WOODLAND HILLS : Actor Who Survived Holocaust Speaks
In the same charming manner that might have been used by his “Hogan’s Heroes” character Louis LeBeau, actor Robert Clary stepped up on a footstool so he could see over the podium.
“I like to be seen also, not just heard,” quipped the diminutive Clary to the chuckles of about 100 members of the Valley Jewish Business Leaders Assn.
But Clary was not at the Warner Center Marriott on Thursday morning to bring humor. He brought, instead, stories of hunger, suffering, prejudice and hate.
“The world situation demands that survivors speak out,” said Clary, a survivor of the Holocaust in Nazi-dominated Europe.
On Tuesday, Clary will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his liberation from the Buchenwald death camp. He walked out of that camp at age 19, determined to forget the experience and get on with a successful career in show business.
Not until 1980 did he realize that he had to speak out because of an increase in anti-Semitism and neo-Nazis--who deny the holocaust ever happened.
“I’m not going to let these so-called revisionists change history,” said Clary, who hosts a talk show on the Jewish Television Network and who, as a volunteer with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has talked about his death camp experiences to thousands.
The room fell silent as Clary told his story about the day in Paris that police rounded up every Jew in his apartment building and shoved them all into buses that would take them to a temporary camp. After that, they were crammed into railroad boxcars and taken to a concentration camp.
His mother managed to hide one of his sisters in an upstairs bathroom, and begged Clary to join her, but he refused. “I did not want to stay in the toilet with my sister who I did not like,” explained Clary to the uncomfortable chuckles of the crowd. “I laugh, too, when I think about it.”
From there, he launched into a vivid description of foul-smelling boxcars, SS guards with barking dogs, the prisoners’ only daily meal--hot water that was called soup and a small piece of bread with margarine.
At 16, Clary said, he considered his diminutive stature to be an asset. But in the camp, it nearly cost him his life. Because he looked 12, Clary was almost put on a train in which children were put to death instantly. He was spared at the last minute for the work groups.
“I could have been hung many, many times,” said Clary. But he was lucky, he said, because he could sing to entertain his captors.
A member of the audience asked if he was bitter and if he hated the French and the Germans today.
“I teach kids, ‘Do not hate,’ ” Clary said. “Hate is a waste of time. Do something constructive instead. I will not forget what I went through, but I do not hate.”