GAD BECK’S JEWISH BOYHOOD IN BERLIN, 1932-35
Gerhard “Gad” Beck (30 June 1923 – 24 June 2012) was a Berliner of Jewish faith and half-Jewish ancestry, whose memoir of his youth (written with Frank Heibert), Und Gad ging zu David: Die Erinnerungen des Gad Beck, 1923 bis 1945 (And Gad went to David: The Memories of Gad Beck, 1923 to 1945) was published by Edition diá in Berlin in 1995. It was translated from the German by Allison Brown as An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin (published by The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1999), from which the following excerpt is taken.
An Underground Life
Besides my father, Uncle Paul was the most important male adult of my childhood. Paul Kruger lived and worked in the district of Wedding, a pretty rundown area back then. […]
The Krugers had had a small son whom Paul absolutely adored, but he died when he was five. Then they had a girl, my cousin Gerda, whom Paul didn’t like at all. His longing was clearly directed toward a son.
This family was hard for him—girls were skipping around all over, skirts and frills everywhere. But then there was me! This was one more reason for Uncle Paul to come visit us a lot. He really grew fond of me, and I thought he was wonderful. […]
And then it happened for the first time. I must have been about nine years old, and he was in his mid-fifties. I went into the children’s room too. Maybe I wanted to get something, I don’t remember. As I walked in, he put his pen down immediately and looked at me. I entered and threw a curious glance toward the bills on the table. He put me on his lap and kissed me on both cheeks. It tickled so, because he had a big Kaiser Wilhelm mustache. And suddenly I felt that I was sitting on something! It was warm and firm and felt . . . well . . . nice. He put his arms around me and squeezed me. I cherished every second. Nothing else happened. Not until later did I pay any attention to what was happening in his pants. But he never tried to go any further. He liked it, I liked it. There was an unspoken agreement be- tween us, and we never talked about it. Why should we.^ He smiled at me in a special way, mischievous and at the same time loving, which is why I tried to provoke these situations.
Such touching was new for me. For the first time, I had erotic feelings in that bottom of mine that had been slapped to get some life into me. The fact that it didn’t leave him cold either only served to encourage me. And so we both experienced the fulfillment of our secret desires. [pp. 14-5]
Describing himself at school in Weissensee aged ten, following the National Socialist take-over:
My best friend was a black-haired Romanian boy, two years older than me and of course much bigger. We sometimes played an early pubescent variation of doctor. After school he took me to the school basement and pulled me lovingly to him, rubbing himself against me and arousing himself. It all went into his pants, and then he ran home soaked; it didn’t seem to bother him at all. I needed this closeness and affection, even though I didn’t really understand all of what was happening. [p. 18]
Describing his time at the Jewish School on Grosse Hamburger Strasse, which he attended from 1934 to 1936:
My first real sexual experience happened during physical education—with my gym teacher. I was twelve; he was twenty-two. Since, as a Jew, he was prohibited from continuing his studies at the university, he was hired as a teacher’s assistant. After official school hours, he worked out with individual students on a voluntary basis. I was still running the relay, but he wanted to win me over to jumping hurdles—actually a silly idea considering my short legs.
One day I was his last student. When practice was over, we went to the showers. He was in one corner, and shyly I went to the other end of the shower room. He finished before me, put on a bathrobe, and threw me a towel. In that moment I was overcome with unrestrained desire. Without thinking about what I was doing, I went over to him and snuggled into his bathrobe, naked. Not a word was uttered. Thank goodness! I would not have known what to say. I felt like doing it and I did—it was enough just dealing with that.
I embraced him and noticed he was aroused as well; I relished the feeling. We caressed and rubbed against each other, not even all that much, and then we came, both of us. The nicest thing for me was that he reciprocated the affection by putting his arms around my shoulders. I had taken him by surprise, but when it happened, he wanted it too, there was no doubt about it.
I ran home beaming with delight. “So, how was your day at school today?” my mother asked as she did every day, throwing me a scrutinizing look. I was incredibly and obviously happy. “Really nice,” I reported breathlessly. “After practice I hugged my gym teacher in the locker room. It was really fun.” As unbelievable as that might sound, that is how naive I was.
If something had happened with a girl in my class, I probably would have been afraid to say anything. We did at least know that much about this serious thing reserved for grown-ups, which had something to do with having children. But being affectionate with a male teacher? What could happen? Certainly I couldn’t get pregnant.
My mother’s reaction was just as baffling—she was not at all upset. “Aha, I thought so,” she answered dryly. She knew her son was delicate and rather feminine. I never fought with the other boys; instead, I often competed with my sister to see who was more ladylike. Besides, my mother remembered the Seppl doll she had given me; she evidently saw my development as rather consistent.
I came out, as you say nowadays, in a totally nonchalant fashion; it just happened. I never had any feeling that it was wrong to accost my teacher in the shower. It happened spontaneously, just like when my dog wants a sock to chew on and simply jumps up and grabs it.
I never talked about it openly with my parents, but it wasn’t necessary. They knew, and later, when I was an adult in Israel, there were certainly times they offered their opinions on concrete situations in my often complex love relationships.
With my gym teacher, by the way, things never went beyond that one experience. I knew very well that I could not catch him unaware again. A few weeks later I was with him alone in the locker room again and went over and hugged him, like the first time. Of course, this time we were both dressed. He was wearing sweat pants, which by no means concealed his physical reaction. But he did not let it go any further this time. He surely was also afraid of the possible consequences. He hugged me very gently and pushed me aside. That made things crystal clear.
But that wasn’t really so bad. He had done something for me. And I have never forgotten the happiness of that first encounter. That teacher is now living in Holland. He’s over eighty, has been married for an eternity, and has a number of grandchildren. He probably wouldn’t even remember who I am. [pp. 22-3]
After describing his “first real relationship” soon afterwards with a boy called Otto:
Very soon I started feeling a curiosity toward all kinds of people. It was not purely sexual but mixed with friendly, social, happy feelings. How far I went varied considerably. Except for one man, who was older than I was and very masculine, and who was almost rough with me, I would describe my friends during my youth and the experiences we shared as primarily affectionate and playful. That’s what was important to me. The encounters did not have anything to do with love, or even being “in love.” That came later. [p. 23]