The Arty Semite

Funny Nazis? The Return (In Bulk) of Hogan’s Heroes

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share

The CBS Home Entertainment/Paramount Release of a 28 DVD-set, “Hogan’s Heroes: The Komplete Series, Kommandant’s Kollection” reminds us of this early effort to find belated humor in Hitler’s war machine. Writer/director Billy Wilder’s much-admired 1953 film “Stalag 17,” was adapted from a play of the same name by two former POWs, and subtitled: “a comedy melodrama in three acts.” Deleting the melodrama, TV’s “Hogan’s Heroes,” which ran on CBS for 168 episodes from 1965 to 1971, went for outright laughs, successfully or not.

Ambiguously, “Hogan’s Heroes” cast all the principal roles of Nazi soldiers with Jewish actors, notably two Austrian Jews who were refugees from Hitler, Leon Askin (General Burkhalter) and John Banner (Sergeant Schultz). Werner Klemperer (Colonel Klink), son of the eminent German-Jewish symphony conductor Otto Klemperer, had also fled the Nazis, arriving in Los Angeles in 1935. Was it somehow better to have buffoonish Nazis played by Jewish actors?

For refugee actors with accents, jobs in Hollywood were scarce, and Werner Klemperer, although he claimed to be “very proud” of the TV show, in later life strained for acceptance in the higher echelons of the arts, recording for Philips Classics the narration for Schoenberg’s oratorio “Gurre-Lieder,” and taking speaking roles onstage in Mozart operas.

Actor Robert Clary (prisoner Louis Lebeau) was born Robert Max Widerman to a family of Polish Jews who were deported from France to Buchenwald during the German Occupation. Clary is still thriving at age 83, although his career peaked with “Hogan’s Heroes.”

Of all these actors, the most distinguished theatrical career doubtless belongs to Leon Askin, born Leo Aschkenasy in 1907 to an Orthodox family in Vienna. Working with theatrical legends like Max Reinhardt and Erwin Piscator, Askin experienced Austrian antisemitism in the 1920s, survived an SS beating in 1933, and fled to America. In 1994, after long Broadway and Hollywood careers, Askin moved back to Vienna, where he continued to appear onstage into his mid-90s reciting Goethe, among others.

Askin and Clary’s indomitable survival instinct expresses something elemental about actors, especially Jewish actors, whether or not we find “Hogan’s Heroes” amusing.

Watch a 1984 PBS documentary, ‘Robert Clary A5714: A Memoir of Liberation,’ about one of the stars of ‘Hogan’s Heroes’:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Otto Klemperer, Nazis, Max Reinhardt, Louis Lebeau, Leon Askin, Leo Aschkenasy, John Banner, Hogan's Heroes, Hitler, General Burkhalter, Film, Erwin Piscator, Colonel Klink, CBS, Buchenwald, Billy Wilder, Robert Clary, Robert Max Widerman, Seargeant Shultz, Stalag 17, Television, Werner Klemperer

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.