LOS ANGELES (AP) — Robert Clary, a French survivor of Nazi concentration camps during World War II who played a feisty prisoner of war in the improbable 1960s sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes,” has died. He was 96 years old.
Clary died Wednesday of natural causes at his Los Angeles-area home, his niece Brenda Hancock said Thursday.
“He never let those horrors defeat him,” Hancock said of Clary’s war experience as a young man. “He never let them take the joy out of his life. He tried to transmit this joy to others through his singing, dancing and painting.
When he told students about his life, he told them, “Never hate,” Hancock said. “He didn’t let hate overcome the beauty of this world.”
“Hogan’s Heroes,” in which Allied soldiers in a POW camp beat their clownish German Army captors with spy schemes, played the war strictly for laughs during its 1965-71 run. The 5-foot-1 Clary sported a beret and a sardonic smile as Cpl. Louis LeBeau.
Clary was the last surviving original star of the sitcom which included Bob Crane, Richard Dawson, Larry Hovis and Ivan Dixon as prisoners. Werner Klemperer and John Banner, who played their captors, were both European Jews who fled Nazi persecution before the war.
Clary began her career as a nightclub singer and appeared on stage in musicals such as “Irma La Douce” and “Cabaret”. After “Hogan’s Heroes”, Clary’s television work included the soap operas “The Young and the Restless”, “Days of Our Lives”, and “The Bold and the Beautiful”.
He considered musical theater the high point of his career. “I loved going to the theater at 8:45, doing stage makeup and entertaining,” he said in a 2014 interview.
He remained publicly silent about his experience of the war until 1980, when, Clary said, he was pressured to speak out by those who denied or diminished Nazi Germany’s orchestrated effort to exterminate the Jews.
A documentary about Clary’s childhood and years of horror at the hands of the Nazis, “Robert Clary, A5714: A Memoir of Liberation”, was released in 1985. The forearms of concentration camp prisoners were tattooed with identification numbers, A5714 being Clary’s hallmark for life.
“They write books and articles in magazines denying the Holocaust, making fun of the 6 million Jews – including one and a half million children – who died in gas chambers and ovens,” he said. he told the Associated Press in a 1985 interview.
Twelve of her immediate family members, her parents and 10 siblings, were killed by the Nazis, Clary wrote in a biography posted on her website.
In 1997, he was among dozens of Holocaust survivors whose portraits and stories were included in “The Triumphant Spirit,” a book by photographer Nick Del Calzo.
“I’m pleading with the next generation not to do what people have done for centuries – hate others because of their skin, the shape of their eyes, or their religious preferences,” Clary said in an interview. ‘era.
Withdrawn from acting, Clary has remained busy with family, friends and painting. His memoir, “From the Holocaust to Hogan’s Heroes: The Autobiography of Robert Clary,” was published in 2001.
“One Of The Lucky Ones”, a biography of one of Clary’s older sisters, Nicole Holland, was written by Hancock, her daughter. Holland, who worked with the French Resistance against Germany, survived the war, as did another sister. Hancock’s second book, “Talent Luck Courage”, chronicles Clary and Holland’s lives and their impact.
Clary was born Robert Widerman in Paris in March 1926, the youngest of 14 children in the Jewish family. He was 16 when he and most of his family were taken away by the Nazis.
In the documentary, Clary recalls a happy childhood until he and his family were forced out of their Paris apartment and put in a crowded cattle car that transported them to concentration camps.
“Nobody knew where we were going,” Clary said. “We were no longer human beings.
After 31 months of captivity in several concentration camps, he was liberated from the Buchenwald death camp by American troops. His youth and ability to work kept him alive, Clary said.
Back in Paris and reunited with her two sisters, Clary worked as a singer and recorded songs that became popular in America.
After arriving in the United States in 1949, he moved from club dates and recording to Broadway musicals, including “New Faces of 1952”, and then to movies. He appeared in films including “Thief of Damascus” in 1952, “A New Kind of Love” in 1963 and “The Hindenburg” in 1975.
In recent years Clary has recorded jazz versions of songs by Ira Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim and other big names, said her nephew Brian Gari, a songwriter who worked on the CDs with Clary.
Clary was proud of the results, Gari said, and delighted with a letter of compliments he received from Sondheim. “He hung this on the kitchen wall,” Gari said.
Clary didn’t feel bad about the comedy on “Hogan’s Heroes” despite the tragedy of her family’s devastating wartime experience.
“It was completely different. I know they (POWs) had a terrible life, but compared to concentration camps and gas chambers, it was like a vacation.
Clary married Natalie Cantor, daughter of singer-actor Eddie Cantor, in 1965. She died in 1997.