Hogan's Heroes

From Academic Kids

Missing image
The cast of "Hogan's Heroes"
Hogan's Heroes was a television sitcom that ran on the CBS television network from 1965 to 1971. Starring Bob Crane as Colonel Robert Hogan, the show was set at Stalag 13, a German prisoner of war camp for Western Allied prisoners during World War II. In the plot, Stalag 13 was a "Luftstalag", run by the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) for Allied Air Force personnel. The producers of the show greatly stretched reality, as in allowing a black prisoner to be barracked with whites, something that the Nazis would never have allowed in real life.


The show's improbable premise was that the Allied prisoners of war at Stalag 13 were using the camp as a base of operations for sabotaging the German war effort and assisting the Allies. The prisoners operated a secret network of tunnels that led outside the camp, located near the town of Hammelburg, Germany, and had radio contact with Allied command. They were aided by the fact that the camp commandant was the bumbling Colonel Klink (played by Werner Klemperer), who proudly proclaimed that "no one has ever escaped from Stalag 13", not knowing that his prisoners routinely came and went as they pleased via a secret tunnel (perhaps inspired by that depicted in The Great Escape). Hogan also easily manipulated Klink and Sergeant Schlutz (played by the portly John Banner) into creating ideal situations for the secret operations conducted by the men at Stalag 13.

Possible inspiration for series

Many have also seen the interaction between the prisoners as being at least somewhat inspired by the black comedy motion picture about a World War II German POW camp, Stalag 17. This movie even had a Sergeant Schultz, who appeared genial but was actually in league with the traitor among the prisoners.

The German Officers

Klink was a patriotic German and old-line German Air Force officer as well as a social climber. Klink was not a Nazi Party member or malicious or evil, and was in fact likeable in his own way. Because he was so easily manipulated by Hogan and his fellow prisoners, the worst thing that could have happened for the prisoners was for Klink to be transferred away; this in fact was the source of an occasional plot line. Over the course of the series a mutual respect and even pseudo-friendship developed between Hogan and Klink.

Hogan was also aided by Klink's bumbling and highly incompetent guard Schultz, a basically good-hearted man who, when confronted with possible shenanigans by the prisoners that he would rather not believe or avoid the complications of having to report it, would simply repeat, "I know nothing! Nothing!" and "I see nothing! Nothing!" One rule in the show which was insisted upon by Klemperer was that Hogan would always win (Klemperer was of Jewish extraction). In one episode, Schultz confided in Hogan that he was a Social Democrat (an outlawed left of center party which had opposed the Nazis) which would explain his turning a blind eye to the obvious Allied activities.

Although this was never explicitly referred to in the series, both Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz wore uniforms that implied they both had illustrious World War I careers; Schultz wore the Iron Cross, Germany's highest decoration, for bravery in the trenches, and Klink wore the Pour le Merite ("Blue Max"), awarded to aces. In one episode, they were discussing what they would do after the war. Schultz said he would go back to the toy company. Klink was impressed when it was the largest toy company in Germany, so asked, "Do you think the boss would have you back?" and was flabbergasted when Schultz said, "Why not? I am the boss!"

Other members of the German military were more threatening. General Burkhalter (Leon Askin) frequently tired of Klink's incompetence and often threatened to send Klink to the Russian Front, mentioned repeatedly throughout the show as the worst thing that could happen to a German soldier. "Klink, you will be court-martialed, shot, and sent to the Russian front," he once told Klink.

Complicating Burkhalter's life—Klink and Burkhalter apparently had known each other for years—was that his sister Gertrude thought Klink would make a good husband. Klink, however, did not like her. Perhaps even more menacing was evil Major Hochstetter (Howard Caine) of the Gestapo, who was a Nazi and never understood why Hogan would simply barge into Klink's office and hang out there as if he had a privileged role rather than simply being a prisoner of war. "Who is this man?" Hochstetter would demand. Klink was justifiably afraid of him, but Burkhalter, who was not easily intimidated, was not.

Plot holes?

