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Gad Beck, last known gay Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, dies in Berlin just before 89th birthday

Gad Beck, the last known gay Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, died on Sunday in Berlin six days before his 89th birthday, reports The Jerusalem Post.

Eleven years ago, I interviewed Beck, who wrote a memoir, An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin. From Nov. 17, 2001:

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Gad Beck, 78 and ailing, vividly recalls his "great, great love" and how he lost him to the Nazis.

Sixty years later, Beck still calls it "the darkest hour of my life." He says it's important for him to tell his story, however painful.

So two years ago, the retired educator wrote an autobiography, An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin. And that year as well, he was one of a handful of known gay Holocaust survivors to appear in a film documentary called Paragraph 175, which will be screened Sunday at Temple Israel in Miami.

Paragraph 175 was an 1871 section in the German criminal code that strictly prohibited anal intercourse, German historian Lothar Machtan said.

In 1935, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis rewrote Paragraph 175 to outlaw all forms of male homosexuality. Lesbians were excluded from the law.

"That was the basis for the prosecution, persecution, harassment - even the killing of homosexuals - by the Third Reich, " said Machtan, author of a controversial new book called The Hidden Hitler, which alleges with no proof that Hitler himself was gay.

Between 1933 and 1945, German police arrested an estimated 100,000 men as homosexuals, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

About 50,000 of those men were sentenced by German courts to regular prisons; between 5,000 and 15,000 were interned in concentration camps.

PINK TRIANGLES

Forced to wear pink triangles signifying their homosexuality, these men were among the most-abused prisoners in the concentration camps, according to the Holocaust museum.

No one knows how many gay men died in the camps.

Gad Beck was born in 1923 in Berlin to a Jewish father and a Christian mother.

Early on, Beck became aware of his homosexuality.

"At the age of 12, it was clear to me I was in love with a boyfriend, " Beck said last week from his home in Berlin. But, he added, "in the time I was a young boy, there was no way you could speak of it."

At 15, Beck met and fell in love with Manfred Lewin, a 16-year-old Jew. Three years later, Lewin and his family were jailed by the Nazis.

Because Beck's mother wasn't Jewish, the Germans didn't intern him. He joined and became a leader in the Jewish underground in Germany.

VISIT TO JAIL

One day, Beck stole a German soldier's uniform and sneaked into the jail where Lewin was being held. He pleaded with Lewin to escape.

"He said to me, 'Look, this is impossible to understand. No Gad, I can never be free. I'm with my whole family.' He went back, " Beck said.

"We had prepared a life together. . . . Three weeks after this meeting, he was going to Auschwitz with his whole family, " said Beck, who never saw Lewin again.

After World War II ended, Beck searched for Lewin and discovered that he and his family perished in Auschwitz.

[Before Lewin's arrest, he gave Gad Beck a handwritten diary about their life together. The book, with English translation, can be viewed online at the museum's website, www.ushmm.org/doyou rememberwhen/co/co.htm]

In 1947, Beck helped organize the emigration of Jewish survivors to Palestine. He lived in Israel until 1979, when he returned to Berlin.

In 60 years, much has changed for gay men in Germany. In 1994, after the two Germanys reunited, the law was abolished.

Earlier this year, the German congress voted to allow gay civil unions.

And last month, Klaus Wowereit was elected mayor of Berlin.

During the campaign in June, Wowereit announced: "I'm gay and that's a good thing."

In Germany and around the world, that has become a cult phrase among gay men and women.

NORMALIZATION

"There has been a very positive change and a trend toward 'normalization, ' " said Marc Fest, 35, a gay businessman born in West Germany and now living in Miami Beach.

Although Fest grew up hearing about Paragraph 175, he knew little about the gay men who died during World War II.

"The first time I heard there were gay people in the concentration camps was not in school, " Fest said. "We were fed an extraordinary amount of information about what happened in the Third Reich. Every year in history class, we were looking at a different aspect and a different angle about those events.

"The first thing I remember, I saw a reference to that was when I moved to Berlin to go to the university in 1989. I remember at a subway station I saw a new memorial, a pink triangle made of marble at a subway station in the gay district of West Berlin."

The inscription: "Beaten to death, silenced to death - to the homosexual Nazi victims."

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