'Hogan's Heroes' Cast Included An Actual Holocaust Survivor, WWII Heroes

Entertainment | July 25, 2018

Left: Bob Crane as Col. Hogan and Werner Klemperer as Col. Klink on 'Hogan's Heroes.' Right: John Banner as Sgt. Schultz and Robert Clary as Cpl. LeBeau. Source: IMDB

On Hogan's Heroes, Bob Crane's Col. Hogan and his international band of prisoners-of-war had a cozy, though adversarial, relationship with their captors, in the form of Col. Klink (Werner Klemperer) and Sgt. Schultz (John Banner). Over the course of six seasons (1965-71), Hogan regularly outsmarted Klink and Schultz, pulling the wool over their eyes while assisting other Allied forces with fictional missions.

While Hogan's Heroes has been criticized for portraying Nazis as bumblers rather than barbaric kills, there's a story behind the show that isn't as well known: Several of the actors were European Jews who'd fled Nazi persecution, and one was a survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp.

It was a strange balancing act. The Germans' treatment of prisoners in concentration camps or labor camps had been savage, and the leaders and high-ranking officers -- the true believers in the Third Reich -- had been despicable genocidal maniacs, bent on destroying the Jewish people but also other groups, including Slavs, Romani ("Gypsies"), gay men and lesbians, Soviets and leftists.

It's hard to imagine Hogan's Heroes getting the green light today -- should it have been made in 1965? That's not for us to say -- the fact remains that it was made, and was one of the most popular series on TV in its day. And for some of the cast, who'd escaped or, at least, survived Nazi persecution, it may have been a cathartic experience.

The Four Major German Actors Were Jews. Three Had Fled Europe

Left: Klemperer and Banner as Klink and Schultz. Right: Caine and Askin as Hochstetter and Burkhalter. Source: IMDB

Werner Klemperer was born in Cologne, Germany, and John Banner and Leon Askin (General Burkhalter) were born in Austria; all were Jewish. Klemperer and his family fled Germany for the United States in 1935, as Adolf Hitler was rising to power, and Klemperer joined the U.S. Army when World War II broke out. 

Banner had been held in a pre-war concentration camp, and when Hitler annexed Austria in 1938, he was working as an actor in Switzerland. He promptly emigrated to the U.S., and later joined the U.S. Air Force, even posing for a recruitment poster during his wartime service. Hogan's Heroes cast members have stated that Banner lost family members, conceivably due to Nazi persecution, during the war.

Askin had fled Austria in 1940 and, like Banner, served in the U.S. Air Force during the war. His parents were killed at Treblinka, the extermination camp in occupied Poland that was the second-most deadly camp in the war, ranking behind only Auschwitz in the number of prisoners killed.

Howard Caine (Gestapo Major Hochstetter), who was also Jewish, was born in Tennessee. He served in the U.S. Navy during the war, fighting Japanese forces in the Pacific theater of operations.

Interestingly, because of the composition of the show, the "Germans" were the only ones in the main cast who served in the U.S. military during the war, because they were older -- Bob Crane and the actors who portrayed his "Heroes" had all been too young. One of Hogan's Heroes, though, was caught up in the war in the worst way.

Werner Klemperer Had Qualms About Playing Klink

Were the Jewish actors who played Nazis conflicted about the roles they had accepted -- roles that ended up being the biggest of their career? The New York Times obituary for Werner Klemperer included a quotation from the actor addressing the issue:

I had one qualification when I took the job: if they ever wrote a segment whereby Colonel Klink would come out the hero, I would leave the show.

One Cast Member Was A Concentration Camp Survivor

Paris-born Robert Clary played Corporal LeBeau, also known as "Frenchie." Clary, who was also Jewish, had been interned at the Ottmuth and Blechhammer camps in Upper Silesia (now Poland), satellite camps of Auschwitz. Already a professional singer in his teens, Clary survived due, in part, to his skill as a performer. He regularly sang for SS soldiers, accompanied by an accordion player. Clary, who bears the camp tattoo A5714 on his left forearm, saw his parents taken off to Auschwitz to be executed in the gas chamber; of the 14 members of his immediate family (he had 11 siblings), Clary was the only survivor. When the camps in Poland started to close, Clary was one of 4000 detainees led on a death march to Buchenwald, and was one of about 1,4500 who survived. Though initially reluctant to discuss his Holocaust experiences, he began speaking about them in the '80s.

