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'From the Holocaust to Hogan's Heroes' by Robert Clary, a Book Review

Discussion in 'Biographies and Everything Else' started by George Patton, Aug 19, 2012.

  1. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    I picked this one up a few weeks ago. Its Robert Clary's autobiography, who is well-known for playing "Louis Lebeau" in the 1960s TV show Hogan's Heroes. Clary grew up in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s. Being Jewish, he was deported to Drancy in early 1942 and was later sent to Ottmuth, Blechhammer, Gross-Rosen and Buchenwald. His parents and several close relatives died in the camps. He started his show business career shortly after the war by singing and doing stand-up in French clubs before coming to the US as a singer. He expended his career to include acting (both movies, TV and stage) before landing the Hogan's Heroes role. Starting in the 1980s, he become a public speaker on the Holocaust.

    The Good:
    • Good size: Its ~200 pages long, which makes it a quick, easy read. I finished it in just under a week reading for about 30 minutes per night.
    • Easy to follow: Its written quite well and flows nicely.
    • Blunt and to the point: Clary doesn't hold much back. He is very frank in the book (discussing aspects of his public and personal life interchangeably). There isn't a lot of meandering thoughts either -- when he says something, he just writes it. There's rarely a preamble or "filler" text.
    • Gives a good feel for what it was like to be Jewish in pre-WW2 Paris. The book goes into detail about his daily life (which was, by his admission, very similar to those of other Jewish families) and that of his friends and relatives. He talks openly talks about antisemitism that he experienced before the war -- I was surprised by how widespread it was.
    • Talks about the death camps without overly graphic detail. He certainly makes the point that it was horrible, but doesn't have to go into overly graphic detail to do so. I've read other books and have felt sick after - which is certainly warranted - but this is a nice change. He communicates what it was like to live in the camps very well.
    • Overall, its a positive book. Clary makes it clear that he doesn't regret surviving and has had a good life. At the same time, it doesn't glance over the suffering of the Holocaust. Despite the early hardships, the book is overall optimistic.
    • Clary goes into a lot of detail about pop culture (singers, actors, musicians, etc) between the 1930s and 1960s, and gives you a good feel for how it mixed in with society at the time.
    The Bad:
    • The book essentially ends at "Hogan's Heroes" (hence the name). He has a chapter after that explaining his later credits and his Holocaust activism, but that's it. I found the book very interesting and would have liked more detail.
    • The book assumes that you know things about WW2. He doesn't spend much time explaining events that provide the backdrop to his life. This is fair, as most people who buy his book likely already know the basics. This isn't aimed at the "NYT Bestseller" crowd. I had no problem with this (as I'm sure 99.9% of the members here won't either), but it is something to remember.
    • Doesn't talk much about 'Hogan's Heroes'. There is one chapter devoted to it, and there isn't a lot of detail. Clary talks about his relationships with the other actors (which were excellent, but he notes that Bob Crane liked to argue about politics), life on the set and other actors' ties to the Holocaust/WW2 (Werner Klemperer, John Banner and to some extent Cynthia Lynn). He also details how producer Ed Feldman tried to portray the Gestapo and SS as the 'bad' Germans and the Wehrmacht as the 'good' Germans (namely, by making Klink/Schultz/etc likeable bumblers while making the SS/Gestapo characters always emerge as the losers). It was an interesting behind the scenes look, but I would have liked a lot more detail. That being said, it is just one aspect of his busy life, and I don't blame him for only having one chapter on it.
    • Its difficult to follow all the names he mentions. He had a big family, so I found it hard to keep track of his siblings. That being said, he usually says something like "my sister ____", which helps a bit.
    General Observations (good or bad, you decide):

    • Its a bit light on details. As I said before, there isn't a lot of 'filler', so the result is a book that says the main facts and not much more. Some like that, some don't. I would have liked a bit more detail, but it was overall a good tradeoff between substance and length.
    I'd recommend it to any fans of 'Hogan's Heroes' (or Clary's other works), those looking for a good memoir about the Holocaust or those interested in 1930s-1960s pop culture. You can buy it off of Amazon or Robert Clary's website (RobertClary.com). If you do the latter, you can ask for a signed copy.
     
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  2. Clementine

    Clementine Member

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    Thanks for the review. I think I will take a look at this book sometime. I'd be interested to know if he expressed his feelings for the show? I always remember my high school algebra teacher telling us that his father hated the show because there was nothing funny about what the Nazis did in WWII and he felt it was insulting to have them portrayed as such bunglers, like as Schultz and Klink, because he felt it made light of what the POWs went through.

    I hate to say it, but even with a WWII veteran father that came as a bit of a shock because to me it had always been "just a show" I'd seen as a child, so much so that I never really thought of it in that context. An eye opener, for sure. As an adult, of course, I'd find the concept of a comedy about POWs in Nazi Germany to be appalling.
     
  3. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    He says in the book he never had a problem with the show, and commented about how great things were on the set, how he enjoyed it, and how he was sad when it ended.

    He makes a clear distinction between the concentration camps and "Stalag 13". Apparently lots of people think the show is a comedy set in a concentration camp; he mentions that people have come up and asked him about this before. He didn't comment on whether the show brought back memories of the camps (so I'm assuming it did not). I forget the line, but Clary says something like "there were no 'loveable Nazis' on the show but instead 'loveable Germans'" (referring to Klink and Schultz). He also pointed out that the producer Ed Feldman always tried to make the Nazis (ie: the SS/Gestapo characters, and not Klink/Schultz) look foolish.

    Remember that Werner Klemperer, John Banner and Leon Askin (all Jewish, and from Germany/Austria) all left Europe as the Nazis came to power; and I haven't heard of any complaints from them either. As you may have guessed, I've liked the show for many, many years and don't feel as if I am disrespecting veterans by watching it. I would say that Clary went through the most traumatic and roughest experience of any of the actors on the show, and he says he never had an issue with it. Of course everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but his comment is enough for me.

    As a side note, I've heard that Werner Klemperer (Klink) only agreed to do the show on the condition that Klink never did anything intelligent.
     
  4. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Thanks for the review. A perspective of 'portraying WWII' compared to the actual living though it could have been intesting.
     
  5. A-58

    A-58 Cool Dude

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    I was a fan of the show when it came out. I watched it regularly along with my dad and brother. Fond memories all.

    It would be interesting to see how the show would be done today, if at all with the obnoxious "PC" mentality pushed by "those who are habitually offended". I figure that if all the Jewish characters could portray Wehrmacht and Nazis professionally, it could be ok. But these days who knows.
     

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