After the non-Jewish wives of the prisoners launched a massive street protest that stunned the Nazis, the Beck family members were released on this date (6 March 1943). There were “thousands of women who stood for days… my aunts demanded, ‘Give us our children and men,’” Gad Beck wrote. The Rosenstrasse demonstration helped debunk the widespread myth in post-Holocaust German society that resistance against Nazism was futile.
Gad noted, “The Rosenstrasse event made one thing absolutely clear to me: I won’t wait until we get deported.” Following his release, he joined Chug Chaluzi, an underground Zionist resistance youth group, and played a key role in securing the survival of Jews in Berlin.
Beck had said on numerous occasions and during interviews over his lifetime that the single most important experience that shaped his life was his attempt to rescue his Jewish boyfriend, Manfred Lewin. When the Gestapo rounded up Lewin’s family in October 1942 for deportation to the East (by this time Gad knew what “transport to the East” meant), Beck borrowed a neighbor’s over-sized Hitler Youth uniform and marched into the transit camp in a bid to free his first love. Beck convinced an officer to temporarily put Manfred into his custody.Once outside the camp, though, Lewin stopped dead in his tracks. “I was going out with him from the ‘locker’ and I said, ‘Manfred, now you are free – come!’ And he said no,” Beck recalled in an interview. “And it’s important to understand this: Manfred said, ‘I will never be free if I am not near my family. They are old and they are ill and I have to help them.’ And he went back to the locker without saying goodbye to me. I never saw him again. His entire family died in Auschwitz.”
As Gad returned home after leaving Manfred he said “In those seconds, watching him go, I grew up.”
Gad’s only memento of Manfred was a little notebook with poems, sketches, and essays which Manfred had written, plus a photograph. Gad treasured them throughout his life. Sixty years after it was written, he entrusted the booklet to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The exhibit curator notes: “It became evident how the meaning of this artifact was changed by Manfred’s deportation and death in Auschwitz and by passing years. The booklet, once only meaningful for Gad and Manfred, became a time capsule, a reminder of a friendship, of a group, and of the events that destroyed them all.” The booklet…”now allows us glimpses into the daily life of Jewish Youth in Berlin before and during the deportations. It reminds us of how difficult it is to really understand what happened and how much we can never know.”
In early 1945, a Jewish spy for the Gestapo betrayed Beck and some of his underground friends. He was subsequently interrogated and interned in a Jewish transit camp in Berlin. 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, on 24 August 1945, he was freed by the Soviets. “I was liberated by a Jewish soldier of the Russian Army, and he asked me in Yiddish, ‘Are you Gad Beck?’ I said I was. He was so beautiful I could have fallen in love with him. ‘Brother,’ he told me, ‘now you are free.’ And he kissed me.”
Since the war ended, Gad lived in Germany, Palestine, and Austria. He met his life partner, Julius Laufer, in Vienna. In later life he gave many presentations throughout the world and became head of the German Jewish Community.
Beck died 24 June 2012 in a retirement home in Berlin, just six days short of his 89th birthday. He is survived by Julius Laufer, his partner of 35 years. Gad Beck was the last known gay Jewish holocaust survivor alive. Now, literally nobody knows what it was like to be Jewish and gay in the horrors of the Nazi regime. No gay Jewish survivor will ever get to smile at any further milestones in equality for gay people.
- Beck, Gad. An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999).