Last Gay Jewish Holocaust Survivor Dies
Earlier this week the last known gay Jewish Holocaust survivor, Gad Beck, passed away. In many ways he defied being a victim — he snuck into a deportation center to free his boyfriend, for example, and was an active member of the Resistance.
Gad Beck was a hero in many ways, defying the Nazi regime and death itself. He survived the camps and went on to fight for equality for LGBT people, saying famously, “God doesn’t punish for a life of love.” His fight for justice – for not only Jews but gays and lesbians as well – has been profiled in two documentaries: “The Life of Gad Beck” and “Paragraph 175.”
Much can be said about his remarkable life and his contributions to the struggle for LGBT equality. But his death also provides an opportunity for a larger discussion about the way the Jewish community often relates to the Holocaust and non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Jewish organizations, including our own Reform Movement, frequently reference “the six million victims of the Holocaust,” but this formulation is problematic: To use phrases such as “the six million victims of the Holocaust” is to ignore the five to six million other victims who perished in the concentration camps alongside Jewish victims.
While we suffered greatly, so, too, did all the other victims and their families. Before Auschwitz, we were targeted by the Nuremberg Laws; before Bergen-Belsen, gays and lesbians were targeted by Paragraph 175 (a German law that criminalized homosexuality). Obviously, there are historical differences that should be recognized, but ultimately the Nazi regime targeted multiple groups which all suffered and died alongside the Jewish people — and today, as we mourn the death of the last gay Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, we can pause to remember the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims in particular.
Despite the fact that they lived, and died, and suffered alongside us, there has been a great deal of resistance to recognizing that gays and lesbians were also victims of the Holocaust. Yad Vashem’s (Israel’s national memorial to the Holocaust) chief historian even opposed the creation of a monument to honor gay victims of the Holocaust, saying, “The idea that visitors may deduce that the level of suffering caused to homosexuals was not much different than that suffered by the Jews – is a scandal.” This statement is indicative of a larger problem within the Jewish community: our reluctance to recognize that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters perished alongside us, and a tendency to minimize their suffering when we discuss the Holocaust.
What makes the minimization of LGBT victims of the Holocaust even worse is that while we were freed following the liberation of the camps by the Allied armies, those wearing the pink triangle — gays and lesbians — were forced to serve out the remainder of their sentences. While the Nuremberg Laws were repealed, the anti-gay laws stayed on the books until the 1990s. Only in 2002 were the convictions of the gay victims of the Nazis vacated.
It is incumbent upon us to remember all of the victims of the Holocaust — not only our own. Let the death of the last gay Jewish Holocaust victim serve as a reminder for us that recalling all of the victims is an issue of tikkun olam: to speak for those who cannot speak; to remember for those who cannot remember. Let us carry on Gad Beck’s legacy by remembering not only the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, not only “the six million,” but also all 11 million.
Image courtesy of Die Welt