Friday, June 09, 2006

Hogan's Heroes on DVD.

Since many of my favorite shows are on hiatus, I have been enjoying watching classic TV shows on DVD. I am in the middle of watching the third season of Hogan's Heroes. I enjoy watching the show. One reason is that I am a big fan of WWII comedies. I collect movies like Operation Petticoat, Stalag 17, and Father Goose. I enjoy seeing Bugs Bunny, Popeye, and the Three Stooges fight the enemy. And I would like to add television shows like McHale's Navy, and Operation Petticoat to my collection.

Hogan’s Heroes has suffered much more criticism than most sitcoms from that time period (i.e. Gilligan's Island or Get Smart). I would like to address this criticism with the help of Hogan's Heroes - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and the article
Hogan’s Heroes and the Holocaust: by Leslie Campbell Rampey, Ph.D.

Some people dismiss Hogan’s Heroes as stupid because the German characters spoke English to each other (This was addressed in the Pilot on the Season One DVD). When Martians speak English to each other, the audience suspends their disbelief, so why not with Germans. The bigger criticism was the depiction of the Germans as funny, incompetent or stupid, and trivializing the evil of the Nazis or the Holocaust. We can’t credibly judge a forty plus year old TV show by modern standards of good taste and political correctness. I also have never heard these critics mention the stars of the show or the characters they played.

Werner Klemperer (Colonel Wilhelm Klink) and his family fled Germany to Austria and then to the United States in order to escape the Nazi regime. He served during World War II in the U.S. Army. His TV Character, Col. Klink was a Luftwaffe officer (historically they were not Nazis). Klink was never mentioned as a formal member of the Nazi Party, and was portrayed as a bumbling bureaucrat, not as a bad guy. It is important to note that historically the Luftwaffe stalags provided the best treatment of Allied prisoners of war. Klemperer was once asked how could he play a Nazi? His answer was, "I am an actor by profession. If you can play Richard the Third, you can play a Nazi". (On the season two DVD Klemperer discussed this in an interview on The Pat Sajak Show)

John Banner (Sergeant Hans Schultz) was in a concentration camp, then fled to the United States. His TV Character, Sergeant Schultz, is a basically good-hearted man who would rather not report the prisoner’s activities, saying, "I see nothing! Nothing!" When Banner was asked how could he play a Nazi? He answered "Who can play Nazis better than us Jews?"

Leon Askin (General Albert Burkhalter) was beaten by the Gestapo and sent to a French internment camp before escaping to the U.S. via France. When the U.S. entered WWII, Askin joined the U.S. Army. While serving he learned that his parents had been killed at an extermination camp. I believe that Col. Klink and Sergeant Schultz were ignorant to what was happening in the death camps, but Gen. Burkhalter and Major Hochstetter (Howard Caine) had to have known.

Robert Clary (Corporal Louis LeBeau) was taken from his Paris home at the age of 16 and spent the next three years in various concentration camps, finally being liberated from Buchenwald. It wasn’t until 1980 that Clary decided to speak of his experiences at the Simon Wiesenthal Center because of the increased incidences of anti-Semitism and the rise of the "revisionist" historians who deny that the Holocaust took place. Of course, the first thing they want to know is, "’How could you have done Hogan’s Heroes, which dealt with Nazism?’" Clary’s answer is that is, that he’s an actor who played a character who never existed in real life. Clary is careful, however, to make some additional distinctions. Despite the hardships he acknowledges that POWs experienced, "They were not killed, they were not sent to gas chambers".

These actors proved that comedy is truly tragedy plus time and their characters were more than just funny Nazis. Let’s not forget that the show has had a long life in syndication. Fans love the show, and like Star Trek, Hogan’s Heroes have spawned a peculiar literary genre known as fan fiction (Stories or sometimes whole novels produced by fans who borrow the characters, setting, and basic premise of a TV series as a taking-off point and create entirely new plots). Hogan's Heroes Fan Fiction. Some of this Fan Fiction involves the Holocaust in their story lines. The show had talented actors, writers and directors. I guess I like WWII comedies, like Hogan’s Heroes, because it proves that we can find humor anywhere even in the middle of the worst of what humanity has to offer. If you like the show go check out the DVD if not read a book. These Hogan’s Heroes critics who confuse of the POW camps with a concentration/death camps speaks more about the quality of the general public’s level of historical awareness than the quality of what William Shatner would call, "Just a TV show!" Sadly I fear that many of those who confuse a POW camp with a concentration/death camp may think that all Germans are Nazis too. There were many German characters on Hogan’s Heroes who were good guys.

To quote John Banner, "I see Schultz as the representative of some kind of good in any generation".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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