Robert Clary, the last living star of the classic sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes,” has died. He was 96.
The actor died Wednesday of natural causes in his home near Los Angeles, according to his niece.
Born Robert Max Widerman, Clary survived 31 months of concentration camp interment as a teen during the Holocaust.
“He never let those horrors defeat him,” niece Brenda Hancock said. “He never let them take the joy out of his life. He tried to spread that joy to others through his singing and his dancing and his painting.”
Clary admonished students not to hate and celebrated his own life until the very end — even though the Holocaust claimed 12 family members, his parents included.
“Every day I wake up is a birthday,” he said upon turning 88 in 2014. “You learn from the bad things and you learn from the good things.”
Clary used those bad things to educate people about what life was like in Auschwitz. He was one of several stars in the ensemble sitcom that ran from 1965 to 1971. The French-born 5-foot, 1-inch actor played Corporal Louis LeBeau regularly employed a beret and a sardonic smile in the show about Allied soldiers imprisoned in a POW camp who pranked their German army captors with clownish antics.
The growing tide of Holocaust denial compelled him to speak publicly about his wartime experience for the first time in the 1980s.
In 1985, the documentary “Robert Clary, A5714: A Memoir of Liberation” was released. It detailed those horrors and the macabre tracking system used to identify Jews with a number tattooed on each person’s forearm. Clary’s was A5714.
Holocaust deniers made “a mockery of the 6 million Jews — including a million and a half children — who died in the gas chambers and ovens,” Clary said.
With News Wire Services