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BERLIN — Gad Beck, a pioneering gay rights activist and educator in a severely anti-homosexual, repressive post-World War II German culture, has died, just six days before his 89th birthday.
Beck was believed to be the last known gay Jewish survivor of the Holocaust.
Beck who was famous for his humorous style of speaking once told a German radio host, “The Americans in New York called me a great hero. I said no… I’m really a little hero.”
During World War II, Beck worked as a resistance fighter for an underground Jewish resistance youth group, Chug Chaluzi, playing a critical role in assisting in the survival of Jews in the German capital of Berlin.
In documents at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington chronicling Beck’s war time efforts, he once wrote, “As a homosexual, I was able to turn to my trusted non-Jewish, homosexual acquaintances to help supply food and hiding places.”
Shortly before the Allies overran the German state in 1945, a Jewish spy working for the Nazi secret police, the Gestapo, betrayed Beck and he was arrested and shipped to a concentration camp, but was later liberated by Allied forces before being sent to one of the death camps.
Beck had said on numerous occasions and during interviews over his lifetime that the single most important experience that shaped his life was the his attempt to rescue his Jewish boyfriend, Manfred Lewin.
Beck had donned a Hitler Youth uniform and entered a deportation center to free Lewin, who had remained with his family, declining any help.
The SS would later deport the entire Lewin family to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, where they were killed along with several million other victims of the Nazis.
Following the end of WW II, Beck emigrated to the newly created state of Israel in 1947, but returned to Germany in 1979.
The first post-Holocaust head of Berlin’s Jewish community, Heinz Galinski, appointed Beck director of the Jewish Adult Education Center in Berlin.
Speaking about his life as a gay Jew, Beck frequently commented about his homosexuality saying, “God doesn’t punish for a life of love.”
Beck was featured in the film “The Life of Gad Beck,” and the documentary “Paragraph 175.” (The infamous Paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code outlawed homosexuality before Adolf Hitler became chancellor in 1933, and the Nazi party radically intensified the enforcement of the anti-gay law, including deportations to the concentration camps.)
“Only Steven Spielberg can film my life – forgive me, forgive me,” Beck once quipped.
In a telephone interview on Monday with Judith Kessler, editor of the Berlin Jewish community’s monthly magazine, Juedisches Berlin, Kessler told The Jerusalem Post that Beck would frequently organize gay singles meeting in the center.
“He was open, sweet and would speak with everybody,” she said. Kessler, who knew Beck since 1989, added that he would attend the annual Christopher Street Day Parade for gay pride in Berlin and wave an Israeli flag.
Beck is survived by Julius Laufer, his partner of 35 years.