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Explore the hand-made book that Manfred Lewin gave to his Jewish friend and gay companion, Gad Beck. This 17-page artifact illustrates the daily life of the two friends, their youth group, and the culture in which they lived.
Cover and Page 1
Gad and Manfred sometimes would spend the night together on cots in the basement of the Jewish school in the Choriner Strasse, as part of an obligatory air raid patrol. One of these evenings, Manfred gave Gad his book. Manfred wrote and made this book because he wanted to give something meaningful to Gad, who wrote poems. Gad was touched by the gift, though he was initially critical of Manfred’s lyrical writing style. Later, Manfred’s words took on new meaning.
When Gad joined the He-halutz youth group in 1940, its members immediately thought of the 19-year-old lover of city life and cafes as too 'bourgeois.' The other members, including Manfred, preferred typical youth group outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and sports.
Gad might not have joined such a group if it weren't for the political situation. Having been excluded from German mainstream life since the Nuremberg racial laws were passed in 1935. Gad and many other German Jews turned to their own cultural and religious groups. Zionist youth groups such as Gad and Manfred's He-halutz
group prepared their members for emigration to Palestine and created a strong sense of community.
Despite the increasingly restrictive anti-Jewish laws, Gad and Manfred’s youth group continued to meet in safe places in the homes of individual members or once on the roof of the Jewish school. They also played in remote wooded places on the outskirts of Berlin, where they enjoyed scout games such as hide-and-seek or tying someone to a tree (in this case, Gad, as Manfred illustrated here). Even these interludes soon ceased. Time became scarce. After March 1941, all Jews over the age of 14 were ordered to do forced labor for German companies.
When traveling in Berlin, members of the group often passed through busy Alexanderplatz, illustrated here by Manfred (page 4). Who was Tola, the girl mentioned here? She might have been a girl from another Zionist youth group in Berlin, but that detail, like others in this story, has become blurred by time. Gad does not remember; it was too long ago.
In the late summer of 1941, Gad and Manfred played starring roles in Don Carlos. This late 18th-century German play, required reading for students of Gad and Manfred’s generation, deals with the choice between despotism and humanity, between the Prussian ideal of obedience and true self-expression and true love. In the play, Marquis von Posa, played by Gad, becomes the voice of all humanity, striving for freedom; Don Carlos, played by Manfred, is Posa’s soul mate. The play’s emotional style influenced Manfred’s writing style. By September 15, 1941, the Nazis ordered all German Jews to wear a yellow star. Some members of the group, risking immediate arrest, sometimes hid or removed their stars.
Erwin Tichauer, who introduced Gad to the He-halutz group, worked with Gad at a carton factory together with other Jewish and foreign forced laborers. Erwin’s daily duty of cleaning the greasy cutting machinery left him with dirty fingernails, illustrated here by Manfred. In October 1941, the first deportation train left Berlin for the East. Tichauer was deported to Auschwitz in 1943, but survived.
Erwin’s sister, Erika Tichauer, sometimes joined Erwin, Manfred, and Gad for some friendly coffee talk whenever their work schedules permitted it. The “bourgeois” setting of cafes was now strongly forbidden for Jews, a mere memory. Here, Manfred makes a joke by drawing Erika’s face on a chamber pot.
By 1942, deportations had further decreased the size of Berlin’s Jewish community. The He-halutz group reacted by becoming more political. This created conflicts between the generations. Gad’s father, for example, was totally against Zionism. Other parents thought the group was OK, as long as its focus was “play,” not politics.
In January 1942 the Nazis held the secret Wannsee Conference near Berlin. Its purpose was to coordinate the murder of the Jews of Europe.
Manfred and Gad spent many nights together. Sometimes they stayed in the crowded Lewin family home. At first, Manfred struggled with the sexual side of his relationship with Gad. But Gad remembers a moment where Manfred finally accepted, saying “with Gad it was alright.”
To this day, Gad does not know if Manfred’s parents knew about the sexual aspects of their friendship. Because of the nightly curfew imposed on Jews in Berlin, overnight guests were not unusual. The Nazis persecuted gay men as enemies of the “Reich.”
