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An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  308 ratings  ·  29 reviews
That a Jew living in Nazi Berlin survived the Holocaust at all is surprising. That he was a homosexual and a teenage leader in the resistance and yet survived is amazing. But that he endured the ongoing horror with an open heart, with love and without vitriol, and has written about it so beautifully is truly miraculous. This is Gad Beck’s story.
Paperback, 176 pages
Published June 26th 2000 by University of Wisconsin Press (first published January 1st 1995)
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Jun 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Several years ago I saw a documentary entitled "Paragraph 175," which looked at the persecution of gays and lesbians in Nazi Germany. A few days ago, I got a sudden inexplicable urge to watch the documentary again. It took me a few days to find a copy online that wasn't dubbed into Italian, but eventually I did.

After watching it, I started googling the different people interviewed. Most of them died nearly a decade ago, but when I looked up one person -- Gad Beck -- I noticed 2 things:
1. We shar
George K. Ilsley
Aug 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
There's something about this memoir which is completely captivating. First of all, the author only died a few months ago (in 2011) which is a kind of miracle: a gay, Jewish, Berliner who worked in the resistance, survived the war living in Berlin. All in all this perspective on life in Berlin during the war offers a glimpse of horror confronted with a kind of perverse optimism. For many, the optimism achieved nothing. For others, they lived to tell the tale. Fate is fickle.
I had to read this book for a class on the Holocaust. We were given an extensive list to choose from and I picked this one because we have been told how if the Nazis had actually exterminated the Jews, gays would have been next. I was expecting something along the lines of other Holocaust books I have read, namely a depressing, heart-wrenching tale of the depravity of the human race. Instead, I was largely entertained. God forbid, I even laughed at parts. This CANT be a Holocaust memoir, can it? ...more
Nov 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography, lgbt, own-copy
Any review of a book about the lives of jewish people living in Germany during WWII will not do justice to the suffering and persecution that they were subject to.

From my perspective this was an interesting read, though not as emotional as I had expected it to be.

Considering that this is an autobiography of a gay jewish man living in Berlin during WWII I thought it would come across as a lot more harrowing than it did - this isn't to dismiss anything that happened to him as it is all pretty stre
Apr 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was funny and lighthearted at times. I appreciate Gad’s honesty and the transparency with which he tells his story. There are some troubling parts of his childhood that he does not recognize as troubling,,, which is even more troubling. But, I cannot downgrade my rating or enjoyment of this book because of the wya he makes light of these experiences, even though... they should not be taken lightly??

