Until his recent death just shy of his 89th birthday, Beck was the last known gay Jewish survivor of the Holocaust. Also a resistance fighter, Beck’s experiences during World War II were such that he quipped, “Only Steven Spielberg can film my life — forgive me, forgive me.”
He’s forgiven. Because he’s right.
Consider his attempt to rescue his Jewish boyfriend. According to Wikipedia, Beck donned a Hitler Youth uniform and entered a deportation center to free Manfred Lewin.
Thereby setting a ridiculously high bar for standing by your man.
Beck asked the commanding officer to release Lewin for use in a construction project, and he must’ve been convincing, because the officer agreed.
When they got outside, though, Lewin said, “Gad, I can’t go with you. My family needs me. If I abandon them now, I could never be free.”
The two parted, not saying goodbye. “In those seconds, watching him go, I grew up,” recalled Beck.
If you’re weepy already, don’t read the next sentence. Lewin and his whole family perished at Auschwitz. I warned you.
Beck’s father was Jewish, and his mother converted to Judaism. Under the Nazi racial laws, Beck was a half-breed, and he and his father landed in a holding compound on the Rosenstrasse in Berlin. He was released after the non-Jewish wives of inmates protested in the street.
They set a pretty high bar, too.
Beck learned from those women. He said, reported The Jerusalem Post, “The Rosenstrasse event made one thing absolutely clear to me: I won’t wait until we get deported.”
He joined a resistance youth group, and helped Jews in Berlin survive. Beck noted that, “as a homosexual, I was able to turn to my trusted non-Jewish, homosexual acquaintances to help supply food and hiding places.”
It helps to have friends in homo places.
A Jewish spy working for the Gestapo betrayed Beck shortly before the war ended, and he was held at a Jewish transit camp. After the war, he assisted Jews emigrating to Palestine, and he himself lived in Israel from 1947-79, when he returned to Germany.
I don’t know why he returned. But at his death he was survived by Julius Laufer, his partner of 35 years, which means the two men got together in 1977, two years before Beck went back to Europe. It would be gratifying to think he returned to Germany for love, considering he left it for the opposite reason.
But if he returned just because he missed the beer, that’s OK, too.
As the director of the Jewish Adult Education Center in Berlin, Beck organized gatherings of gay singles at the center. “He was open, sweet and would speak with everybody,” said the editor of Berlin’s Jewish magazine, who also recalled Beck’s fondness for waving the Israeli flag at Berlin’s annual Pride parade.
He sounds like the kind of guy you’d want to have at a party. If he could keep the flag-waving to a minimum.
Beck’s heart-centeredness combined with a notable wit. On a German talk show, he said, “The Americans in New York called me a great hero. I said no ... I’m really a little hero.”
Of his life as a homosexual Jew, Beck averred, “God doesn’t punish for a life of love.” He wasn’t the first to say that, and he won’t be the last, but it’s tough to imagine the line suiting anyone better.
Leslie Robinson lives in Seattle. Email her at email@example.com
and indulge in her blog at www.generalgayety.com