There were very few real bombs in Berlin in 1941 and early 1942. The “bomb explosions” referred to here were the strong conflicts in the Jewish community over how to react to the Nazi deportations. Should they go when ordered? Where did the transports go to and what would await them? Should should they go underground? Should the He-halutz groups stay together? Or should its members stay with their families? At the time, the choice was unclear.
Even within the He-halutz groups, there were differing views on how to respond to the ‘transport order.’ There were rumors about the real destination of the transports, but nobody knew for sure. For some He-halutz members, going underground appeared as a betrayal of their group; as pioneers they felt they should stay with their fellow Jews. Gad remembers that at the end of 1942, his group leader expelled him because he said that he would not follow the Nazi ‘transport order’.
By summer 1942, many of Gad and Manfred’s friends had already been deported. Every day, it seemed, meant another goodbye. Manfred, classified as ‘full-Jewish’ under the Nazi regime, was in greater danger than Gad. Gad was classified as ‘half-Jewish’ because his mother had been Christian before converting to Judaism. ‘Half-Jews,’ including Gad, continued to work as forced laborers.
Manfred was a forced laborer for a small company that restored and repainted bombed apartments. He refers to the company's owner, Lothar Herrmann, on page 11 of the book.
In the fall of 1942, Manfred and his family “got their lists”—the Nazis had ordered them to report to an assembly camp on ‘Grosse Hamburger Strasse'. The Lewins followed the order, as did over 50,000 other Berlin Jews throughout the war. The order stated as the official goal ‘work in the East.’ In the passage on page 12, Manfred plays with words. ‘Meir’ means ‘Manfred’ in Hebrew and ‘me’ in German.
Gad, desperate for a way to save Manfred, remembers visiting Manfred’s boss, Lothar Herrmann. To Gad’s surprise, Mr. Herrmann lent Gad his son’s Hitler Youth uniform. He recalls putting on the baggy uniform and going to the assembly camp in hopes of rescuing Manfred and convincing him to go into hiding.
The lyrics on page 13 page suggest that Manfred felt afraid and desperate, but if that were the case, he did not share those feelings with Gad. Gad remembers Manfred as being calm and strong when they were together.
Gad remembers giving a ‘Heil Hitler!’ salute as he entered the chaotic assembly camp at Grosse Hamburger Strasse, part of which was the site of the former Jewish school where Gad had once been a student. “The Jew Manfred Israel Lewin was brought here yesterday,” Gad said to the SS Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel). “He worked for us and is a saboteur! He has the keys to several of the apartments we are renovating.” Manfred was summoned.
“You kept the keys!” Gad said to Manfred in a sharp but calm voice. “Now come with me and tell us exactly which key goes to which apartment so we can get back to work.” The Obersturmmbannführer let them go “But you’ll bring him right back?” “What would I want with a Jew?” Gad answered. Gad and Manfred left the building and walked away together.
After walking 50 meters, Gad held out a 20-mark bill to Manfred and said: “Here’s some money. Now go to my uncle in Teltow like we discussed and wait for me. I’ll come as soon as I can.” Manfred took the 20 marks. “Gad, I can’t go with you,” he said quietly. “My family needs me, if I abandon them now I’ll never be free.” Manfred turned around and went back to the camp. “In those seconds watching him go, I grew up...” Gad wrote years later.
The Christian relatives of Gad’s mother were quick to offer support to the Beck family. Gad’s twin sister Miriam stayed illegally with her Uncle Bobby for a period of time. Earlier Gad had discussed with Manfred the possibility of hiding in his uncle’s garage.
Gad remembers, "Then Manfred and I were liberated. We are free, in Berlin. I gave him 20 marks and said to him, 'Go east to, to Ludwick. I will come later.' Yeah, and he took the 20 marks, but he didn’t answer me. So he was looking at me, and said, not more than two or three words, "Gad, I cannot go with you. I will never free if I know in this moment... lost my family.' And he went and was going back into school, to his family, to east, to Auschwitz."
After the war, Gad searched for Manfred. He learned that the entire Lewin family was murdered in Auschwitz. “I never really got over the loss,” wrote Gad. “Years later, Manfred’s name still electrified me—even in the Hebrew form, Meir.”
Gad emigrated to Palestine in 1947. While living in Israell, Gad found Manfred's gift among his things. Gad does not remember how the book survived the war.
In 1978, Gad returned to Berlin, where he directed the Jewish Adult Education Center until his retirement.