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Gad Beck: "Do You Remember, When"

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

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. Nazi authorities amended the law in 1935, granting the state strong legal authority in the regime's campaign against gay men. The number of men arrested under Paragraph 175 skyrocketed, and state persecution intensified following the creation of the Reich Office for Combating Abortion and Homosexuality in 1936. Gay men were arrested and sent to prison or “preventive detention” in concentration camps like Sachsenhausen.1 Roughly 65 percent of the gay men sent to concentration camps died there. 

The featured memento book was given to Gad Beck by his first love when the two men were parted by Nazi persecution in 1941. Born as Gerhard Beck in 1923, he survived the Holocaust by concealing his identity and living underground in Berlin.2 As a gay, communist, half-Jewish man, Beck had to mask mulitiple parts of his identity.  Although the intersecting pieces of Beck’s identity may have complicated the ways he experienced Nazi persecution, Beck was able to turn to his different groups of friends and acquaintances for support. 

As a young man, Beck was active in a Zionist youth movement that advocated for Jewish relocation to what was then Palestine. It was here that Beck first met Manfred Lewin—the man he would later describe as his first great love—in 1940. Beck later described how his secret romance with Lewin developed in the context of the increasing social isolation of Jews in Germany and the Nazi regime's persecution of gay men.3 While surviving as a half-Jewish man living in Nazi Berlin, Beck also felt forced to conceal his relationship with Lewin from the outside world—including 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"  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 about their friends, and the time they had staged a production of Friedrich Schiller's play Don Carlos. Beck later recalled 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 were ordered 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 to the camp to be with his family, and Beck would never see him again. Lewin and his entire family were killed at Auschwitz. Beck himself managed to survive the war in the heart of Nazi Berlin. He attributes this to a number of factors, including his status as a half-Jewish manhis connections to various underground movements (both Jewish and non-Jewish), and a certain degree of sexual barter—in one case with a young man who was an avowed member of the Nazi Party.5

Beck’s and Lewin's story reminds us that people’s identities often impacted their experiences and chances for survival during the Holocaust, and it raises several questions. Were Lewin and Beck targeted as Jews, as gay men, or as Jewish gay men? Does the fact that they successfully hid their relationship to avoid arrest influence our understanding of their experiences under Nazi persecution? In what ways might Beck’s identity as a half-Jewish man who could pass as a so-called “Aryan” German help him to survive?

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.

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.

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

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