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How funny was the comedy 'Hogan's Heroes,' really?

Photo of Robert Clary as Lebeau and Cynthia Lynn as Fräulein Helga from "Hogan's Heroes."
CBS Television
/
CBS Television
Photo of Robert Clary as Lebeau and Cynthia Lynn as Fräulein Helga from "Hogan's Heroes."

Robert Clary, who died recently at the age of 96, was the last surviving star of the 1960s TV sitcom "Hogan's Heroes."

Clary played the beret-wearing Frenchman, Cpl. Louis LeBeau, one of the merry band of World War II concentration camp POWs that weekly for six years was beamed from TV land into households throughout America.

A generation of baby boomers was entertained by wildly outlandish tales of dimwitted German soldiers, hapless commandants and the clueless Nazi high command, even as the heroes smuggled allied pilots out of the fictional concentration camp — a setting with all the menace of a Catskill summer resort.

A Jewish child, I wasn't above affecting a German accent when cast by my playmate directors in the villainous yet bumbling role of Col. Klink, or the buffoonish guard Sgt. Schultz, all while I was safely ensconced in my suburban neighborhood.

In fact, Clary, who actually lost his parents and siblings while spending three years in a German concentration camp himself, was surrounded by a team of Jewish actors who’d experienced the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand.

And although my family was but one generation removed from the murders of six million of our brethren, it would take decades for me to realize the enormity of a genocide that swallowed up most of European Jewry.

The few times the subject arose, it was always in the context of how lucky we were that our family was spared and able to settle in America, thanks to the foresight of plucky immigrant ancestors who realized early on that a century of pogroms and a night of broken glass in Europe were unlikely to end well.

Except that didn’t turn out to be quite true. It would take another generation of family historians and a visit to ancestry.com to reveal that entire limbs of our family tree had been torn out and burned.

Such is the great lesson of adulthood — as much as we'd like to believe that if we don’t talk about something, it didn’t happen; history doesn’t work that way.

Robert Clary knew it. After decades of refusing to speak about his wartime experience, he spent the latter part of his life fighting Holocaust deniers.

Now it’s up to the rest of us to be the real heroes for our children and never forget.

Commentator Robert Chipkin lives and writes in Springfield, Massachusetts.

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