A postcard of Igo Sym listed on EBay as Buy It Now for $6.
So I’m watching this 1927 German silent film, Café Elektric, starring Marlene Dietrich as a ne’er-do-well spoiled rich girl. And I am charmed by the young blond actor playing the male lead. Igo Sym; never heard of him, but he is handsome and charming and such a good actor. I’ll look him up online and see whatever became of hi—OMIGAWD!
Did you ever read Klaus Mann’s novel Mephisto, about his Nazi actor brother-in-law, Gustaf Gründgens? Or see the movie? It turns out Igo Sym was even worse than Gründgens. Sym—who had served in the Austro-Hungarian Army in WWI—became a popular matinee idol in the 1920s, and rightly so. He appeared in more than forty movies between 1925 and the Nazi takeover in the early 1930s.
Judge for yourself what a doll he was in this clip from Café Elektric (the lady is not Marlene, but Anny Cotti, the second female lead; this was her only film—the internet gives no hint as to what become of her):
Well. The Austro-Hungarian Sym pretty quickly decided which side his bread was buttered on, and became one of Warsaw’s most effective Gestapo agents. The new government made him director of Warsaw’s theater and film industries. He continued acting—he made six films during the 1930s and early ’40s, as well as acting onstage (ironically, both he and his former costar Marlene Dietrich were aces on the musical saw). He also informed on anti-Nazi Poles, and goodness knows how many people he had arrested and killed.
The Polish Underground’s mothers didn’t raise any fools, though, and they were soon on to him. On March 7, 1941, two Polish patriots disguised as postmen made a delivery to Igo Sym’s apartment—it involved a gun, and the 44-year-old star was pumped fulla lead, as the tabloids would put it. The Nazi government did not take this well—really, did you expect them to?—and 120 people were arrested; 21 were executed on March 11 in retaliation.
Other Mephistos—Gustaf Gründgens himself, Emil Jannings, Coco Chanel—got away scot-free