Beck, Gad. “An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Germany, University of Wisconsin Press, 1999.
Triumph of Will
We all have a great deal of trouble understanding the Holocaust and what it did to so many people. We have been slowly getting the stories of the Nazi persecution if gays and if one was both gay and Jewish, he had real troubles. Gad Beck was a man like that but he survived and was able to tell his story as he does so eloquently in “An Underground Life”. Even though his book begins slowly, it picks up pace quickly and as you read your mouth falls open to see stories about man’s inhumanity to man. When the Nazis began their reign of terror he was living underground and was sought by the Gestapo. Beck was an organizer and helped many who lived illegally by finding them shelter and food as well as providing a listening ear and support in any way that he could. The fact that he was gay was secondary to the fact that he was Jewish.
In this memoir Beck brings to life both the cruelty to the Jews but the cruelty to the gays as well. This is a shocking and horrifying account as he writes about a gay man’s coming of age in Nazi Germany. It is an erotic tale but also shows how love should be considered. This was probably the first time in the modern age that the gay spirit managed to triumph over intolerance and bigotry—even against the greatest crime ever against humanity.
The fact that Beck survived in itself is miraculous but even more amazing is that he was able to write about what he endured. When Robert Plant published “The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War against Homosexuals” in 1986, the door was opened to a new aspect of the Holocaust. Several personal accounts followed, but few have been published that talk about the Nazi treatment of gays ad I imagine that this is because so few survived and those that did could not think about what they had endured. This makes this book that much more valuable.
Beck’s own story is unique in that he was born of a mixed marriage in 1923 to a Jewish father and a Christian mother thereby not Jewish according to strict Orthodox law. Nonetheless, the Nazis did not care—if he had a drop of Jewish blood, as far as they were concerned, he was Jewish. As the Nazi party rose to power and began their housing relocation plan, forced labor and transport to death camps, Beck organized a resistance movement to hide others and to smuggle food and drugs to them, He even once wore a Nazi uniform to rescue a doomed gay man from the camps. He does not in any way disguise his sexuality and he gives details of his own sexual liaisons. He gives us an amazing picture of the horror of Nazi rule. He was one of the fortunate gay men whom his parents loved and accepted his sexuality and was very lucky that the Christian side of his family felt the same. In 1933, when Hitler came to power, he was forced to attend a Jewish school to reinforce his identity and to be visible to the ruling party and he immersed himself in Judaism and embraced the idea of the Zionist movement. He also embraced a great many men and he hides nothing about his sex life (except for actual sexual descriptions) as well as writes openly about his secret political activities. He rose in power in the Zionist movement and became a central character in working to establish a Jewish homeland. He survived the Nazis by living illegally in Berlin. Because of that he was able to write this wonderful memoir.
This is a book that holds you from the beginning to the end, so much so that you want a sequel. He embraced his gayness at the same time that he embraced his Jewish—at a time when it meant death to be either. There are stories of betrayals and back stabbings and secret meetings and the memoir reads like a combination thriller/spy novel. That he survived s incredible and even more incredible is that he endured all that he did.