TW: rape, incest, inappropriate relations
Oct 21, 2012 rated it liked it
I didn't expect there to be so much sex in a story about a Jewish boy living in Nazi Germany. I suppose something had to be done to lighten the mood, but Gad Beck seems to have seduced or been seduced by every man and boy in Berlin. Lucky him. He also found himself being, not only gay and Jewish under the thumb of Hitler's regime, but also part of the very resistance that saved a number of lives and even entire families on the better days. Not among those saved was Manfred Lewin, Beck's love, wh ...more
Jul 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: lgbtq, nonfiction
On one hand, a fascinating life and fascinating story of survival. It's very interesting to see how the status of "mischlings" worked in Nazi Germany. On the other hand, some of the sexual encounters described in the book verge very far into pedophilia and incest, without any characterizations of them as such, and that is quite frankly uncomfortable at the least.
Feb 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Gad Beck is a remarkable man who led an extraordinary life. His memoirs about life as a young, Jewish, gay man in Nazi Germany may not have the literary qualities that the most famous testimonies written by Jews who survived this harrowing era possess, but they are so vivid, filled with such an intense love of life, and so fascinating in what they reveal about daily life in Berlin under a brutal regime, that it hardly matters. An Underground Life is as gripping as it is moving, and remains, till ...more
Dianna Am
Oct 11, 2017 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people interested in gay/lesbian history, german/jewish history, or memior
He was half Jewish, gay, and a teenaged Zionist resistance fighter, living in Nazi Berlin- by all accounts, Gad Beck should of never survived World War II. But he did, and his memior is one of the most moving portraits of World War II life I have ever read. The walls and lives of Berlin collapse around him, but Gad Beck writes about being surrounded by friends, family, and lovers that all manage to stand so tall. A must read.
Aug 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A great biographical account of a gay jew (of mixed parentage to be exact) in Berlin who survived the war. It's hard to imagine living as half jew / gay at the headquaters of the Nazi regime - kind of like living as a halfling on mount doom in lord of the things and surviving!
A great read though from a historical point of view. Even though he was in the middle of such a terrible place/time he still managed to pull!
Jun 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Fantastically witty, insightful, heartbreaking and hopeful memoir of a young gay man, his family and friends doing all they can to survive war torn Berlin. Despite the obviously difficult subject, Beck's life account left me with mixed emotions but mostly joy - joy at how he not only survived but how he lived his life. A lesson for us all.
Sean Kennedy
Feb 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
An amazing read with a lot of heart, but you have to keep in mind that it is very short - about 170 pages. There were times when I wish more information could have been given, or more details in the setting as it is so fascinating and it is a unique addition to Holocaust literature.
Amazing story. A book that I just couldn't put down, all the more amazing because it's true.
Although the story of a gay Jew living in Berlin under the Nazi should be horrific, Beck has such a way with words that it's simply engrossing.
Michael Kerr
Oct 22, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: gay, war, memoir
It's hard to imagine facing arrest and incarceration in a concentration camp for being gay - but this is the world Gad Beck describes. It's even harder to imagine the treatment the author received after the war ended. Not cheerful, but worth reading.
David Swatling
Jun 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Extraordinary story, extraordinary life.
"God doesn't punish for a life of love."
- Gad Beck, (30 June 1923 - 24 June 2012)
Jun 06, 2016 rated it liked it
Interesting but not particularly well written.
Feb 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Very interesting
Aug 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating, unique memoir.
Christoph Fischer
Nov 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
A short but poignant insight in life for gays in Berlin under the Nazis. I wish it was more in depth at places
Virgowriter (Brad Windhauser)
Feb 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating--and horrifying-- details of surviving in Berlin during WWII as a gay Jewish man. Well written in concise prose.
Nov 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: holocaust-war
Such unbridled optimism and daring with all hell being unleashed around you.

I salute you, Gad Beck.
Noel McKenna
Dec 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
this would make a great movie!!!
Jul 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
An extraordinary story of survival, endurance and triumph.
Nov 03, 2008 rated it liked it
Very interesting. Lots of sex. A bit too much, actually. But how he helped Jews escape was amazing.
Michael Lewyn
Jan 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Here's the story: gay Jew (really a half-Jew under Nazi racial law) survives Holocaust in Berlin, despite spending lots of time risking his life by helping ferry other Jews to safety in Switzerland. I didn't find this book as enthralling as I had hoped; either the writing style or the translation left something to be desired. In particular, the last half of the book read like a laundry list of lovers and rescued friends. (Unlike another reviewer, I actually liked the pre-Holocaust half of the bo ...more
Chiara D'Errico
È un libro che riesce facilmente a catturarti e trasportarti in quel preciso momento storico, fra le strade di Berlino. Il suo grande pregio è proprio quello di restituire un ritratta molto crudo e realistico senza patetismi inutilibe senza fronzoli. Cosa mi fa mettere quindi solo 3 stelline? Ho trovato turto un po' freddo, sono una a cui piace essere scossa emotivamente da un libro e con questo seppur di piacevolissima lettura non sono riuscita mai a emozionarmi davvero.
Jun 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting- and surprisingly funny- memoir of surviving Nazi Germany. Some things sounded a bit made up like he was some sort of gay James Bond. It was amazing how bad things escalated and eerie how similar certain situations are now to back then. I wonder if there's a hidden second part to this memoir about life after their freedom.
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Dec 16, 2019
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