When I first met Gad Beck I was enveloped by this man who, with a huge smile, emanated pure joy as a way of life. This week Gad past away is believed to be the last known homosexual survivor of the Holocaust.
Gad had flown into Washington, DC in 1996 to be the keynote speaker at a formal ceremony at the National Memorial Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. The event was to commemorate the members of the LGBT community who had died in the holocaust and for the museum to accept a $1.7 million gift raised in the last two years by LGBT Americans.
The Holocaust Museum had just opened when the 1993 March on Washington for LGBT Equality was taking place. Many of us had the opportunity to be powerfully moved that weekend by this extraordinary monument to what happens when hatred goes unanswered. Coming out of those personal tours it was decided by a small group of about twenty-five people from around the country to support the Museum but also to expand its scholarship about the impact of the Holocaust on the LGBT community.
Our goal was to raise a million dollars in a short period of time. We weren't sure we could do it and Roberta Bennett and I became CoChairs of the effort. Events were held all over the United States with Mark Leno in San Francisco, Bob Shrum and Marylouise Oates' home in Washington (with President Clinton attending) and so many other cities. The concept of remembering and honoring LGBT citizens who died in the Holocaust struck a core within the community.
Soon we had raised over $1.7 million and that led to a national exhibit that traveled the country in the early part of the last decade about the Holocaust and the LGBT community.
In 1996, the ceremony closing the fundraising drive and celebrating the alliance between the Museum and LGBT community was held at the Museum - a moving and powerful event that led to many tears throughout the evening. Just when we thought there were no more tears, Gad Beck stood to share his story with a dignity and pride rarely seen by any of us. His story of courage and love was riveting.
Most dramatic was the story of the great love of his life, Manfred Lewin. Beck had mixed heritage with a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother (known as "Mischling" by the Nazis) and was not immediately sent to the camps. However Manfred and his family were sent to Auschwitz. Beck entered the camp in the guise of a Hitler Youth uniform and actually escorted Manfred out. Once out Manfred realized he could not leave his family and returned to the camp. Beck's story of the two of them saying 'good-bye' was heartbreaking to hear. Tragically, Manfred and his entire family died in the Holocaust.
Gad emotionally told us how he used his ties to members of the homosexual community, who already were in the closet and knew how to live an 'underground life', to help other Jews escape into Switzerland. Finally he was betrayed, arrested and in a transit camp when the allies liberated him. Beck reminded us in the audience that the allies took many of the gay prisoners of the camps and held them in prison until 1949 because of their homosexuality.
Because of that Allied policy, many homosexual prisoners trusted no one when they finally were released from prison and refused to share their experiences. Because of Gad Beck, his courage, capacity to love and his willing to inspire future generations, we know a lot of the truth. For that, Mr. Beck, we will always be grateful.