One of the most popular military TV comedies to air during the Vietnam War was “Hogan’s Heroes.” The show ran from 1965 to 1971 and is still seen today, with the “heroes” of the show forever remaining POWs in the world of reruns.
The show centers on a group of well-fed, well-clothed and well-groomed Allied soldiers with the ability to leave their confines at will, who sit out WW II in a German prisoner-of-war camp. They ham it up with their bumbling German captors, all the while committing acts of sabotage to hamper the Nazi war effort. The show is a trip into the world of the absurd. By design, it presents nothing even remotely resembling the plight of actual prisoners of war. However, through the real-life exploits of the show’s actors, it has an almost unbelievable connection to the horrors of WW II.
There are four principal German characters in the series: the camp commandant, Colonel Klink, played by Werner Klemperer; General Burkhalter, played by Leon Askin; Sergeant Schultz played by John Banner; and ardent Nazi SS Major Hochstetter, portrayed by Howard Caine. Ironically, all four actors were Jewish and all four served in the US Military during WW II! Klemperer, Askin and Banner were in the Army, while Caine served in the Navy. Even more ironic is that three of the four were born in Europe and fled as refugees when Hitler rose to power. Klemperer and his family emigrated to the United States in 1933, Askin in 1940 and Banner in 1938. Luckily, they managed to escape the ravages of the Holocaust. Not all their family members were so lucky.
Their chief antagonist is the senior Allied prisoner of war, Colonel Robert Hogan, played by Bob Crane, who also served in the U.S. Army. The character Peter Newkirk, a Royal Air Force Corporal, was portrayed by Richard Dawson. Too young to serve in WW II, he survived the German “Blitz” bombings of London and other major cities in England. He joined the British Merchant Navy at the age of 14.
But the most ironic story of them all is that of actor Robert Clary, who played French Corporal Louis LeBeau. Born in 1926 in Paris, Clary was Jewish. Unable to escape the Nazi reign of terror, in 1942 he was rounded up, deported, and sent to a series of Nazi concentration camps, including the infamous Buchenwald. Incredibly, he survived two and a half years, eventually being liberated by General George Patton’s 3rd Army in April 1945. Of the 13 members of his family who were sent to the concentration camps, he was the only survivor. In 2001, he published a book about his life titled “From the Holocaust to Hogan’s Heroes. The Autobiography of Robert Clary.” Until his death just two days ago at the age of 96, he was the last living main cast member.
<strong>To view the first episode, click here.
To buy Clary’s book, click here.