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Honoring LGBT Jewish Holocaust Survivors

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This LGBT Pride Month, the Dorot Jewish Division honors the lives and work of LGBT Jewish Holocaust survivors. We’ve compiled short biographies of several individuals, with links to related publications and online resources.

With special thanks to Rick Landman, International Association of Lesbian and Gay Children of Holocaust Survivors

An underground life
Gad Beck (1923-2012) was considered the last gay Jewish Holocaust survivor. He was born in Berlin and came of age during the Nazi period. As the son of an Austrian Jewish father and a German, Protestant-born mother who converted to Judaism, he used his connections in the gay underground to help other Jews hide and escape during the Holocaust. An active Zionist, he later lived in Israel for many years, and after that, in Berlin again. Gad’s story is documented in his book, An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin, and he was a featured Pride Month speaker at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST) in 1997, when he rode on the synagogue’s float during NYC’s Pride Parade. View his oral history interview with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Nice Jewish Girls
Evelyn Torton Beck (1933-) was born in Vienna, Austria, and survived World War II with her family, settling in Brooklyn, New York, where she studied at Brooklyn College, later receiving an M.A. from Yale and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a retired professor of Women’s Studies and Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland and an activist for Jewish, lesbian and feminist causes. Beck is the award-winning author of several important works, including the pioneering Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology and Franz Kafka and the Yiddish Theater: Its Impact on His Work.
Frieda Belinfante (1904-1995) was a musician active in the LGBT resistance movement. Raised in the Netherlands by a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, she was the first female orchestra conductor in Amsterdam and a pioneer in a male-dominated profession. Frieda participated in resistance activities such as sabotaging Nazi efforts and falsifying documents. She described her life in an oral history interview conducted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and was the subject of a documentary film titled, But I was a girl.
Roman Blank (1920-2017) was Holocaust survivor from Central Poland who came out as a gay man in his 90’s. He was aware of being gay since childhood, but had to hide his sexual orientation. His life was already at risk for being Jewish. After the war, he married a woman from his hometown and started a new family in the United States. Recently, he came out as a gay man and shared his story publicly. Blank is the subject of On My Way Out, a documentary film directed by his grandson, Brandon Gross.
Paragraph 175
Annette Eick (1909-2010) was born in Berlin and identified as a lesbian from a young age, drawing inspiration from the legendary Sappho for her poetry.  Active in the lesbian literary and social scene, she was forced to flee for her life to England in 1938, barely avoiding deportation. Her parents were killed in Auschwitz. In England, she made a new life and was involved in literary circles, later publishing a book of poetry, Immortal Muse. Eick is notable as the only woman to appear in Paragraph 175, a film about Nazi persecution of gay people.
Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance
Felix Fibich (1917-2014) was a dancer and actor specializing in Eastern European Jewish dance. Born in Warsaw as Fajwel Goldblatin, he worked as a Yiddish actor. During the Holocaust, his parents perished, and he escaped from the Warsaw ghetto. He married his dance teacher, Judith Berg, herself a renowned choreographer, and spent the remaining war years in the Soviet Union. They later immigrated to the U.S. and also toured internationally. Fibich was was a beloved figure in the world of Jewish dance, as documented in Judith Brin Ingber’s book, Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance. Watch a humorous clip of his work in a famous TV commercial here. Fibuch is survived by his companion, Jaya Pulami.
Dreams of an insomniac
Irena Klepfisz (1941-) is a poet, Yiddish translator, activist and professor at Barnard College. Born in Warsaw during the Second World War, she survived thanks to the underground, with her mother, Rose Klepfisz. Irena's father, Michal Klepfisz, who was active in the Resistance, perished. Klepfisz is the author and editor of several books of poetry and essays, including  A Few Words in the Mother Tongue and Dreams of an Insomniac: Jewish Feminist Essays, Speeches, and Diatribes, and teaches courses on Jewish women and Jewish women’s literature at Barnard College. She has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Adrienne Cooper Fund for Dreaming in Yiddish.
Alfred (Al) Munzer (1941- ) was born to Polish-Jewish parents in The Hague, Netherlands, who later moved to Holland to escape antisemitism. During the Holocaust, he was cared for by the Madna family and by Mima Saina, immigrants from Indonesia, who were later recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. Ultimately, only he and his mother survived, and they came to the United States in 1958. He chose medicine as his profession, specializing in internal medicine and pulmonary disease. Munzer has been openly gay in his professional life, recently marrying his partner of 30 years. Now retired, Munzer spends much of his time volunteering at the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum and speaking publicly about his wartime experiences. His story is featured in Indonesian Lullaby, a documentary film.
Pink triangle
Richard Plant (1916-1998) was a Holocaust survivor, critic and literature professor at City College (City University of New York) and at the New School. Born in Germany and educated in Switzerland, he specialized in Germanic literature. His groundbreaking 1986 book The pink triangle : the Nazi war against homosexuals explores Nazi persecution of gay men, and to a lesser extent, lesbians.  Plant was the author of several books and of a scenario for an opera about Lizzie Borden. His papers are held in NYPL’s Manuscript and Archives Division.
Days of masquerade

Gertrude Sandmann (1893-1981) was a German-Jewish artist known for her drawings and paintings, and for her activism on behalf of feminist, lesbian, and leftist causes. Sandmann confronted many obstacles throughout her life based on her identity as a Jewish lesbian. During the Nazi period, she was stripped of her rights and targeted for deportation, and survived World War II in hiding in Berlin. Although much of her work was destroyed during the war, she had a rich artistic career for decades afterwards. Her life story is detailed in Days of masquerade : life stories of lesbians during the Third Reich by Claudia Schoppmann.

 

Then comes marriage

 

 

 

Thea C. Spyer (1931-2009) was born in Amsterdam and immigrated to the United States during World War II. Earning her Ph.D. at Adelphi University, Spyer was a prominent clinical psychologist. She married Edie Windsor in Canada in 2007. Their relationship of more than 40 years is detailed in a film, Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement. Spyer’s widow, Edie Windsor, later initiated a landmark case overturning DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) in 2013 and granting same-sex couples the right to marry in the United States. The case, led by attorney Roberta Kaplan, is documented in the book Then Comes Marriage : United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA.

 

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I wish Gad Beck and Richard Plant (and the others) would have lived long enough to see this professionally done blog on a subject that was so dear to them. They saw my early webpage on the subject. I will use this as an inspiration to clean up those old webpages from the 1990's, when this topic was so ignored, or even controversial.

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