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Gad Beck: "Do You Remember, When"

Gad Beck Do you remember, when
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Gift of Gad Beck

Gad Beck, born Gerhard Beck in 1923, spent the Holocaust living "underground" in Berlin.1 For Beck, a communist, gay half-Jew or  "Mischling" (according to Nazi racial laws), hiding assumed a host of forms. His story demonstrates the many ways in which these identities intersected and impacted both his persecution and his ultimate survival.

As a young man, Beck was active in the Jewish youth movement He-halutz, which advocated for Jewish relocation in what was then Palestine. It was here that Beck met Manfred Lewin, a man he describes as his first great love, in 1940. Beck later described how his romance with Lewin developed in secret, and in the context of the social isolation of Jews in Germany. The relationship also evolved against the backdrop of the Nazi regime's increasingly violent persecution of gay men.2 Indeed, same-sex relationships between men in Germany had been criminalized by Paragraph 175 of the criminal code since the unification of the Reich in 1871. The number of men arrested under Paragraph 175 skyrocketed after Nazi jurists amended the law in 1935, which granted the state unprecedented legal authority in the national campaign against homosexuality. The persecution intensified following the creation of the Reich Office for Combating Abortion and Homosexuality in 1936. While not targeted for murder, gay men were routinely arrested and sent to prison or sent to concentration camps like Sachsenhausen.3 Of those gay prisoners who were sent to concentration camps, 65% of them died there. Thus, while surviving as a half-Jew in Nazi Berlin, Beck was also forced to conceal his relationship with Lewin from both the outside world and his own family.

In September 1941, all Jews in Germany were ordered to wear a yellow Star of David, and mass deportations to concentration camps began in earnest. Jewish organizations were also dissolved—including the youth group to which Beck and Lewin belonged. Lewin gave Beck this small, handmade book titled "Do you remember, when," at this point in 1941, as a memento of their time together and a token of his affection. The book begins with a dedication that refers to memories of a happier time: outings their group had taken together, inside jokes regarding some of their friends, and the time they had staged a production of Friedrich Schiller's play Don Carlos. Beck recalls his reaction to the book: "The message was clear: Should we be torn apart someday, we could still count on our love and would always hear each other's call for help. His poem moves me to this day."4

In late 1942 Lewin's family received notice that they were to report to what we now know was a "pre-deportation camp" on Große Hamburger Straße. In an attempt to rescue Lewin, Beck acquired a Hitler Youth uniform and traveled to Große Hamburger Straße. Deceiving the SS official in charge, Beck managed to escort Lewin out of the camp. Lewin, however, could not bring himself to leave his family: "If I abandon them now," he told Beck, "I could never be free." Lewin returned around to the camp to be with to his family; Beck would never see him again. Lewin and his entire family were killed at Auschwitz. Beck himself survived the war in the heart of Nazi Berlin—a survival he attributes to a number of factors, including his "mixed" status, his political connections within various underground movements (Jewish and non-Jewish), and, as he states quite frankly in his memoir, a certain degree of sexual barter, in one case with a young man who was an avowed member of the Nazi party.5

Beck and Lewin's story reminds us of the multifaceted, porous identities that victims occupied at different points during the Holocaust. Does the fact that their sexual identities remained hidden—not only from Nazi authorities, but from their own families—influence our understanding of their experiences? Were Lewin and Beck persecuted as gay men, as Jews, or as Jewish gay men? How was Beck's ability to survive dependent on his role as a male who could "pass" for German, and what possibilities for survival did this open up for him? While today we understand Beck and Lewin's narrative as an example of the persecution of gay men by the Nazi regime, their disparate fates reflect the confluence of many simultaneous factors.

Roughly 7,000 Jews are estimated to have survived the war hiding in Berlin. See: Atina Grossman, Jews, Germans, and Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 303.

Gad Beck, An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999), 55. For an analysis of persecution against gay men in Germany, see Dagmar Herzog, Sexuality in Europe: A Twentieth-Century History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 67.

 

For more on the Sachsenhausen camp and its status as the "gay Auschwitz," see Heinz Herger, The Men With the Pink Triangle: The True Life-and-Death Story of Homosexuals in the Nazi Death Camps, trans. David Fernbach (New York: Alyson Books, 1994), 30.

Beck, An Underground Life, 56.

Beck, An Underground Life, 73-74.

An annotated discussion of the diary, including interviews with the author, can be found on USHMM's website.

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Do your remember, when...1

Dear, kind Gad, I owe you a present, no, I want to give you one, not just so that you get something from me that you can glance through and then lay aside forever, but something that will make you happy whenever you pick it up.

How could anyone bring us someone like this? We asked ourselves in fits of laughter.

Oh, we made fun of him when he was hanging there tied to that tree, but I felt differently...

When it became a problem: Tola.

And our group was drawn closer, when Karlos was enjoyed by everyone.

Our Beck worried about the greasy mud Erwin had to work with.

We must remember Erika and all the times we sat together.

Night exists for more than sleep which is why, my love, we stayed awake so often.

We lived through many exploding bombs.

But five minutes later we knew peace again.

Lothar Herrmann only paints rooms, which is why I don't have much idea how to draw cartoons. Nor am I a mighty poet, but I did it as well as I could.

Sometimes it looks like this in Meir.

A void opens within me / Spirit and body suddenly are lame / The time that follows is torture / In which I seek out the strength to go / on living. / Often I see myself standing at the / edge of an abyss / Felt my utter abandonment / And the dizziness when I left my eyes / look down / And the sudden draining of blood / from my cheeks.

But suddenly from the blackest depths / A gentle voice came echoing / Looking down I wondered who might / be calling out to me / Although the voice was one I knew at once! / It was the voice of a sacred power / It was the sound of souls in harmony / It was the essence of our humanity / The quality we must never lose.

When in a single move Destiny / unleashes its terrible game / And sweeps you away to some far / distant land / When our exile stretches ever further / Will the last bonds of our community / be torn apart

Then don't lament / Even though the fire torments your / heart / For there is one sure support / a voice that we call friendship.

Shavuot May 21, 1942/ Forever my best wishes are with you. Meir Levin

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Gift of Gad Beck
Accession Number 2000.416
Date Created
1941 to 1942
Author / Creator
Gad Beck
Language(s)
German
Location
Berlin, Germany
Document Type Album
How to Cite Museum Materials