If you described the 1960s TV show Hogan’s Heroes as a “sitcom about a German P.O.W. camp during World War II,” you’d probably receive more than a few surprised looks–but that’s exactly what it is. The comedy, which recreates the look and feel of a prison camp for Allied troops during the Holocaust, was slyly subversive–and wholly hilarious.
Several lead actors on the show, including the actors who played Kommendant Klink and Sgt. Shultz, were Jewish survivors who escaped Nazi countries during World War II. Robert Clary, who plays a captured prisoner and was one of the show’s leads, spent three years of his life in a concentration camp. Both his parents were killed there, and the number that was tattooed on his arm is occasionally visible on the show.
Years after its run finished, Hogan’s Heroes was criticized for trivializing the harrowing conditions of World War II. In 2002, TV Guide named it the fifth-worst show of all time. But for some of its cast, acting on Hogan was a heroic gesture, reclaiming some of the power they felt they’d lost. As John Banner (the actor who played Shultz) said in an interview, “Who can play Nazis better than us Jews?”