Gad Beck, the last known gay Jewish Holocaust survivor, died in Berlin on Sunday, just a few days shy of his 89th birthday.
Perhaps the single most important experience that shaped his life was the wartime effort to rescue his boyfriend. Beck donned a Hitler Youth uniform and entered a deportation center to free his Jewish lover Manfred Lewin, who had declined to separate himself from his family.
Beck told the New York Daily News that he had asked an officer for the boy’s release to use on a construction project, but outside, his young lover said, “Gad, I can’t go with you. My family needs me. If I abandon them now, I could never be free.” The two boys parted without saying goodbye.
“In those seconds, watching him go, I grew up” Gad recalled.
As the son of an Austrian Jew and non-Jewish woman who converted, Beck was classified as a mischling, or half-breed. In 1943, he and nearly 2,000 other men were imprisoned in a compound on Rosenstrasse for deportation. But protests by the thousands of non-Jewish wives and mothers of these detainees—one of the most significant examples of nonviolent opposition to the Nazi regime by German civilians—led to Beck and the other men being freed.
Said Beck, “The Rosenstrasse event made one thing absolutely clear to me: I won’t wait until we get deported.”
He then joined the resistance and worked to help keep Jews in Berlin alive and safe: “As a homosexual, I was able to turn to my trusted non-Jewish, homosexual acquaintances to help supply food and hiding places,” he explained. But shortly before the end of the war, Beck was betrayed by a Jewish spy working for the Gestapo and sent to a transit camp in Berlin, where he remained until the end of the war. After the city’s liberation, he helped Jewish survivors emigrate to Palestine.
Beck’s story is truly inspiring, and a reminder that even those who are marginalized or deemed outcasts by society can rise up and be heroes.