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31 May 2018

Gad Beck – An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin

June 1-24, 2018 is designated as Pride Month in the city of Toronto, Ontario.

With June 1-24 designated as Pride Month in Toronto, I thought it would be an ideal time to focus on some of the lesser known victims of National Socialism. Throughout June, I will offer a book, film, survivor profile, or testimony of someone persecuted under Germany’s Paragraph 175 or Austria’s Paragraph 129.

I stress the point of Austria’s own legislation because even though Austria was annexed into the German Reich and ceased to exist as an independent country from 1938-1945, the total ban on male and female homosexuality remained unchanged for more than a century. Austrian historian and social activist Mag. Kurt Krickler has extensively researched this topic and  writes:”The relevant article in the Austrian criminal code (129 I b) remained in effect from 1852 up till 1971 when it was finally repealed… After the 1935 reform of Paragraph 175 in Germany, this provision was now closer to Austria’s Paragraph 129, but more comprehensive. Therefore, the elements constituting the offence continued to differ. And indeed, there was some controversy regarding the jurisprudence of the Austrian courts after annexation so that even the Reich Ministry of Justice had to deal with the issue, urging Austrian courts to be stricter in their application of the Austrian law.” It’s an interesting and important aspect of history that demonstrates the differences that gay men living in the Nazi Reich  experienced.

In this posting however, I want to highlight Gad Beck’s personal memoir and his remarkable narrative of survival as a gay, Jewish man living in Berlin. Beck, (below left, in an archival photograph from the collection of the USHMM), survived hiding in open, in Nazi Germany’s capital city. An extremely dangerous period in Germany, Beck was able to utilise his considerable network of friends, colleagues and non-Jewish relatives on his mother’s side of the family to evade the Nazis.

His memoir reflects the sense of danger, fear and uncertainty that characterized this period. It also reflects Beck’s incredible resiliency and chutzpah to endure countless losses and face seemingly unwinnable situations with courage and no small measure of gusto. First published in German in 1995, and an English language translation followed in 2000. Beck’s 165 page memoir is a fascinating account of a gay, Jewish man’s account of defying the odds and surviving the Nazi genocide.

During Pride Month (June 1-24, 2018), I encourage everyone to discover for themselves the remarkable accounts of survival, and loss, from some of the few accounts we have of gay survivors of Nazi persecution.


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Written byCarson Phillips, Ph.D.

Carson Phillips holds a Ph.D. in Humanities from York University, Toronto, Canada and is Managing Director of the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre. He served as a Canadian delegate to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance from 2009-2014 and currently continues as an advisor to the Funding Review Committee. In addition, he is an adjunct faculty member in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Gratz College, USA.

He is the recipient of numerous scholarly awards including the 2013 BMW Canada Award for Excellence from the Canadian Centre for German and European Studies. His research interests focus on post-Holocaust conceptualisations of gender, Väterliteratur and cultural representations of the Holocaust in screen and visual culture.