Easily one of the weirdest successful sitcoms in TV history is Hogan’s Heroes. You can almost see it any time some show comes out that’s a terrible, offensive idea—you can hear people saying, “If Hogan’s Heroes was a success, why not the show about the slave working in the White House?” Or whatever. It’s even weirder to take into consideration that the person who played the commander of the POW camp where it’s set was Jewish.
Now, Werner Klemperer was not actually a Holocaust survivor, inasmuch as his father, Otto Klemperer, was given a position as conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and became a US citizen in 1937, when Werner was seventeen. He graduated from high school in the US and went on to study at the Pasadena Playhouse before joining the military in World War II. He was sent to Hawaii, where he entertained troops. After the war, he would go back to LA and start a career, primarily working in television.
And more than just Colonel Klink. Though he did play the role on an episode of the Adam West Batman, and his final TV appearance was being Homer’s guardian angel who is also Colonel Klink. However, even before his most iconic role, he had steady work. Three episodes of Perry Mason, including one where he plays a sinister East German who gets murdered. Two of My Three Sons as a psychology professor. A member of the Purple Gang on The Untouchables. No Lux Video Theatre, I am sorry to report, but a wide array of the other TV playhouses of the era.
Including Playhouse 90, for which he did four episodes. One of them was the famous Judgment at Nuremberg; Klemperer would go on to reprise the role in the movie, one of a relatively small number he made in his life. He played the truly vile Emil Hahn in both, part of his insistence that he would only play Nazis if they were irredeemable or else total idiots. I haven’t seen Ship of Fools, so I don’t know anything about his role in it, but since he also played Eichmann, clearly it was something he felt passionately about.
It is a weird fact that a lot of Nazis over the years would be played by Jews. Klemperer’s own first cousin was a man named Victor Klemperer who, for reasons, was able to survive the war in Germany without being sent to a camp—though he did flee toward the end of the war, knowing it was a matter of time for him—and whose diaries of the time are a view what life was like there. But people like the American branch of the Klemperer family, and Peter Lorre, and Billy Wilder, and any number of others shaped the art of the US for the second half of the twentieth century, and it’s weird how many of them ended up playing the very sort of people who tried to kill them.