The following is an encore post from this summer to honor the amazing life of actor and holocaust survivor and advocate, Robert Clary, who passed away yesterday at age 96.
For those of us who grew up in the 1960s or watched a lot of reruns on television, there was a comedy show about a prisoner of war camp in Germany during World War II called “Hogan’s Heroes.” One of its stars was a diminutive and funny character named Corporal LeBeau, played by French actor Robert Clary. Yet, while a POW camp is a not a concentration camp where Jews were exterminated, Clary also had the horrid experience of being a survivor of the real Holocaust in a camp called Buchenwald.
I learned this watching a movie made in 1982 called “Remembrance of Love” starring Kirk Douglas, Chana Eden and Pam Dawber where two young lovers were split apart by the Nazis and Douglas’s character went to a Holocaust event in Israel to see if she was still alive. Clary played himself in the film as an ambassador to these Holocaust survivors.
Per Wikipedia, here is Clary’s early story:
“Born in 1926 in Paris, France, Clary was the youngest of 14 children, 10 of whom would die in the Holocaust. At the age of twelve, he began a career singing professionally on a French radio station and also studied art in Paris. In 1942, because he was Jewish, he was deported to the Nazi concentration camp at Ottmuth, in Upper Silesia (now Otmęt, Poland). He was tattooed with the identification ‘A5714’ on his left forearm. He was later sent to Buchenwald concentration camp.
At Buchenwald, he sang to an audience of SS soldiers every other Sunday, accompanied by an accordionist. He said, ‘Singing, entertaining, and being in kind of good health at my age, that’s why I survived. I was very immature and young and not really fully realizing what situation I was involved with … I don’t know if I would have survived if I really knew that.‘
Writing about his experience, Clary said,
‘We were not even human beings. When we got to Buchenwald, the SS shoved us into a shower room to spend the night. I had heard the rumours about the dummy shower heads that were gas jets. I thought, ‘This is it.’ But no, it was just a place to sleep. The first eight days there, the Germans kept us without a crumb to eat. We were hanging on to life by pure guts, sleeping on top of each other, every morning waking up to find a new corpse next to you. … The whole experience was a complete nightmare — the way they treated us, what we had to do to survive. We were less than animals. Sometimes I dream about those days. I wake up in a sweat terrified for fear I’m about to be sent away to a concentration camp, but I don’t hold a grudge because that’s a great waste of time. Yes, there’s something dark in the human soul. For the most part, human beings are not very nice. That’s why when you find those who are, you cherish them.'”
Clary published a memoir, From the Holocaust to Hogan’s Heroes: The Autobiography of Robert Clary, in 2001. Rather than summarize his career before and after “Hogan’s Heroes,” I encourage you to link to the Wikipedia article on his behalf. He was often asked to distinguish between the fictional POW camp and the real concentration camp he survived.
“Stalag 13 is not a concentration camp. It’s a POW camp, and that’s a world of difference. You never heard of a prisoner of war being gassed or hanged. When the show went on the air, people asked me if I had any qualms about doing a comedy series dealing with Nazis and concentration camps. I had to explain that it was about prisoners of war in a Stalag, not a concentration camp, and 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.”
To this day, there are people with hard-hearted and hateful motives who want people to believe the Holocaust did not happen, that over 6 million Jews, gays and lesbians and gypsies were not exterminated by the Nazis in World War II. This is not only a blatant attempt at disinformation, it truly is evil. It is on par with people trying to white wash all the bad things in history committed by humans against one another and the Holocaust ranks as one of the greatest atrocities in our history. These Jews and others were arrested, stripped, starved and gassed, because of some lunatic idea set forth by Adolph Hitler and his henchmen.
Interestingly, Clary remains alive and well at the age of 96, one of the last two survivors from the “Hogan’s Heroes” show. Yet, he said he still has nightmares at this age and lost many of his siblings due the Nazi genocide. We must never forget what happened to Clary and his family among the multiple millions of Jews and others that were impacted.