‘Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals’ exhibit comes to Stonewall museum in Wilton Manors

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Seventeen years ago, I interviewed one of the last remaining gay male survivors of the Holocaust.

“Gad Beck, 78 and ailing, vividly recalls his “great, great love” and how he lost him to the Nazis,” I wrote Nov. 17, 2001, before a then-current documentary about gays and the Holocaust, “Paragraph 175,” premiered in South Florida.

Beck died in Berlin June 24, 2012. He never got over the loss of his lover 70 years earlier.

Beginning Thursday, Stonewall National Museum in Wilton Manors will present “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945,” a traveling exhibit produced by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

On Thursday, July 26, the museum will screen “Paragraph 175.”

Here is my complete 2001 interview with Gad Beck:

Gay man still mourns lover killed by Nazis

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.

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“An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin,” by Holocaust survivor Gad Beck.

Miami Herald File

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.”

If you go

Thursday, July 19 from 7 pm – 9 pm

Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933 – 1945

PUBLIC OPENING RECEPTION

Stonewall National Museum – Wilton Manors

2157 Wilton Dive, Wilton Manors

Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933 – 1945 is a traveling exhibition produced by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Through reproductions of historic photographs and documents, the exhibition explores the rationale, means and impact of the Nazi regime’s persecution of homosexuals, which left thousands dead and shattered the lives of many more.

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum exhibitions program is supported in part by the Lester Robbins and Sheila Johnson Robbins Traveling and Special Exhibitions Fund established in 1990. This installation sponsored by The Jim Stepp & Peter Zimmer Fund at Our Fund Foundation, Florida Humanities Council, Florida Department of State, Broward County Cultural Division, FAB! Funding Arts Broward, Visit Florida James Senior – Financial Advisor Edward Jones, and Barefoot Wine & Bubbly.

Free to attend. Suggested donation $5.

Refreshments provided courtesy of Barefoot Wine & Bubbly.

Thursday, July 26 at 6 pm

Paragraph 175 – FILM

Stonewall National Museum – Wilton Manors

2157 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors

Weimar, Germany was a homosexual Eden in the 1920s: gay and lesbian nightclubs and magazines flourished, the first homosexual rights movement was born…and then the Nazis came to power.

Directed by Oscar winners Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt and The Times of Harvey Milk), Paragraph 175 fills a crucial gap of the untold stories of homosexuals, under the Third Reich, in the historical record, and reveals the lasting consequences of this hidden chapter of 20th century history. These are stories of survivors – sometimes bitter, but just as often filled with irony and humor; tortured by their memories, yet infused with a powerful will to endure. Their moving testimonies, rendered with evocative images of their lives and times, tell a haunting, compelling story of human resistance. Intimate in its portrayals, sweeping in its implications, Paragraph 175 raised provocative questions about memory, history and identity.

Free to attend. Suggested donation $5.

Refreshments provided courtesy of Barefoot Wine & Bubbly.


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