Sitcom Star Who Was A Holocaust Survivor Has Died
Robert Clary, the last remaining member of Hogan's Heroes and Holocaust survivor, has died at the age of 96.
The final surviving member of the original cast of the show Hogan’s Heroes has passed away at the age of 96. Robert Clary, born Robert Max Widerman, who portrayed the comedically inclined Corporal Louis LaBeau in the hit 1960’s sitcom was a French actor, a singer, and a survivor of the Holocaust. He spent 31 months in a concentration camp during his teenage years, where nearly all his family were killed, and he was forced to perform music for SS soldiers as entertainment. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Clary died Wednesday morning in his Los Angeles home, and though he was part of a concentration camp, he had no reservations about appearing in a show that revolved around Nazis.
Hogan’s Heroes, which ran for six seasons from 1965 to 1971, followed the oft-comedic antics of a group of allied soldiers staging a covert operation to take down Nazis from within a prisoner-of-war camp. The show starred Robert Clary alongside several other post-war concentration camp survivors. The show also featured a principal cast of Jewish actors Werner Klemperer, John Banner, Leon Askin, and Howard Caine who all fled Nazi Germany years before the show, portraying the four main Nazi characters.
Robert Clary’s Louis LaBeau, along with the rest of the cast, walked the delicate tightrope of making the potentially sensitive content of a prisoner of war camp lighthearted and digestible through wit and parody, while still displaying the woes of war. Clary explained in his memoir he did not have reservations about working on the show due to the many differences between life in a POW camp and life in a concentration camp, stating “Although I did not want to diminish what soldiers went through during their internments, it was like night and day from what people endured in concentration camps.”
After being liberated from the Buchenwald concentration camp, Robert Clary began his decades-long and highly successful career in film and television, as well as painting, singing, and performing live. Throughout his storied career, he collaborated with such great talents as Mel Brooks and Paul Newman. Clary clearly held a worthwhile career after escaping the horrors of the Holocaust.
Robert Clary remained mostly private about his harrowing Holocaust experiences throughout his storied career as an actor, singer, and performer following the war. He opted not to speak openly about the time he spent in the concentration camps for nearly four decades, choosing to reveal the true harsh reality only when Holocaust denial had begun gaining traction throughout the United States. Clary stated, “For 36 years I kept these experiences during the war locked up inside myself, but those who are attempting to deny the Holocaust, my suffering, and the suffering of millions of others have forced me to speak out.”
It is absolutely worth noting during this time of political upheaval regarding figures such as Kanye West and Dave Chappelle making antisemitic remarks within the mainstream popular discourse, that millions of people like Robert Clary suffered at the hands of evil for decades simply for being part of a faith and culture facing persecution. As we enter a new age where fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors remain, it is imperative that we retain their legacy and their history, to ensure the disgusting history of genocide does not repeat itself. We speak for everyone when saying rest in peace, Mr. Clary, you are truly a hero for many reasons.