Last meeting of the Youth Aliyah leadership in Berlin.
- Variant Locale
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Gad Beck
Last meeting of the Youth Aliyah leadership in Berlin.
Pictured from left to right are: Lotte Kaiser, Arthur Posnanski, Hans Wolfgang Cohn, Sonja Okun, Alfred Selbiger, Ludwig Kuttner, Kurt Silberpfennig, Jizchak Schwersenz, and Herbert Growald.
- Event History
- The Youth Aliyah school in Berlin was founded in 1936 by the Jewish community to accommodate the increasing numbers of young people who wanted to join the Hehalutz Zionist youth movement in order to train for immigration to Palestine. Though Jewish youth groups were banned by the Nazis in 1936, the Youth Aliyah school was tolerated for several more years because it prepared Jews for emigration. In May 1939 Jizchak Schwersenz became its director. When the Nazis prohibited Jewish emigration in October 1941, they closed the Youth Aliyah school.
- Gerhard (Gad) Beck is the son of Heinrich and Hedwig (Kretchmar) Beck. He was born, along with his twin sister, Margot (Miriam), on June 30, 1923 in Berlin. His father, who had grown up in an observant Jewish home in Vienna, moved to Berlin in the inter-war period and set up a mail order firm called Heinrich Beck and Company. Gerhard's mother, who hailed from a Protestant family, met her future husband when she went to work in the telephone exchange at his company. They were married in 1920 after her conversion to Judaism, and settled into an apartment above the business. In 1927 the family moved to a larger apartment in the Weissensee district of Berlin. Although neither side of the family initially favored the marriage, they soon grew to embrace one another, and Gerhard's childhood was marked by easy acceptance and observance of both religious traditions. He and his sister attended a public school in Weissensee until 1934 when increasing anti-Semitism led them to switch to the Jewish School for Boys and Girls on the Grosse Hamburger Strasse. Until its demise in 1935, the twins also participated in a mixed youth group of Germans and Jews known as the German-Jewish Ring. The Beck's financial situation had begun to deteriorate even before the Nazi rise to power, forcing Gerhard's father to downsize the mail order business. To supplement his income he began a wholesale tobacco business, but soon he was forced to accept financial assistance from his in-laws to provide for his family. Throughout the period of the Third Reich, the Becks maintained a close relationship with their Christian relatives, who repeatedly provided assistance to the beleaguered members of the family. In 1936 Gerhard and Margot were forced to leave school when the family could no longer afford the tuition. They both assumed apprenticeships in the garment industry. Two years later, in April 1938, the family also had to vacate their apartment in the Weissensee and move to the Jewish district. The following November Gerhard had to leave his apprenticeship when the firm was destroyed on Kristallnacht. He then found work at the Lindau company, a cardboard manufacturing business. In 1939 Gerhard joined an agricultural training farm (hachshara) in Skaby (southeast of Berlin). The hachshara, which was sponsored by the Hechalutz Zionist youth movement, made arrangements for the group of trainees to immigrate to Palestine. Gerhard, unfortunately, was unable to make aliyah with his group after suffering a collapse during the harvest which required several weeks of hospitalization. Following his release, Gerhard was assigned work by the Jewish employment office at another carton factory in the Lichtenberg district. There, he met Erwin Tischauer, the leader of the Hehalutz movement in Berlin, who introduced him to other Zionist activists in the city, including Jizchak Schwersenz, then director of the Youth Aliyah school on the Choriner Strasse. Gerhard and his sister quickly became immersed in movement activities, and like other members of their group, took on Hebrew names. Gerhard became Gad and Margot, Miriam. It was during this period that Gad's homosexuality came to the fore in his life, and he developed his first serious relationship with a fellow Hehalutz member named Manfred Lewin. By 1941 Gad had assumed a leadership role in the movement. Together with Hehalutz' new leader, Lotte Kaiser, Gad coordinated the exchange of information between the various Jewish groups and institutions still operating in the capital. He also maintained contact with the international Hehalutz office in Geneva, which had established a Relief and Rescue Committee at the start of the war.
In the fall of 1941 Gad was transferred from the carton factory to the Stettiner train station, where his job was to unload vast quantities of potatoes that had been brought into the capital to feed the population for the coming winter. As a Mischling, Gad was initially exempt from deportation actions which began in Berlin in October 1941. However, on February 17, 1943 he was ordered to report to the temporary internment camp established at a former Jewish community building on the Rosenstrasse, where Jewish spouses of Aryans were being held. He was detained there until March 6, when the group was released following a forceful demonstration staged by the Aryan spouses. In the spring of 1943 Gad joined the Chug Halutzi, a clandestine group of Jewish youth in Berlin, most of whom were living in hiding. Led by Jizchak Schwersenz, the group sought to find escape routes out of Germany and to keep its members safely under cover until the Allied victory. The group met regularly to study Hebrew and Jewish history, to celebrate holidays and occasionally to take hikes in the forest. Through his contacts among Christians and homosexuals, Gad was able to arrange hiding places for members of his group. Following Schwersenz' successful escape to Switzerland, Gad became leader of the Chug Halutzi. Using his mother's address in Berlin, he was able to receive money sent by the Geneva office of Hehalutz and pass it on to the illegals. In March 1945 Gad was arrested at the Chug Halutzi office in the Wedding district by members of the SS who had been tipped off by the Jewish "snatcher," Rolf Isaaksohn. When Gad was brought in for questioning at the Gestapo prison, it materialized that his interrogator, Erich Moeller, was a former customer of his father. After Gad reminded the policeman that he and his sister had delivered tobacco to Moeller's kiosk when they were children, Moeller allowed him to return to his cell without further questioning. During the bombardment of Berlin in the weeks that followed, Gad's cell was hit, and he was rescued from the rubble and hospitalized. Gad remained at the hospital until it was liberated by the Soviets on April 24. After the war the Soviets appointed Gad the first representative for Jewish affairs in Berlin. Later he moved to Munich, where he helped to organize illegal immigration to Palestine. In 1947 Gad, Miriam and their parents immigrated to Palestine. Gad remained in Israel until the 1960s when he moved back to Europe to teach and help set up the German-Israeli Student Association. In 1974 the Viennese Jewish community invited him to take charge of its youth activities and later to direct its Jewish adult education center. In Vienna he met his life partner, Julius Laufer. [Source: Beck, Gad. An Underground Life, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1999]
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Gad Beck
- Published Source
- An Underground Life - Beck, Gad - University of Wisconsin Press - p. 100
Record last modified: 2002-05-13 00:00:00
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