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Gad Beck

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Name Gerhard (Gad) Beck
Date of Birth June 30, 1923 Place of Birth Berlin, Germany
Born into a Jewish-Christian family, Gad lived a seemingly untroubled childhood. His father, who had grown up in an observant Jewish home in Vienna, moved to Berlin in the inter-war period and set up a mail order firm. Gerhard's mother, who hailed from a Protestant family, met her future husband when she went to work in the telephone exchange at his company. They were married in 1920 after her conversion to Judaism, and settled into an apartment above the business.

In 1927 the family moved to a larger apartment in the Weißensee district of Berlin, where Gad entered primary school. Beck grew up in an ecumenical home that embraced both sides of the family and educated the children in both traditions. With both religions comfortably coexisting, Beck did not emphasize his own Jewishness until faced with exclusion at school on account of it, but from that point on, it became an aspect of himself that he celebrated and nurtured.

"I was just 10 when the Nazis came to power. As one of a small number of Jewish pupils in my school, I quickly became the target of antisemitic comments: "Can I sit somewhere else, not next to Gad? He has such stinking Jewish feet." (Gad)
Gad had his first male-male sexual experience at school, seducing a sports teacher. He proudly boasted about his conquest to his mother, with a frankness that became typical for him. Hardly surprised, his parents accepted his homosexuality.
1933 - 1939: After 1933, he and his twin sister Miriam were labeled half-Jewlish and experienced growing anti-semitism.
"In 1934 my parents enrolled me in a Jewish school, but I had to quit school when I was 12 as they could no longer afford the tuition. I found work as a shop assistant." (Gad)
He and his sister attended a public school in Weissensee until 1934 when increasing anti-Semitism led them to switch to the Jewish School for Boys and Girls on the Grosse Hamburger Strasse.

Until its demise in 1935, the twins also participated in a mixed youth group of Germans and Jews known as the German-Jewish Ring. The Beck's financial situation had begun to deteriorate even before the Nazi rise to power, forcing Gerhard's father to downsize the mail order business. To supplement his income he began a wholesale tobacco business, but soon he was forced to accept financial assistance from his in-laws to provide for his family. Throughout the period of the Third Reich, the Becks maintained a close relationship with their Christian relatives, who repeatedly provided assistance to the beleaguered members of the family.

In 1936 Gerhard and Margot were forced to leave school when the family could no longer afford the tuition. They both assumed apprenticeships in the garment industry.

In April 1938, the family also had to vacate their apartment in the Weißensee and move to the Jewish district. The following November Gerhard had to leave his apprenticeship when the firm was destroyed on Kristallnacht. He then found work at the Lindau company, a cardboard manufacturing business.

In 1939 Gerhard joined an agricultural training farm (hachshara) in Skaby (southeast of Berlin). The hachshara, which was sponsored by the Hechalutz Zionist youth movement, made arrangements for the group of trainees to immigrate to Palestine. Gerhard, unfortunately, was unable to make aliyah with his group after suffering a collapse during the harvest which required several weeks of hospitalization. Following his release, Gerhard was assigned work by the Jewish employment office at another carton factory in the Lichtenberg district.

Gerhard and his sister quickly became immersed in movement activities, and like other members of their group, took on Hebrew names. Gerhard became Gad and Margot, Miriam. It was during this period that Gad's homosexuality came to the fore in his life, and he developed his first serious relationship with a fellow Hehalutz member named Manfred Lewin.

1940 - 1944:
"As the child of a mixed marriage, I was not deported to the east when other German Jews were. I remained in Berlin where I became involved in the underground, helping Jews to escape to Switzerland. As a homosexual, I was able to turn to my trusted non-Jewish, homosexual acquaintances to help supply food and hiding places. In early 1945 a Jewish spy for the Gestapo betrayed me and a number of my underground friends. I was interned in a Jewish transit camp in Berlin."
Gad learned of the holocaust when a friend held in the Birkenau camp wrote him a letter, warning him that Jews were being killed. He then became involved with the Zionist movement and the resistance, working to assist those living illegally and to help others escape. As the noose closed around those Jews still in Germany, Beck and his friends, also members of the underground, slipped through it, at least for a time. They lived in the shadows shaped by secret papers, forged identities, smuggled goods, and bribery. Here Beck's story becomes a compelling and tense account of arrests and near escapes, risks taken and miraculous coincidences. The cruelty and brutal efficiency of the Nazis is contrasted with daily acts of heroism by Jews and Christians alike.

In 1941, Gad -- then eighteen years old -- joined "Chug Chaluzi," an underground Jewish resistance group in Berlin that organized hiding places and food for Jews, and soon assumed a leadership role in the movement. In the fall of 1941 Gad was transferred from the carton factory to the Stettiner train station, where his job was to unload vast quantities of potatoes that had been brought into the capital to feed the population for the coming winter. As a Mischling, Gad was initially exempt from deportation actions which began in Berlin in October 1941.