Hogan's Crew Repeatedly Made Fools Of The Germans

Fortunately for Werner Klemperer, the Nazis on the show were indeed bumbling, inept and the butt of every joke. There was more to the name Hogan's Heroes than alliteration -- the Allied prisoners were especially well versed in continuously throwing a wrench in the Nazi Army’s strategy in the war.

Hogan’s Heroes earned 12 Emmy nominations, with two wins for Werner Klemperer’s portrayal of the inept Colonel Klink.

Each of Hogan’s heroes had their own unique talent and function that played an interictal part of the operation as a whole. The group operated in unison like a well-oiled machine.  

The Heroes In The Camp Secretly Helped The Allied War Effort

Stalag 13 was a WWII POW camp run by the incompetent Colonel Klink and his bumbling Sergeant Schultz. Colonel Klink was known for his signature monocle. Sergeant Schultz was known for his famous statement, “I know nothing, I see nothing!”

Each of the hero soldiers were part of an anchor crew who served their country by helping other troops escape and by gaining any type of intelligence they could. Key Nazi officers would routinely visit Stalag 13 and it was Colonel Hogan’s mission to get the scoop on what the visit was all about.

Hogan Was A Smooth Operator

More often than not, the heroes, under the direction of Colonel Hogan, were able to pull off their mission and thwart the Nazi efforts. The group regularly made fools of the Germans, with their own help, no less. The underground operation was what sealed the deal, but the heroes also pulled stunts right under the German’s noses. It wasn’t unusual for Hogan to receive special privileges and in the process, use them to his advantage; often eating his caprots' food and dating their women.

Hogan’s Heroes was a huge success, both on screen and off. Below is some trivia you may find interesting.

  • The script was originally written to be set in an American prison but was rewritten (in 1 short day) after the creators learned that another show entitled, Campo 44, was in the works.
  • Richard Dawson who portrayed Corporal Newkirk originally auditioned for the role of Colonel Hogan.

'Hogan's Heroes' Trivia

  • The 4 main German roles were portrayed by Jewish actors, 3 of which had fled Nazi Germany.
  • The show’s tagline, “If you liked WWII, you’ll love Hogan’s Heroes!” was initially suggested in sarcasm but it stuck.
  • There was a Hogan’s Heroes album released with cast member singing WWII songs. The 4 cast members used the success of Hogan’s Heroes to promote their singing abilities.

The Theme Song Had Lyrics That Weren't Used

  • A recurring theme of Hogan’s Heroes was that Colonel Klink was a miserable violinist. In reality, Werner Klemperer was an accomplished musician and played both the violin and piano.
  • The catchy instrumental tune that was used to open and close each episode of Hogan’s Heroes actually had lyrics; secret lyrics, that is.

Heroes, heroes, husky men of war,
Sons of all the heroes, of the war before.
We're all heroes up to our ear-o's
You ask questions
We make suggestions
That's what we're heroes for.
All good heroes love a good, big fight
Open up the bomb bays and brighten up the night.
We applaud the people who laud us,
You pull the roses,
We punch the noses,
That's what we're heroes for.
What's a hero do?
Well, we're not gonna tell ya
Cause we wish we knew.
That's why we heroes are so few.
We've got a slogan
From Colonel Hogan
And Colonel Hogan's a hero too.
Never flinch, boys, never be afraid,
Heroes are not born, boys, heroes are made.
Ask not why, boys, never say die, boys,
Answer the call, remember we'll all be heroes forever more.

Tags: 1965 | Hogans Heroes | The 1960s | TV In The 1960s | WWII

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Rebeka Knott


Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.