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Robert Clary, 'Hogan's Heroes' star who survived the Holocaust, dies at 96 -
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Robert Clary, 'Hogan's Heroes' star who survived the Holocaust, dies at 96

Robert Clary, ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ star who survived the Holocaust, dies at 96



Reuters

Paris-born actor and singer Robert Clary, who survived 31 months in Nazi concentration camps but then starred in ‘Hogan’s Heroes,’ the American sitcom set in a WWII German POW camp world, died at the age of 96.

Clary, who starred as French Corporal Louis Lebeau on “Hogan’s Heroes” for its six seasons from 1965 to 1971, died Wednesday at his Los Angeles home, his granddaughter told The Hollywood Reporter.

“Robert was an incredible and incredibly talented gentleman, not only as an actor but also as a gifted performer and painter,” said David Martin, his former manager.

Clary was 16 in September 1942 when he was deported from Paris to Nazi concentration camps with 12 other members of his Jewish family. He was the only one to survive. Clary spent 2.5 years in the concentration camps of Ottmuth, Blachhammer, Gross-Rosen, and Buchenwald, enduring starvation, disease, and forced labor.

He was freed when American troops liberated Buchenwald in April 1945, but later learned that his family members, including his parents, had died in the Holocaust.

It was with some irony that Clary achieved her greatest fame playing for jokes on a TV show set in a German POW camp. He said he had no worries about appearing on a show that made fun of the Nazis.

His character was one of the POWs who outmaneuvered their stupid German jailers and carried out espionage and sabotage to help the Allied cause.

“The show was a satire set in a stalag for prisoners of war, where the conditions were not pleasant but in no way comparable to a concentration camp, and it had nothing to do with the Jews,” said Clary at the Jerusalem Post in 2002.

“Showbiz is like a roller coaster and you take the roles that are offered to you,” Clary added.

“Hogan’s Heroes” starred Bob Crane as US Colonel Robert Hogan, with Richard Dawson, Larry Hovis and Ivan Dixon playing other POWs. The main German characters were the clumsy camp commander, Colonel Klink, played by Werner Klemperer, and the lithe Guard Sergeant Schultz, played by John Banner. Both actors were Jewish and had fled Europe because of the Nazis.

Clary’s character was known for his burgundy beret and his cooking skills, which were used to entertain German officers with delicious food while his fellow prisoners of war got into mischief.

“Hogan’s Heroes” was popular with viewers when it aired on the CBS network and for decades afterwards in syndication, although some critics deemed it in poor taste.

Clary was born as Robert Max Widerman on March 1, 1926, the youngest of his Polish tailor father’s 14 children from two marriages. He became a professional singer as a teenager.

In the camps set up by the Nazis to eradicate the Jews of Europe, he was tattooed with the number A-5714 and forced to dig trenches, work in a shoe factory and sing for his captors. The singing earned him a few extra bits of food, Clary said.

“I was one of the lucky ones,” he told the Asbury Park Press in 2002. “First, because I survived. Second, because I was in camps that n weren’t as atrocious as others. I didn’t suffer. I didn’t work as hard as the people who worked in the salt mines in the quarries. I was never tortured. I didn’t I was never really beaten. I was never hanged. But I saw all these things.

After the war, Clary’s singing career took off in France. He moved to the United States in 1949 and comedian Eddie Cantor gave him national television exposure. Clary later married Cantor’s daughter, Natalie.

Clary performed on stage, in small film roles and in TV spots before being cast in “Hogan’s Heroes.” Her biggest film role was in director Robert Wise’s “The Hindenburg” in 1975, starring George C. Scott.

In 1980, alarm over people trying to deny the Holocaust prompted Clary to end his self-imposed silence about his experiences. He spent years traveling to schools in the United States and Canada speaking about the Holocaust. He also wrote an autobiography, “From the Holocaust to Hogan’s Heroes”.

“We have to learn from history,” Clary told the Reno Gazette-Journal in 2002, “which we don’t.”

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