Paris-born actor and singer Robert Clary, who survived 31 months Nazi concentration camps But later he co-starred in “Hogan’s Heroes”, the American sitcom set in German World War II Martyred in a prisoner of war camp at the age of 96.
Clary, who played French Corporal Louis LeBeau on “Hogan’s Heroes” during its six seasons from 1965 to 1971, died Wednesday at his Los Angeles home, his granddaughter told The Hollywood Reporter.
“Robert was a wonderful gentleman and incredibly talented not only as an actor but also as a talented performer and painter,” said David Martin, his former manager.
Clary was 16 years old in September 1942 when he was deported from Paris to the Nazi concentration camps, along with 12 other members of his Jewish family. He was the only one who survived. Clary spent 2.5 years in the concentration camps Utmouth, Blachhammer, Gross-Rosen and Buchenwald, suffering hunger, disease and forced labour.
He was released when American forces liberated Buchenwald in April 1945, but then learned that members of his family, including his parents, had perished in the Holocaust.
Ironically, Clary achieved his greatest fame playing jokes on a TV show set in a German prisoner of war camp. He said he had no qualms about being in a show that made fun of the Nazis.
His character was one of the POWs who outwitted the goofy German jailers and carried out acts of espionage and sabotage to help the Allied cause.
“The show was a satire set in a prisoner-of-war column, where the conditions were not pleasant but in no way comparable to a concentration camp, and it had nothing to do with Jews,” Clary told The Jerusalem Post in 2002.
“Showbiz is like a rollercoaster and you take the roles that are offered to you,” Clary added.
Hogan Heroes starred Bob Crane as U.S. Colonel Robert Hogan, with Richard Dawson, Larry Hovis, and Evan Dixon playing other POWs. The main German characters were the bumbling camp commander Colonel Klink, played by Werner Klemperer, and the obedient guard Sergeant Schultz, played by John Banner. Both actors were Jews and fled Europe because of the Nazis.
Clary’s character was known for his burgundy hat and cooking skills, which were used to distract German officers with delicious treats while fellow POWs were on the verge of mischief.
“Hogan’s Heroes” was popular with television viewers while it was on CBS and for decades thereafter in syndication although some critics considered it to be in poor taste.
Born as Robert Max Weiderman on March 1, 1926, Clary is the youngest of 14 children of his Polish tailor father from two marriages. He became a professional singer in his teens.
In camps set up by the Nazis to wipe out European Jewry, he is tattooed with the number A-5714 and forced to dig trenches, work in a shoe factory, and sing to his captors. Clary said that singing earned him a little extra food.
“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 weren’t as brutal as the others. I didn’t suffer. I didn’t work as hard as people work in the salt mines in the quarries. I wasn’t tortured.” Never. I’ve never been beaten. I’ve never been hanged. But I’ve seen all these things.”
After the war, Clary’s singing career took off in France. He moved to the United States in 1949 and was offered national television exposure by comedian Eddie Cantor. Clary later married Cantor’s daughter Natalie.
Clary has performed on stage, in small film roles and in guest spots on television prior to her starring role in “Hogan’s Heroes”. His biggest film role was the 1975 Robert Wise-directed “The Hindenburg,” starring George C. Scott.
In 1980, alarm about people trying to deny the Holocaust prompts 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 his autobiography, From the Holocaust to Hogan’s Heroes.
“We have to learn from history, which we don’t,” Clary told the Reno Gazette-Journal in 2002.
“Coffee aficionado. Introvert. Proud problem solver. Explorer. Friendly music buff. Zombie nerd.”