Robert Clary, a Parisian Jew who escaped concentration camps as a child and went on to act in the 1960s comedy “Hogan’s Heroes,” which was set in a German prisoner-of-war camp during World War II, passed away on Wednesday at his home in Beverly Hills, California. He was 96 years old.
The diminished Mr. Clary was most remembered for his portrayal as Cpl. Louis LeBeau, a beret-wearing French prisoner in the fictitious Stalag 13, on “Hogan’s Heroes” from 1965 to 1971. LeBeau, who blew up bridges when he wasn’t cooking in the barracks, was a member of a camp-based group of Allied saboteurs directed by Col. Robert E. Hogan, portrayed by Bob Crane. The show’s only other live star at the time was Mr. Clary.
Mr. Clary was the final surviving star of the programme.
Werner Klemperer, who portrayed the cowardly camp commander Colonel Klink, was the son of the famed orchestra conductor Otto Klemperer; his family left Berlin for Los Angeles when he was 13 to avoid persecution. John Banner, who portrayed the inept Sgt. Schultz, left his native Austria in 1938 when it was captured by Nazi Germany.
No other cast member had a more vivid remembrance of Nazi crimes than Mr. Clary, who spent almost three years in German detention camps as a teenager and lost 10 of his 13 siblings as well as his parents during the Holocaust.
After being sent to Ottmuth, a concentration camp in Upper Silesia, and then Buchenwald, he stated that his ability as an entertainer helped him survive; he would perform song-and-dance routines for other inmates, and frequently for SS guards as well.
In “The Last Laugh,” a 2017 documentary produced by Ferne Pearlstein that examines the function of comedy in relation to the ultimate taboo subject, the Holocaust, Mr. Clary remembered, “Singing, dancing, and clowning around were second nature to me.” “That helped me greatly when I was deported because instinctively, even in the first camp, I began to sing for the people who were there; they were the inmates.”
“This helped me greatly when I was deported, since I began singing for the people that were there, the inmates, immediately in the first camp.”
Robert Max Widerman was born in Paris on March 1, 1926 as Mr. Clary. His Polish-born parents Moishe and Baila Wideman relocated to Paris following World War I. His tailor father, who was 15 years older than Mr. Clary’s mother, brought six children from a deceased wife into the marriage. The couple produced eight more children, including Mr. Clary, who was the youngest.
He spent most of his boyhood in a tiny apartment owned by a wealthy widow who offered accommodation for needy Jewish families on the gorgeous Île St.-Louis, tucked on the Seine River near Notre Dame cathedral.
Mr. Clary, a born performer, learnt to dance by studying Fred Astaire’s films and imitating his motions. At the age of 12, he was performing with five other youngsters on a weekly Parisian radio programme.
After the German invasion of Paris in 1940 and the banning of Jews from parks, hotels, restaurants, and theatres, his hopes for a career in show business were dashed.
In his 2001 book, “From the Holocaust to Hogan’s Heroes,” he said that his worries of deportation were fulfilled on September 23, 1942, when French police officers and Gestapo officials came to herd the Jews in Mr. Clary’s building to the camps.
Mr. Clary hesitated to discuss his military memories for decades. Eventually, he chose to convey his tale, in part to challenge Holocaust doubters and deniers; for the Jewish human rights group Simon Wiesenthal Center, he spoke at high schools and universities about the Holocaust.
Ms. Hancock said in a phone interview, “His emphasis was always: Never hate.” “Despite his experiences in the death camps, he always sought beauty and sought to make everyone’s life enjoyable.”
Mr. Clary’s ability to recollect his past events served as a type of rehabilitation. In a 2016 video interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he said, “I used to have dreams that I would get jailed again, but they wouldn’t catch me this time.” However, as soon as I spoke, the dreams vanished.