any things that occurred during the Holocaust have been either forgotten or lost in time. All that is left is the autobiographies of some of the survivors and their graves to tell the tale. So does the story of Kral Meir Baer goes, who was initially born Martha Baer. The story is quite unclear as there aren’t many records to set the right details for this story.
Thanks to historian Adi Sabran from Tel Aviv University, she managed to find Baer’s grave in Israel to confirm his identity. “Karl Meir Baer, 1956,” says the simple headstone on a grave at Tel Aviv’s Kiryat Shaul Cemetery. Her research for a course on queer studies and the history of sexuality led her to follow Karl Meir Baer’s life, to find out that they could potentially be the first person to undergo a sex-change operation.
According to accounts verified by Sabran, Baer was born in Germany in 1885 as a girl. Interestingly enough, he was a feminist activist as a young woman, but at the start of the 20th century decided to undergo a sex-change operation. Sabran and her lecturer at Tel Aviv University, Iris Rachamimov, published Baer’s story in Zmanim, a Hebrew-language journal that dedicated its most recent edition to queer history.
When he came into the world, the midwife congratulated his mother on “the birth of a lovely daughter.” The midwife had a discussion with Baer’s father, telling him that Baer’s body had very strange characteristics which made it very difficult to determine his gender. After being consulted by specialists, Baer’s parents registered him as a girl.
As time passed and Baer was reaching puberty, he noticed that his body was not developing into a “woman’s body”. In his autobiography entitled “Memoirs of a Man’s Maiden Years” (published in German in 1907), Baer mentioned that he did not feel his external appearance was compatible with his sense of self.
“One may raise a healthy boy in as womanish manner as one wishes and a female creature in as mannish; never will this cause their senses to remain forever reversed.”Quote by Karl Baer from Memoirs of a Man’s Maiden Years
As a girl, he had learned to hide his body from other children and follow the social norms that were expected of him based on his gender at the time. All the children started to notice that there was something different about him, he did not look like a girl, and seemed that his feminine gestures didn’t quite come as natural. Soon he was excluded by the girls from playing with them as they had no business playing with boys.
Baer mentions in his autobiography that a girl told him that he was a disgusting boy that despite still being a girl at the time, he was told that he was a boy. All of the pressures that society had on him as well as the boyish manner that which he was raised by his parents led him to think of gender reassignment.
In 1904 Baer moved to Hamburg and decided to live a new life, to present himself as a man, despite being a woman.
“I introduced myself as a man never as a woman,” he wrote. “What am I really? Am I a man? Oh God, no. It would be an indescribable delight if I were. But miracles don’t happen anymore these days.” People who knew Martha Baer said she had masculine features, facial hair, and a masculine voice.Quote by Karl Baer from Memoirs of a Man’s Maiden Years
Despite all this, Baer managed to find love, with a married woman. The woman was apparently cheating on her husband with Baer, who didn’t know that Biar was actually a woman. The two didn’t seem to have much of a chance due to their predicament, so they set out to commit suicide. Their plans were interrupted by Baer becoming injured in a tram accident.
Karl Meir Baer
When he got to the hospital, the doctors noticed his “unusual body” and the fact that he preferred to present himself as a man, despite being registered as a woman. Jewish physician and sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, famous for his efforts for gay rights, asked Baer if he wanted to undergo a sex-change operation? Baer could not be happier. With Hirschfeld’s recommendation and a permit from the German Interior Ministry, Baer underwent a sex-change operation in 1906.
No medical records have been found about this procedure to prove that this is in fact the first sex-change operation in history. It is very likely that the Nazis burned the records with the other documents in Hirschfeld’s library. Hirschfeld described Baer as a case of “erroneous sexual attribution.” He thought that Bear was a man who was mistakenly identified as a woman based on social norms and expectations of gender.
“This 21-and-a-half-year-old lived until today as a woman and from now, with the authorities’ approval, she intends to continue her life as a man with a man’s name and clothes,”Quote by Magnus Hirschfeld
The sex-change surgery had changed Baer’s life. He could finally live like his inner spirit, like the person he was meant to be since birth. Now being officially registered as a man, there was no more hiding. The author and playwright Rudolf Presber described his meeting with Baer, whom he had known as a woman, after the operation.
“Instead of the young woman, a young man appeared before me — her twin brother. His hair was cut short and he wore men’s clothes. His steps in men’s trousers were small and somewhat hesitant. His movements were a little forced, as a child’s; they seemed to be trying to cast off the restrictions of two decades.”Quote by Rudolf Presber
In January 1907 Baer gained legal recognition of his new gender and received a new birth certificate as a man. The same year Baer married the married woman he had an affair with after she divorced her husband. He started working as an insurance agent and lived a happy life until 1937 when the Nazis arrested him. After being interrogated and tortured, he left his wife and fled to pre-state Israel before World War II broke out. He lived the rest of his life in Bat Yam near Tel Aviv and died in 1956 of natural causes.