You may not know the name Curt Lowens. Though he boasted three Broadway credits, he was not a stage star; though he was a prolific screen actor for over 50 years, his résumé lists more bit parts than breakout turns. But Lowens’ greatest impact took place years before he made his Broadway debut in 1951.
Born in East Prussia (now Poland), Lowens’ father was a lawyer and his mother involved in local Jewish community organizations. As anti-Semitic sentiment grew in the region, the family moved to Berlin, where there was a larger Jewish community, in search of protection. Instead, they found violence. Lowens witnessed Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, and was being taken to Westerbork concentration camp when the commandant suddenly sent him back to Amsterdam.
Lowens went into hiding, living with a Dutch farmer, and persuaded the farmer to allow him to join the resistance. Lowens helped to save the lives of over 100 Jewish children “on farms, in hiding” (as he recalled in the short film about his life). He also saved the lives of two American ally troops after they parachuted into an open field from their bomber with engine trouble. “Here were, from one moment to the next, my heroes,” he recalled in a video interview.
He and his own rescuer hid the soldiers, sometimes in monk costumes, sometimes as groundskeepers, while Nazis continued to conduct raids. Finally, on October 17, 1944, he was liberated by the British Army. He began working for the British government and at age 19 was asked to return to Germany as an interpreter during the house arrest for the German High Command. “He created the concentration camps; he was an architect,” said Lowens in the video.
Seven years after, having emigrated to America and studied at the Herbert Berghof Studio, Lowens made his Broadway debut as an S.S. Guard in Stalag 17, based on the playwrights' own experiences in a prisoner of war camp. The story of American airmen held in a prisoner of war camp during World War II (later adapted into the Oscar-winning 1953 film) sounds all too familiar of a potential alternate reality for the airmen Lowens rescued.
Lowens passed away May 8, 2017, at the age of 91, but items from his storied past will be on sale August 8–12 to benefit, in part, the Lowens Family Trust charities. (Click here to check out the items.)
Before his death, Lowens had a last request of his wide-reaching audience: “Please keep the interest in Holocaust education. I had lucky breaks. Many people did not survive and we need to remember them.”