Robert Clary was born Robert Max Widerman on March 1, 1926, He was the youngest of 14 children, 10 of whom died in the Holocaust. His parents, Baila and Moishe Widerman were Polish Jewish immigrants. At age 12, he began a career singing professionally on a French radio station and also studied art in Paris. In 1942, because he was Jewish, he was deported to the Nazi concentration camp at Ottmuth, in Upper Silesia (now Otmęt, Poland).
He was tattooed with the identification “A5714” on his left forearm. He was later sent to Buchenwald concentration camp. He would sing to the SS soldiers, accompanied by an accordionist, and contributes this to his survival. He was liberated from Buchenwald on April 11, 1945. Twelve other members of his immediate family had been sent to Auschwitz concentration camp; Clary was the only survivor. Three of his family had not been captured and survived the German occupation of France.
We were not even human beings. When we got to Buchenwald, the SS shoved us into a shower room to spend the night. I had heard the rumours about the dummy shower heads that were gas jets. I thought, ‘This is it.’ But no, it was just a place to sleep. The first eight days there, the Germans kept us without a crumb to eat. We were hanging on to life by pure guts, sleeping on top of each other, every morning waking up to find a new corpse next to you. … The whole experience was a complete nightmare — the way they treated us, what we had to do to survive. We were less than animals. Sometimes I dream about those days. I wake up in a sweat terrified for fear I’m about to be sent away to a concentration camp, but I don’t hold a grudge because that’s a great waste of time. Yes, there’s something dark in the human soul. For the most part, human beings are not very nice. That’s why when you find those who are, you cherish them.Robert Clary
After returning he sang songs that were popular in France and the United States. Clary made his first recordings in 1948; they were brought to the United States on wire and were issued on disk by Capitol Records. In the United States, he appeared on The Ed Wynn Show in 1950. Clary later met Merv Griffin and Eddie Cantor. This eventually led to Clary meeting Cantor’s daughter, Natalie Cantor Metzger, whom he married in 1965.
Cantor later got Clary a spot on The Colgate Comedy Hour. In the mid-1950s, Clary appeared on NBC’s early sitcom “The Martha Raye Show” and on CBS’s drama anthology series “Appointment with Adventure”. He also appeared in several Broadway musicals. In 1952, he appeared in the film “Thief of Damascus” which also starred Paul Henreid and Lon Chaney Jr. In 1958, he guest-starred on “The Gisele MacKenzie Show”(NBC).
He guest-starred on “The Munsters Today” (1989) as Louis Schecter, Lily’s acting coach, in the episode “Green Eyed Munsters”. In 1965 he accepted the role of Corporal Louis LeBeau on the sitcom “Hogans Heroes” in which Allied soldiers in a POW camp bested their clownish German army captors with espionage schemes, and played the war strictly for laughs during its 1965-71 run. The 5-foot-1 Clary sported a beret and a sardonic smile.
After Hogan’s Heroes was canceled in 1971, Clary maintained close ties to fellow Hogan’s Heroes cast members Werner Klemperer, John Banner, and Leon Askin, whose lives were also affected by the Holocaust. He played Lucien Chariot on “The High Chaparral” (1967–1971), “Love, American Style” (1969), Robert LeClair on “Days of Our Lives” (1972–1973, 1975–1983, 1986–1987),
Pierre Roulland on The Young and the Restless (1973–1974), Ipsy Dauphin in “Escape/Cinderella Girls” on Fantasy Island (1978), Pierre Jourdan on The Bold and the Beautiful (1990–1992), “The New Adam-12” (1990). His movies appearances were in “Ten Tall Men” (1951), “Thief of Damascus” (1952), “New Faces” (1954), “A New Kind of Love” (1963), “The Hindenburg” (1975), and “Remembrance of Love” (1982).
Robert Clary died Wednesday, November 16, 2022, of natural causes at his home in the Los Angeles area. He was the last surviving original star of the “Hogan Heroes” sitcom. Robert published a memoir, “From the Holocaust to Hogan’s Heroes: The Autobiography of Robert Clary”, in 2001. He spent years touring Canada and the United States, speaking about the Holocaust. He was a painter, painting from photographs he took on his travels.
- The Holocaust, also known as the Shoah, was the genocide of European Jews during World War II. Between 1941 and 1945, Nazi Germany and its collaborators systematically murdered some six million Jews across German-occupied Europe; around two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population. The murders were carried out in pogroms and mass shootings; by a policy of extermination through labor in concentration camps; and in gas chambers and gas vans in German extermination camps, chiefly Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bełżec, Chełmno, Majdanek, Sobibór, and Treblinka in occupied Poland. [Back]