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

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Robert Cleary, a French-born survivor of Nazi concentration camps during World War II who played a haunted prisoner of war in the unlikely 1960 sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes,” has died. has gone He was 96.

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

“He never let those horrors defeat him,” Hancock said of Cleary’s war experience as a teenager. “He never let them take the joy out of his life. He tried to convey this happiness to others through his singing, dancing and painting.

When he told his life to the students, he told them, “Never hate,” Hancock said. “He did not allow hate to prevail over beauty in this world.”

“Hogan’s Heroes,” in which Allied soldiers in a POW camp outwit their clownish German Army prisoners with espionage schemes, played the war hard for laughs during its 1965-71 run. The 5-foot-1 Cleary sported a beret and a wry smile as Cpl. Louis Labeau.

Cleary was the last living original star of the sitcom that featured Bob Crane, Richard Dawson, Larry Howes and Evan Dixon. Werner Klemperer and John Banner, who played their prisoners, were both European Jews who fled Nazi persecution before the war.

Cleary began her career as a nightclub singer and appeared on stage in musicals including “Irma La Douce” and “Cabaret.” After “Hogan’s Heroes,” Cleary’s TV work included the soap operas “The Young and the Restless,” “Days of Our Lives” and “The Bold and the Beautiful.”

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He considered musical theater as his career. “I loved going to the theater at quarter to eight, doing stage makeup and entertaining,” she said in a 2014 interview.

He remained publicly silent about his war experience until the 1980s when, Cleary said, he was prompted to speak out by those who denied or downplayed Nazi Germany’s orchestrated attempt to exterminate the Jews.

A documentary about Cleary’s childhood and horrific years at the hands of the Nazis, “Robert Cleary, A5714: A Memoir of Liberation,” was released in 1985. Concentration camp inmates were tattooed with identification numbers on their arms, A5714 would be the life marker of Cleary.

“They write books and magazine articles denying the Holocaust, mocking the six million Jews — including three and a half million children — who died in gas chambers and ovens,” he told The Associated Press in a 1985 interview. told in

Twelve of his immediate family, his parents and 10 siblings, were killed by the Nazis, Cleary wrote in a biography posted on his website.

In 1997, he was among several Holocaust survivors whose photos and stories were included in the book “The Triumphant Spirit” by photographer Nick DelCalzo.

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

Retired from acting, Cleary kept busy with her family, friends and her painting. His memoir, From the Holocaust to Hogan’s Heroes: The Autobiography of Robert Cleary, was published in 2001.

“One of the lucky ones,” was the biography of Cleary’s older sister Nicole Holland, written by her daughter Hancock. Holland, who worked with the French resistance against Germany, survived the war, as did the other sister. Hancock’s second book, “Talent Luck Courage,” chronicles the lives of Cleary and Holland and their influence.

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

In the documentary, Cleary recalls a happy childhood until he and his family were forced out of their Paris apartment and put into an overcrowded cattle car that took them to concentration camps.

“No one knew where we were going,” Cleary said. “We were no longer human.”

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After 31 months of incarceration in several concentration camps, he was released from the Buchenwald death camp by the US Army. His youth and ability to work kept him alive, Cleary said.

Returning to Paris and with her two sisters, Clary worked as a singer and recorded songs that became popular in America.

After arriving in America in 1949, he moved from club dates and recordings of Broadway musicals, including “New Faces of 1952” and then to films. He appeared in films including Thief of Damascus in 1952, A New Kind of Love in 1963 and Hindenburg in 1975.

In recent years, Cleary has recorded jazz versions of songs by Ira Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim and other greats, said his nephew Brian Garry, a songwriter who worked with Cleary on CDs.

Cleary was proud of the results, Gary said, and was flattered by a complimentary letter he received from Sondheim. “He hung it on the kitchen wall,” Gary said.

Cleary didn’t feel uneasy about the comedy on “Hogan’s Heroes,” despite the tragedy of his family’s devastating war experience.

“It was completely different. I know they (POWs) had a terrible life, but compared to the concentration camps and gas chambers it was like a vacation.

Cleary married Natalie Cantor, daughter of singer-actor Eddie Cantor, in 1965. She died in 1997.

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