With great sadness, I share the news of the passing on Monday night of our dear friend Curt Lowens.

Curt Lowens surrounded by Chapman University Students

Curt Lowens with Chapman University students

For almost 15 years, Curt has been a vital part of our program, speaking in classes, at our annual Kristallnacht commemoration, at the awards ceremony for the Holocaust Art and Writing Contest, and on so many other occasions.  I truly think Curt loved every moment on the Chapman campus and nothing gave him more pleasure than to be around young people and to see that his story fascinated them.  I think it was for that reason that Curt entrusted us with his extraordinary collection of documents and materials from his pre-war youth through his wartime years as a rescuer in hiding in the Netherlands and on to his service with the British Army as a translator in the last months of the war.

Curt Lowens in British army uniform, black and white

Curt in uniform as a translator with the British army, circa 1945

As most of you know, Curt helped to save some 150 Jewish children by bringing forged ration coupons to the farmers hiding the children in the Dutch countryside.  On one occasion, Curt spotted the parachutes of two American pilots whose plane had been shot down.  He raced to find them and then coaxed them into trusting him.  In describing those anxious moments hiding in a haystack while German soldiers searched for them, most people would have emphasized the breathtaking danger that he in particular faced as a German Jew with a forged Dutch identity card hiding two Americans.  But not Curt.  Instead, in his memoir, he writes about  experiencing his first stick of American chewing gum—which he mistakenly swallowed—and learning the words to his first Broadway song.  That was Curt, always able to find something in which to rejoice even in the most difficult of circumstances.   He lit up any room he entered with his smile.

The last time I saw Curt was a couple of weeks ago when he was in a care facility.  I told him that two of the students in my graduate course this semester are writing their research projects about those very documents, the false ID card and ration cards, that had put Curt in such danger.   Once again his eyes sparkled and I saw that wonderful smile.  I think it made him feel that through the gift of his collection he would be continuing to teach and inspire our students and all who visit the Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library.

The following is a video of Curt speaking at the Kristallnacht panel we did a few years ago.  If you weren’t able to be there—or even if you were—I hope you will watch it and remember, as I always will, how very lucky we were to have Curt and Kathy in our lives and the lasting gift and responsibility that Curt has given to us.