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A BOOK by ME Second California Update - Meeting ActorCurt Lowens

April 9, 2012

 

While I was in California last month, I was fortunate to visit the Shoah Foundation at University of Southern California. My visit happened to be on the day that actor Curt Lowens (a Jewish survivor) shared his story with the Los Angeles community. Curt has made many movies including Wallenberg - A Hero's Story and his most recent film, Angels and Demons, where he played a Catholic Cardinal. As he told his story, it became apparent it was much like a movie. Born Kurt Loewenstein in East Prussia, his Jewish family dynamics changed overnight to becoming outsiders. His father's career as a lawyer was ruined because he could not go to court any more. On the year Curt should have had his bar mitzvah, his family was told by a friend "get home. you are surrounded by Hitler youth". On the way home they saw a synagogue burning to the ground. After this experience, Curt's father began working frantically on immigration papers for their entire family. Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) their lives changed forever. He pointed out that the lives of many Catholics (who were trying to help the Jews), gypsies and homosexuals changed as well. Their Rabbi performed a spontaneous bar mitzvah for the boys who were of the proper age knowing it had to be done quickly. Many of the boy's parents were not present but it was an extreme situation. The Rabbi felt it had to be done quickly. America's quota for immigration was filling up fast but the family held onto hope that their number would come up. They were ready to leave at a moment's notice. On May 8th, they left for Holland but on May 10th, German troops marched in and their freedom was lost. Two short days after celebrating their new home, Curt was sitting on the back of the truck heading for internment. He and his father had no idea where his mother was taken. Curt was given a job passing out food and made sure he gave his father an extra portion. On May 14, sirens went off and 400 of the 700 prisoners died. Curt and his father lived and walked the streets trying to find his mother. Rotterdam was burning and as they walked, suddenly his father dropped his hand and began to run into his wife's arms. Curt said it was like something out of a movie - very emotional for each one of them. Miraculously, they were together again! His younger brother had safely made the kinder transport to England so his father only had two people in his family to care for during this horrible time. Suddenly his mother fell ill and they took her to a Catholic hospital where she was loved and cared for properly. Sadly, she passed and was buried under a false name. Curt met a network; an organization to save Jewish children. Mieko, Nico and Hanna were finding safe places for them to hide. Curt knew it was dangerous work but he felt he had to help. In organizations like this, you don't join, you are accepted. They accepted Curt and gave him a code name "Ben". Thus, his acting career began. He was officially part of the Dutch resistance. He never went hungry as farms had food as he went about this very important work. When the war was over, he met two American liberators - two heroesthe people he had dreamed of meeting. Their names were Mac and Tom and they became life long friends. Curt stayed in touch with them until they passed away many years later. As the war ended he was reunited with his father and they began the process of getting their visa. They had a sponsor to come to America so they began a new life in New York City. He worked on the sets doing any odd job when suddenly, he had the opportunity to interview for a part in Stalag 17 on Broadway. He got the part but ironically, he would play a Nazi guard! It was a double edged sword but the thrill of being cast in a Broadway play with José Ferrer and Gloria Swanson was overwhelming for the young man. A man named Noel from the costume department helped him overcome his fears of putting on a Nazi uniform. He said "you are an actor, so play it". That was his beginning and his career is still active today. He has appeared in over a 100 films and TV shows since 1960. Today Curt tells students to appreciate their education (his was robbed from him) and to learn as much language as possible. He sings the praises of Dutch Catholics for helping many Jews survive. While Curt and I chatted, he mentioned he is traveling to Ohio in the fall. We discussed him coming to the Quad Cities while he is in the Midwest. As you can see, he has a very important story to tell and I hope to bring him in for an event.

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