British Military & Criminal History:

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This page provides a brief biography of Leo Genn, the actor and one of the Prosecution Team at the Belsen trial

Leo Genn

Leo Genn was born on 9 August 1905 in London.

The son of a prosperous merchant, he studied law at Cambridge and was a practicing barrister when he made his stage debut in 1930. For several years he continued offering legal services while gaining experience as a stage and screen player and had abandoned his law career entirely by the time he made his Broadway debut early in 1939.

During WWII he served with the Royal Artillery, being promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1943 and awarded the Croix de Guerre in 1945. He was allowed several brief leaves of absence for film appearances. At the end of the war he joined the British unit investigating war crimes at the Belsen concentration camp, later serving as an assistant prosecutor for the Belsen trial.

Genn's career received a boost from his subtle, sarcastic portrayal of the Constable of France in Laurence Olivier's film HENRY V (1945), a small but memorable role. It resulted in an invitation to the US and one of his great stage successes in the 1946 Broadway production of Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest. Many stage and screen appearances followed on both sides of the Atlantic. In films, he played intelligent, personable, and typically understated character leads and supporting roles. He was nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actor for his portrayal of Gaius Petronius, Nero's counsellor, in QUO VADIS? (1951).

After suffering a heart attack, Leo Genn died on 26 January 1978 in London.

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