February 26, 2020

Curt Lowens, Holocaust survivor, actor, 91

Curt Lowens. Photo by David Miller

In the final days of his life, Curt Lowens, Sharon Farber and I sang a song that Curt recalled often during his hospital stay. His voice became a soft melodic whisper, sharing a fragment of a song that held the three of us close to heart. From the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Carousel,” he sang gently :

When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high, and don’t be afraid of the dark….walk on, walk on….”

Now, more than a week since Curt’s passing on May 8 at age 91, these words remind me of the strength and courage with which he lived his life and faced its ending. 

Born in what is now Olsztyn, Poland, in 1925 as Kurt Loewenstein, he was an actor, Holocaust survivor, hero, resistance man on the ground when only a boy, British officer, son, husband, brother, uncle, friend, artist, and man of culture and the arts. 

I met Curt in late 2011 at the start of  The Righteous Conversations Project, which connects teens and young adults to Holocaust survivors through oral histories that inspire collaborative art projects, photography and filmmaking. Marie Kaufman, then-president of the Child Survivors of the Holocaust, made the shidduch, saying he was a special person with an adventurous spirit who would contribute to our nascent venture. It was our hope to build community between the rising generation of young women and men and our elders who had survived the Shoah and had so much to teach.

Curt was open from the start and participated in our filmmaking programs with a zest that grew from his lifetime in film, television and theater. He was beloved by his teachers and students, and he brought a wry wit, grace and elegance to every interaction.

He eschewed modern technology in favor of conversation and engagement, sharing his stories of a childhood in Germany interrupted by the Nazi reign, the serendipity that led him to hiding, his efforts with three resistance workers tending more than 100 children in hiding across the Netherlands, and his saving two American servicemen whose plane was shot down.

Curt was beloved in the community of organizations dedicated to preserving Holocaust memory and he contributed to all of them, with a special connection to the Rodgers Center at Chapman University, to which he entrusted  precious artifacts of his history. His voice and presence animated the work at the USC Shoah Foundation, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, Remember Us, the Righteous Conversations Project and Yad Vashem. The history he shared stands as a testament to a life of sacrifice, risk, ingenuity and, above all, moral clarity.

But it was his life in the arts that captured his heart, the life he chose after he left business school, much to his father’s chagrin. As a student in New York City, Curt met his wife, actress Katherine Guilford, and they spent almost 50 years together until her death last December.

He made his acting debut in 1951, in a Broadway performance of “Stalag 17,” in which he played a Nazi guard. In the 1963 Broadway version of “The Deputy,” he played Dr. Josef Mengele. He has 125 movie and television acting credits, according to IMDb.

Curt was a graceful man who lived modestly and with dignity in an apartment that evoked the contours of a cultured European life. He is survived by his older brother Henry, as well as an extended family of nieces and nephews, and great-nieces and nephews.

A private funeral service will be held in early June in accordance with Curt’s wishes. A public memorial service is being planned under the direction of Sharon Farber. The family is requesting donations in his memory be sent to Remember Us, 1112 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, Calif., 90403. 

SAMARA HUTMAN is co-founder and director of The Righteous Conversations Project.