Curt Lowens, Holocaust Survivor and Wartime Hero Turned Actor, Dies at 91
He played Germans in 'Tobruk, 'Torn Curtain,' 'To Be or Not to Be,' 'Hogan's Heroes and '12 O'Clock High.'
Curt Lowens, a Holocaust survivor and World War II hero who came to Hollywood and portrayed German officers in such films as Tobruk and Torn Curtain and on television in Wonder Woman and Hogan's Heroes, has died. He was 91.
Lowens fell recently and died Monday night at a rehabilitation center of Beverly Hills, according to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. "Curt was a beloved member of our community," it said in a statement.
A native of East Prussia (later Poland) who was held in a concentration camp, Lowens worked for directors Alfred Hitchcock in Torn Curtain (1966) and Arthur Hiller in Tobruk (1967) and drew on his wartime experiences for his roles in Two Women (1960), Counterpoint (1967), The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969) and To Be or Not to Be (1983).
Auditioning for a part in The Hindenburg (1975), Lowens informed director Robert Wise that he had witnessed the German airship flying over Berlin as a child and was quickly hired.
Lowens also portrayed a Gestapo captain on Hogan's Heroes and an SS general on Wonder Woman and showed up on military-themed TV shows including 12 O'Clock High, Combat!, Mission: Impossible, The Six Million Dollar Man and The A-Team.
Born Curt Loewenstein on Nov. 17, 1925, he and his family were living in Berlin when his synagogue was burned down during Kristallnacht in 1938 and his bar mitzvah postponed. Fleeing to England, they were rounded up in Holland and sent to a concentration camp.
After his family's release thanks to some fortuitous paperwork, the future actor took on the guise of a teacher named Ben Joosten, joined the Dutch Resistance and helped save 123 lives by delivering Jewish children (and a few adults) to families who hid them.
He went on to rescue two downed American airmen — receiving a commendation from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower — and, while working as an interpreter with the British Eighth Corps, informed Hitler's successor, Karl Doenitz, that the war was over and the Germans had been defeated.
"My sanity turned around, the Gestapo knocking on doors," whereas by liberation, "I now knocked on doors,” he recalled in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter's Peter Flax last year.
In 1947, he came to the U.S. and studied to become an actor at the Herbert Berghof Studio in New York. Taking the stage name Curt Lowens, he played an SS guard in the original Broadway production of Stalag 17, which debuted in 1951.
Lowens also portrayed Dr. Josef Mengele in the play The Deputy on the Great White Way, and his acting résumé also included The Mephisto Waltz (1971), The Other Side of Midnight (1977), Angels & Demons (2009) and a stint on General Hospital.
Lowens wrote a memoir, Destination: Questionmark, and most recently worked with high school students to create a six-minute animated film about his Holocaust experience called Curt Lowens: A Life of Changes.
In 2012, he contributed testimony to the Visual History Archive at the USC Shoah Foundation.
"Curt Lowens was a man who exemplified heroism at a time when heroes were in short supply," USC Shoah Foundation executive director Dr. Stephen D. Smith said in a statement. "He put himself at great risk to save others. By sharing his story, he has ensured that people will be inspired by his actions for generations to come."
Kathy, his wife of 48 years, died in December. They had no children.
Peter Flax contributed to this report.