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

By | July 24, 2018

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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

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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.