100 Heroes: Hans Heinrich von Twardowski

The gay man who fled the Nazis to become a Hollywood star.

100 Heroes: Hans Heinrich von Twardowski

Hans Heinrich von Twardowski was a gay actor who fled Nazi Germany and built a career for himself in Hollywood.

Life in Germany

Born in 1898, Twardowski was raised in Stettin, Germany - a place now within the borders of Poland and known as Szczecin.

Twardowski made his first film appearance in the 1920 Robert Wiene-directed horror movie Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. He went on to appear in over 20 movies in Weimar Germany during the 1920s.

His first sound movie was Der K├Ânig von Paris in 1930. His last movie in Germany was 1931's Der Herzog von Reichstadt.

Life in the US

As the Nazis rose to power, Twardowski was at risk of persecution because of his sexuality - he was gay.

In 1933, Twardowski fled Germany and made his way to the US, finding a home in Los Angeles where he was able to continue his film career.

Early American films included Scandal for Sale, Private Jones, Adorable, The Devil's in Love, and The Scarlet Empress.

In 1935, Twardowski appeared as Count Nicholas of Hungary in the Cecil B. DeMille film The Crusades starring Loretta Young. Around this time, Twardowski also began working in theatre productions.

In 1939, Twardowski appeared in two Warner Bros. anti-Nazi movies. He played Max Helldorf in the spy thriller Confessions of a Nazi Spy. Next Twardowski appeared in another spy thriller Espionage Agent, starring Joel McCrea - released just three weeks after Germany invaded Poland.

Later in 1939, Twardowski appeared in the anti-Nazi movie Hitler - Beast of Berlin. Twardowski plays Albert Stalhelm, a SS storm trooper who becomes disillusioned with the brutality of the Nazi regime. His character accidentally betrays his anti-Nazi friends to his fellow SS members, who in turn murder him.

Throughout the war, Hollywood was producing a stream of war movies, and Twardowski worked steadily as various Nazi characters - often very small parts, or uncredited. Twardowski had a small role in the film classic Casablanca. He also starred in the 1943 film Hangmen Also Die! directed by Fritz Lang and written by Bertolt Brecht.

Twardowski's last two movies were 1944 war dramas - first he appeared as a doctor in The Hitler Gang, and later as a German Red Cross representative in Resisting Enemy Interrogation.

With his film career effectively ending along with the war, Twardowski focused his attention on the theatre.


Twardowski died from a heart attack in his New York City apartment in 1958. He was 60.

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