The Truth About Colonel Klink: When America's Favorite Comedy Nazi Commandant Was Played by a Jewish Refugee
Imagine achieving fame as an actor playing Nazis in America – thirty years after fleeing the Nazis to America.
In our dour politically correct culture, which takes comedy too seriously, it sounds like a particularly excruciating form of hell. Werner Klemperer, born in Cologne in 1920, built his career playing a Nazi criminal Emil Hahn on trial in Judgment at Nuremberg, and the mass murderer Adolf Eichmann inOperation Eichmann. Then, he was the bumbling, hyper-Teutonic, Colonel Wilhelm Klink in the TV sitcom Hogan’s Heroes from 1965 through 1971. Coming from a generation that could see art as challenging and comedy as subversion, Klemperer was proud of these roles. His outrageous star turn ridiculing Nazis week after week on CBS was downright liberating.
It sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit gone bad: produce a comedy about a German Prisoner of War camp just twenty years after the liberation of Auschwitz; Gomer Pyle meets Stalag 17. Then hire three German Jewish refugees as three prominent Nazis. Include among the “prisoners” a Buchenwald survivor who lost twelve siblings and parents in Auschwitz, and still bears the concentration camp number A5714 the Nazis branded onto his forearm...
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