Holocaust survivor/hero/SAG actor/friend Curt Lowens passed away Monday night at age 91. His absence in the pre-dawn still leaves a void that is palpable — a disturbance in the Force — and one less hero whose presence in my life changed me and others. He set us off on a path of activism as we tried to leverage his example to make a difference in our world as he made a difference in his.
My reflections of Curt are deeply personal. I didn’t as much meet him as experience him.
I was with my friend Sharon Farber, a four-time Emmy-nominated film and television composer who was a companion and caregiver to Curt in his last days after his second career playing small roles in TV shows and films like Ron Howard’s “Angels & Demons.” We were attending a Yom Kippur service when Curt was introduced to the crowd at Temple of the Arts at the Saban Theatre. This diminutive man was called up to stand on stage. Rabbi David Baron intoned Curt’s history as Curt stood silently, wondering what all the fuss was about.
Rabbi Baron introduced this man as a hero. As a boy, he fled Berlin with his family on the eve of Kristallnacht, driven from their homes by a government gone wild. They arrived in Holland, where he joined the Dutch Resistance at the age of 13. The rabbi led us on a virtual bicycle ride through the Dutch farmlands as he explained how Curt watched wide-eyed as a U.S. Army plane took Nazi ground fire. Shot out of the sky, two pilots ejected, then parachuted to a nearby farm field where Curt met them.
They landed shaken, fully expecting to be taken prisoner. In their confusion Curt was resolute. He bargained for the silence of the Dutch farmer who was determined to turn them in with the silk of the pilot’s parachutes — relenting, the farmer motioned to a bale of hay where Curt and the pilots buried themselves, waiting out the Nazi regiment who began searching the farm.
We held our breath as Curt’s story was told. “In the end,” explained Rabbi Baron, “Curt saved those pilots and they shipped off Stateside where they lived their lives and raised their children.”
What next happened jolted us, and implanted a memory like the assassination of JFK that we will always remember where we were when we experienced this:
“Curt, please turn around…”
Embarrassed by the attention, Curt slowly turned as the children and grandchildren of one of the pilots emerged from the wings to approach Curt, surrounding him and our hearts as they embraced their savior. Sobs broke out as the congregation stood. One by one, many of the more than 100 children whom Curt had also saved during the war rose from their seats. And then we all rose. The applause started somewhere near the front, and like wildfire it spread throughout the auditorium. An ovation of the spirit resounded for a part of humanity that we all re-discovered on that day.
I wrote a blog for The Wrap when I returned home. Not sure if that’s cool to do on Yom Kippur but I had to do it. The experience was the motivating factor in forming a non-profit with Sharon Farber that raised awareness for the plight of Holocaust survivors and leveraged their voices to fight anti-Semitism.
I saw on that day how one boy changed the world and stood up against an evil regime. Curt’s voice is now silenced, but the voices of other survivors live on. We must listen and heed their warnings. Curt showed us that we can fight back, and we will continue our fight.
I remember after my father died, my then-young son asked my father’s brother “is Grandpa in heaven?” My uncle responded “If there is a heaven, that’s where he is.”
I can now repeat my uncle’s response to you. John Lennon said, “I’m not afraid of death because I don’t believe in it. It’s just getting out of one car into another.” If true, then Curt just got the keys to the Lamborghini, and I can see him cruising over the rainbow bridge to Valhalla.
Rest easy, Curt Lowens. You fought the good fight and you will be remembered in our hearts and in the streets where we continue to fight against tyranny, oppression and intolerance today.