Robert Clary, last of the ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ stars, dies at 96

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Robert Clary, the World War II-born French-born Nazi concentration camp survivor who played a bubbly teen on the improbable 1960s sitcom “Hogan’s Hero,” has died prisoners of war. He is 96 years old.

Clary died of natural causes at his home in the Los Angeles area, niece Brenda Hancock said Thursday.

“He never let those fears get the better of him,” Hancock said of Clary’s wartime experiences as a young man. “He never let them take away the joy in his life. He tried to spread that joy to other people through his singing, his dancing and his painting.”

When he told students about his life, he told them, “Never hate,” Hancock said. “He didn’t let hate overcome the beauty of this world.”

“Hogan’s Heroes,” in which Allied soldiers in a POW camp outwit their zany German Army captives with a spy scheme, was all about laughs in the 1965-71 run. Clary, who is 5-foot-1, wears a beret and a sarcastic smile. Louis LeBeau.

Clary is the last surviving original star of the sitcom, which included Bob Kline, Richard Dawson, Larry Howes and Evan Dixon as prisoners. Werner Klemperer and John Banner, who played their captors, were both European Jews fleeing Nazi persecution before the war.

Clary began her career as a nightclub singer and appeared on stage in musicals including “Emeraldos” and “Cabaret.” After “Hogan’s Heroes,” Clary’s television credits include the soaps “The Young and the Restless,” “Days of Our Lives” and “The Bold and the Beautiful.”

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He considers musical theater to be the highlight of his career. “I like to go to the theater at a quarter past eight and put on stage makeup to have fun,” he said in a 2014 interview.

He remained silent about his wartime experiences until 1980, when, Clary said, he was outraged by those who denied or undercut Nazi Germany’s orchestrated efforts to exterminate the Jews.

A 1985 documentary about Clary’s childhood and horrific years at the hands of the Nazis was released, “Robert Clary, A5714: Memoirs of Liberation.” Camp inmates had their identification numbers tattooed on their forearms, A5714, the mark of Clary’s life.

“They wrote books and articles in magazines denying the Holocaust, mocking the 6 million Jews who died in gas chambers and ovens — including 1.5 million children,” he told The Associated Press in a 1985 interview.

Clary wrote in a biography posted on his website that 12 members of his immediate family, his parents and 10 siblings were killed under the Nazis.

In 1997, he was one of dozens of Holocaust survivors whose portraits and stories were included in “The Triumphant Spirit,” a book by photographer Nick Del Calzo middle.

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“I implore the next generation not to do what people have done for centuries — hate people because of their skin or the shape of their eyes or their religious preferences,” Clary said in an interview at the time.

After retiring from show business, Clary remained busy with his family, friends, and his paintings. His memoir, Heroes from the Holocaust to Hogan: The Autobiography of Robert Clary, was published in 2001.

“One of the Lucky Ones” is a biography of one of Clary’s sisters, Nicole Holland, written by her daughter Hancock. Holland, who worked with France against Germany, survived the war as did another sister. Hancock’s second book, Talent Luck Courage, follows the lives of Clary and Holland and their impact.

Clary was born Robert Widerman in Paris in March 1926, the youngest of 14 children of a Jewish family. He was 16 when he and most of his family were taken by the Nazis.

In the documentary, Clary recalls a happy childhood until he and his family were forced out of their apartment in Paris, packed into an overcrowded cattle cart and transported to a concentration camp.

“No one knew where we were going,” Clary said. “We’re not human anymore.”

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After 31 months in several concentration camps, he was liberated from Buchenwald concentration camp by American troops. Clary said his youth and ability to work kept him alive.

After returning to Paris and reuniting with his two sisters, Clary became a singer and recorded songs that became popular in the United States.

After coming to America in 1949, he moved from club dates and recordings to Broadway musicals, including “Fresh Faces of 1952,” and then to movies. His credits include Thief in Damascus in 1952, A New Kind of Love in 1963 and The Hindenburg in 1975.

In recent years, Clary has recorded jazz versions of Ira Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim and other great songs, says his nephew Brian Gari, a songwriter who co-produced the CD with Clary.

Gari said Clary was proud of the results and thrilled to receive a letter of praise from Sondheim. “He hung it on the kitchen wall,” Gary said.

While the family’s devastating war experience is tragic, Clary isn’t disturbed by this comedy about the “Heroes of Hogan.”

“It’s completely different. I know their (prisoners of war) lives are terrible, but compared to concentration camps and gas chambers, it’s like a vacation.”

Clary married Natalie Cantor, daughter of singer and actor Eddie Cantor, in 1965. She died in 1997.

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