In 1942, one evening, he went to visit his first boyfriend, Manfred, but he and his family were gone, taken to a holding station for transport to a death camp. Desperate to to liberate his lover, Beck disguised himself as a member of the Hitler youth, went to the transport station, and made up a story that Manfred had stolen some keys.

Beck promised the Nazi guards he'd bring Manfred back, saying, "What would I need a Jew for?"

As the two left the camp, Beck told Manfred, "Now you are free."

"'No,' he said, 'I can never be free if my whole family is inside. I have to be together with them,'" Beck said.

Manfred walked back to the Nazis. Gad watched helplessly as his friend returned to the camp. This was the last time he would see Manfred, who left behind a journal of his brief life. "In this moment I decided, I will fight," he said.

On occasion Beck found support and comfort through these times by becoming sexually or romantically involved with other men in the underground movement. On other occasions he used his sexuality to buy his own safety, exchanging sex for a safe place to stay or to ensure that a secret was kept. In the book, Beck writes often and quite frankly about his sexuality and these sexual encounters. Though his experiences in Nazi Berlin were shaped more by his racial status than his sexuality, the latter cannot be ignored, for while Beck was never arrested for his homosexuality, it most assuredly defined him. His intimate relationships and sexual exploits highlight how tenaciously Beck tried to reclaim some sense of normalcy, however short-lived, in the midst of such insanity. Regardless of the environment, Beck's love of life, and of love itself, could not be extinguished.

On February 17, 1943 he was ordered to report to the temporary internment camp established at a former Jewish community building on the Rosenstrasse, where Jewish spouses of Aryans were being held. He was detained there until March 6, when the group was released following a forceful demonstration staged by the Aryan spouses. Through his contacts among Christians and homosexuals, Gad was able to arrange hiding places for members of his group. Using his mother's address in Berlin, he was able to receive money sent by the Geneva office of Hehalutz and pass it on to the illegals.

Gad Beck was twenty-two in 1944, when, following Schwersenz' successful escape to Switzerland, Gad became leader of the underground Jewish resistance group in Berlin, the Chug Halutzi.

In March 1945 Gad was arrested at the Chug Halutzi office in the Wedding district by members of the SS who had been tipped off by the Jewish "snatcher," Rolf Isaaksohn. When Gad was brought in for questioning at the Gestapo prison, it materialized that his interrogator, Erich Moeller, was a former customer of his father. After Gad reminded the policeman that he and his sister had delivered tobacco to Moeller's kiosk when they were children, Moeller allowed him to return to his cell without further questioning. During the bombardment of Berlin in the weeks that followed, Gad's cell was hit, and he was rescued from the rubble and hospitalized. Gad remained at the hospital until it was liberated by the Soviets on April 24.

BeckAfter the war, the Soviets appointed Gad the first representative for Jewish affairs in Berlin. Later he moved to Munich, and worked with Ben-Gurion in the displaced persons camps, counting survivors and preparing them for illegal emigration to Palestine.

In 1947 Gad, together with his lover, with Miriam and their parents immigrated to Palestine. Gad remained in Israel until the 1960s when he moved back to Europe to teach and help set up the German-Israeli Student Association.

In 1974 the Viennese Jewish community invited him to take charge of its youth activities and later to direct its Jewish adult education center. In Vienna he met his life partner, Julius Laufer.

In 1979, he returned to Berlin to work with the head of the German Jewish community, Heinz Galinski. In the 1980s and '90s Gad became more and more open about his homosexual orientation and has given many public presentations in Europe and the U.S.

In 1995 Beck wrote his autobiography, titled An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin.

In An Underground Life, Beck takes us through the years under Hitler, describing the chaos and terror occurring all around him without dwelling on it. Instead, he provides a frank, yet positive, account of his struggle to survive while living in a world governed by fear and intimidation. He tells his story honestly, with the constant juxtaposition of the ordinary with the horrendous, describing in one moment the shared repetitiveness of daily life and in the next punctuating it with descriptions of Nazi oppression and persecution. Throughout, Beck's calm expression of events belies the tension present just below the surface.

In his late 70s, Beck says it's his duty to speak publicly not only about what happened under the reign of Hitler, but to fight for homosexual equality today.

"Gay men and lesbian woman have to fight for our rights," he says. And he hopes it's never too late to learn from the past and fight for the future.

Gad died on June 24, 2012 in a Berlin, Germany, retirement home. He was 88. He was the last living witness of gay persecution.

Notes Source: Beck, Gad. An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1999
Portrait of Gad Beck sitting at a desk in a displaced persons camp. Date: 1945 - 1947
Credit & ©: USHMM, courtesy of Gad Beck

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