Ode to a Holocaust Hero

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It was a dark night in 1938 during a dark period of history. Like the smashed windows and doors of German Jewish homes and businesses, the Lowens family was shattered by Kristallnacht — “the night of broken glass.”

The Nazis torched the synagogue that was to host Curt Lowens’ Bar Mitzvah the next day, leaving Curt to come of age hiding in Dutch agricultural fields and safe houses.

Curt’s adoption into the famed Dutch Resistance leveraged the young boy’s spirit and fortitude. His most famous escapade involved two U.S. Air Force pilots who parachuted from their injured bomber over Rotterdam. Seeing them falling from the sky, Curt vowed to get to them before the Nazis did. True to his word, he found the pilots lying injured in a Dutch field and hid them in a haystack while Nazi commandos searched the surrounding farm.

For decades afterward, Curt’s thoughts often returned to the two pilots.

Seventy-five years later, at Yom Kippur services on Sept. 14, 2013, Curt was introduced at Temple of the Arts, a Beverly Hills, California, congregation that caters to the entertainment industry. In 1947, Curt immigrated to the U.S., where he became a character actor and achieved a modicum of fame. His face was recognizable from the hundreds of television shows and movies he appeared in, including the soap opera “General Hospital” and the Tom Hanks blockbuster “Angels & Demons.” On Yom Kippur, after an introduction that described the heroic exploits of his youth, Curt took the stage to wild applause. Then, Rabbi David Baron asked him to turn around.

From the wings, the children and grandchildren of one of the pilots he saved made their entrance. Two generations had arrived the day before to thank Curt for their lives. One by one, they came up to Curt and embraced him.

“I was in awe of the courage of this amazing man,” recalls Israel-born Sharon Farber, the Temple’s music director, who observed the scene from her seat at the piano. “Not only of a survivor and a hero of the Holocaust,” said Farber, who made a career in Hollywood composing music for concert, films and television, “but as a celebration of life and the power of one boy who changed the world and the lives of others.”

From that feeling would come art.

Having just won the 2013 Society of Composers and Lyricists Award for Excellence in the Art of Music for Film, Farber was already busy scoring a feature film and had other projects waiting in the wings. Years earlier, she had composed a tribute to Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and killed by Islamist militants in Pakistan, set to a Hebrew poem by Israeli poet Natan Alterman called “The Third Mother / Mother’s Lament”.

Now a mother to a young daughter, she could relate to the horrors of being separated from her child. “I remember clearly, as a child during the Yom Kippur War, how I sat in the shelter with my parents, siblings and neighbors. My father had forgotten his radio upstairs. While he ran to get it, risking his life, I sat there in fear, wondering if he’d ever come back”, said Farber. “As I sat at that piano, watching Curt and the generations that he saved, I knew I had to bring his story to life through music, especially as so many of my own grandparents’ families were murdered by the Nazis.”

Farber began working on the concerto, introducing musical passages that served to emulate the internal struggles, darkness and triumph of Lowens’ exploits. “I became aware that I was not only telling Curt’s story, but also countless other people’s stories who struggle against oppression,” she said

Finally, “Bestemming [“Destination” in Dutch]: Cello Concerto No. 1” was completed. With former rock star and actor Michael Des Barres — who wrote the international hit “Obsession,” fronted bands like Detective and Silverhead, and played MacGyver’s foil, Murdoc, in the long running television series — starring as the narrator, “Bestemming” premiered at the First Baptist Church of Glendale in January.

According to Rabbi David Baron, who orchestrated the reunion on Yom Kippur, board members from several large Jewish Foundations were in the audience at the premiere and have since expressed an interest in supporting an additional performance on Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills, where Curt was originally united with the children and grandchildren of the two pilots. “I received calls from them immediately following the premiere, very excited at the potential of the concerto to play at the Saban Theatre and then in the great symphony halls of the world.”

In the days leading up to the premier, Des Barres issued a quote to his Facebook followers: “I empathize tremendously, as all conscious beings do, with the oppression of the Holocaust and the parallel acts of oppression today … These crimes of fascist oppression will be confronted and conquered by a new consciousness. A change is coming in 2014.”

Farber has similar feelings about the relevance of her concerto to this and future generations: “This concerto has a universal voice that I hope raises the consciousness of those who experience it,” she said. “There are many Curt Lowens in the world. Each has a unique story, and this concerto relates to every human being who is facing oppression today.”

(L to R) Curt Lowens, Sharon Farber and cellist Ruslan Biryukov.Credit: Miles Stellar

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