Gad and his father would be arrested, too. In 1943, Goebbels, as a birthday present to Hitler, decreed to make Berlin Judenrein (free of all Jews). Jews and Mischlinge were still working and living in Berlin even during this time partly because the war required so many German Gentiles to serve in the military. Goebbel’s plan involved a surprise round up of all the Jews and Mischlinge working in the factories and transport them to pre-determined detention centers around Berlin where they would remain while awaiting deportation to Auschwitz, what was later called the Fabrikaktion. Gad and his father were arrested and transferred to the Jewish Community Center located on Rosenstraße. This is where the famous Rosenstraße protest occurred. Several civilians descended on the detention center en masse, the majority of them Gentile women, and demanded that the Nazis release their husbands and sons. The protest lasted several days despite threats from the soldiers that they would shoot into the crowd if they didn’t disperse. The protesters were resolute, and eventually the men were freed. Gad recalls seeing his own aunts locked arm in arm protesting in front of the gate. As he notes in his testimony, no one was shot, no water cannons used. This was an actual peaceful protest that succeeded in freeing a few of the remaining Jews still living in Berlin.
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Gad Beck on rescuing his lover Manfred Lewin
Gay Pride Month

Hearing that his lover, Manfred Lewin, has been taken with his family to a transit camp, Gad Beck makes the dangerous choice to go undercover as a Hitler Youth to break Manfred out.

At least for the moment. Eventually, in 1945, Gad Beck was arrested again, this time for his involvement in the Chug Chaluzi youth group that provided aid and hiding to Jews still living in the city. He would remain along with his lover Zvi Abrahamson, also in Chug Chaluzi, in the concentration camp that was set up in the Berlin Jewish Hospital until the Red Army freed them that same year.

He spent most of the rest of his life in Israel, returning to Berlin in 1979 where he headed the Jewish Adult Education Center. He also worked in the establishment of the Magnus Hirschfeld Society dedicated to promoting the work of the original institute that focused on the study of sexuality and was a major force in the fight to overturn Paragraph 175, which nearly succeeded until the Nazis came to power in 1933 and destroyed the institute and its research.

Besides giving the USC Shoah Foundation his testimony in 1996, Gad back shares his remarkable life in the 2000 documentary Paragraph 175. His memoir Und Gad ging zu David was published in English as An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin in 1999.

Gad Beck passed away at the age of 88 on June 24, 2012, just six days before his 89th birthday, survived by his longtime partner of 35 years, Julius Laufer. He is believed by some to have been the last remaining homosexual survivor of the Holocaust.

See the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's online exhibit of the booklet Manfred gave to Gad as a souvenir of their relationship.

Jeffrey Langham