L.A. (AP) — French-born Robert Clary, a World War II concentration camp survivor who portrayed a sassy POW in the unlikely 1960s comedy “Hogan’s Heroes,” has passed away. He was 96.
Brenda Hancock, Clary’s niece, revealed on Thursday that her uncle passed away from natural causes on Wednesday at his residence in the Los Angeles region.
Hancock said of Clary, “He never let such atrocities overcome him.” Clary had seen war as a young man. He never allowed anybody to steal his happiness. Through his music, dance, and art, he hoped to bring happiness to people.
Hancock emphasised the importance of never harbouring hatred while sharing his life story with kids. He didn’t allow evil to triumph over good.
During its run from 1965 to 1971, the comedy series “Hogan’s Heroes” depicted Allied troops in a POW camp using espionage to outwit their buffoonish German army captors. Clary, who stood at just 5 feet and 1 inch as Cpl. Louis LeBeau, wore a beret and smiled sarcastically.
Bob Crane, Richard Dawson, Larry Hovis, and Ivan Dixon were all featured in the series as inmates, but only Clary is still alive. Werner Klemperer, who portrayed one of the captives, and John Banner, who played one of the captors, were both European Jews who escaped Nazi persecution before World War II.
When Clary first started out, he was performing in nightclubs and in musicals like “Irma La Douce” and “Cabaret.” Clary continued working in television with roles on “The Young and the Restless,” “Days of Our Lives,” and “The Bold and the Beautiful” after “Hogan’s Heroes.”
Working in musicals was the crowning achievement of his career, he said. In an interview given in 2014, he noted, “I liked to go to the theatre at quarter of 8, put the stage makeup on, and amuse.”
Clary said that he was finally prompted to come out about his wartime experiences in 1980 by those who rejected or minimised Nazi Germany’s concerted attempt to murder Jews.
Released in 1985, “Robert Clary, A5714: A Memoir of Liberation” is a documentary depicting Clary’s youth and years of misery at the hands of the Nazis. Inmates of concentration camps have permanent identifying numbers tattooed on their wrists; Clary’s would be A5714.
In an interview with The Associated Press from 1985, he said, “They produce books and essays in magazines denying the Holocaust, making a joke of the 6 million Jews — including a million and a half children — who perished in the gas chambers and ovens.”
A total of twelve members of Clary’s immediate family—his parents and ten siblings—were slain by the Nazis, as he detailed in his online biography.
In 1997, photographer Nick Del Calzo published a book titled “The Triumphant Spirit,” which included photos and tales of hundreds of Holocaust survivors, including him.
As Clary put it in an interview at the time, “I ask the future generation not to do what people have done for millennia” and despise others because of the colour of their skin, the shape of their eyes, or their religion.
Although Clary had left the performing profession, he never stopped keeping himself active with his family, friends, and art. Robert Clary’s autobiography, titled “From the Holocaust to Hogan’s Heroes: The Autobiography of Robert Clary,” came out in 2001.
Hancock, Clary’s daughter, wrote a biography of her elder sister Nicole Holland titled “One Of The Lucky Ones.” Both Holland, who fought with the French Resistance against the Nazis, and another sister made it through the war alive. In his second book, “Talent, Luck, and Courage,” Hancock details the contributions of Clary and Holland.
Robert Widerman, who became Clary, was born in Paris in March 1926. He was the 14th and youngest of a family of Jews. When he was 16 years old, the Nazis kidnapped him along with most of his family.
In the film, Clary reflected on his carefree youth in Paris before being rounded up with his family and sent to a concentration camp in a crammed cattle vehicle.
‘No one knew where we were heading,’ Clary said. Irredeemably, “we were no longer human.”
He spent 31 months in detention camps until being freed by the Americans from Buchenwald. According to Clary, he is still alive because of his young age and his capacity to work.
After moving back to Paris with his two sisters, Clary started a singing career that eventually made him famous in the United States.
Once he arrived in America in 1949, he quickly worked his way up from club dates and recording to Broadway musicals, such as “New Faces of 1952,” and eventually to the big screen. He had appearances in films including “The Thief of Damascus” (1952), “A New Kind of Love” (1963), and “The Hindenburg” (1975).
His nephew, composer Brian Gari, has indicated that in recent years Clary has recorded jazz arrangements of songs by Ira Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim, and other greats.
According to Gari, Clary was overjoyed with a letter of praise from Sondheim and pleased with the outcomes. “He tacked it up in the kitchen,” Gari reported.
Despite the traumatic war experience his family had, Clary found the humour on “Hogan’s Heroes” to be entertaining.
It was really unique. Compared to the horrors of the concentration camps and death chambers, the life of a prisoner of war must have seemed like a vacation.
In 1965, Clary married Natalie Cantor, the daughter of singer and actor Eddie Cantor. In 1997, she passed away.