The show made no attempt to resolve the language problem of the Germans and the Allies. All the German characters in the show simply spoke English with a German accent, although they used certain stock German phrases like "Heil Hitler". Because many of the plots involved prisoners impersonating German military, it appears that all of the prisoners spoke perfect unaccented German, and that none of the guards found this to be remarkable. Also, Corporals LeBeau (Robert Clary) and Newkirk (Richard Dawson) were often disrespectful of Sergeant Carter (Larry Hovis), addressing him by his surname and generally abusing him, while real-world army discipline would be unlikely to tolerate this level of disrespect for a superior non-commissioned officer. It could also be suggested Major Hochstetter's abuse of the higher-ranking Colonel Klink was likewise impermissible; however Gestapo personnel often had a nerve-wracking effect on personnel of the regular German Armed Forces, due in large measure to their generally-stronger links to power centres of the Nazi Party; this was sometimes used to great effect by the Gestapo, so this relationship could be considered somewhat unremarkable. Some have stated that true enjoyment of this program, in any event, requires a certain level of suspension of disbelief.

Jewish actors played most of the German parts

Some of the actors, including Werner Klemperer, John Banner and Leon Askin (né Leo Ashkenazy) were Jews who had fled the Nazis during World War II. Robert Clary, who played the Frenchman LeBeau, and John Banner, who played Hans Schultz, had actually spent time in a Nazi concentration camp as children. The show also starred Richard Dawson, who later became famous as the host of Family Feud.


Frequent pop culture references to the show are a testament to its popularity. For example, it is referred to in multiple episodes of The Simpsons. In one episode, Col. Klink appears to Homer Simpson in his dreams and is actually voiced by Werner Klemperer.

Years after its American debut, the show became popular in Germany. In response to both sensitivities over Nazism and German laws which prohibit Nazi symbolism, when German characters raised their arms and said "Heil Hitler" in the original version, the dubbed German version would bowdlerise that line into something ridiculous, such as "The wheat grows this high". The show is currently running in Germany, with a newly dubbed soundtrack without such bowdlerism.


While Hogan's Heroes was, and remains, a popular show, it has had many critics. Beyond the usual criticism of the show's quality, there were many who were disturbed by the portrayals of the Germans as funny and incompetent. Many felt this trivialized the evil of the Nazis and the war. But Klink was a career soldier, and many real-life members of the Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht, even among the officer corps, were historically not Nazis, and Klemperer certainly believed that the show portrayed Nazis badly enough; otherwise he would have pulled out. Leon Askin's parents died in a Nazi concentration camp, and as Robert Clary and John Banner were in concentration camps as well, it is unlikely they would have trivialized the Holocaust. Besides, historically the Luftwaffe stalags provided the best treatment of Allied prisoners of war, which put them at the other end of the spectrum from the death camps.

Beyond any 'political incorrectness' in the setting of the series, there are many admirable qualities about the show. The most important is alluded to in the early paragraphs – in the series, Sergeant James Kinchloe, a black American (played by Ivan Dixon), not only lived in the same barracks with the other prisoners but was an integral part of the team, serving as an apparent, if not actual second in command. If one watches the programme carefully, it can be noted that Colonel Hogan almost always relied on Kinch's (as the character was known as) opinions and his character usually provided relevant facts in helping resolve their situation. And in many other subtle ways, the show was ahead of its time (to the point of serious anachronism) – people would pour coffee FOR Kinch and the other characters would even physically lean or drape their arm around him. In a time in America where civil rights issues (trivial and major) were still being resolved and fought over, Kinch was actually quite a groundbreaking character as Hogan's Heroes was in the AC Nielsen Top 10 for the first two seasons. This is incontrast this with other popular TV sitcoms such as The Andy Griffith Show where no black character/actor ever even appeared to exist in the town of Mayberry. What's more is that as with most sitcoms, Kinch actually got to "star" in his own episodes and even more daring, he got to kiss a girl. While today, it seems laughable to most modern Westerners that scenario would even merit mention, at the time the few other regular black actors on American TV (Bill Cosby in I Spy and, Greg Morris of Mission: Impossible, for example) were much more chaste. While the young lady in question was an AfricanAmerican actress (American TV's first interracial kiss would have to wait for the science fiction series Star Trek, later in the decade) the show served to illustrate how Kinch was written as a well-rounded "normal" character.

Another appealing aspect of the series is the talent of the regulars - with the ironic exeception of Robert Crane, every other actor usually got to summon up a different persona every episode ... Carter would go from the meek and mild Carter character to imitating the lunatic rant of Hitler or lovable Sgt. Schultz would bark in a gruff and authoritative manner - but then they would immediately switch back to his old self. It was a series filled with great "hams", but all talented in many ways.

The series is also interesting in how it managed to pull off the feat that the characters regularly killed people – even if they were 'enemies' and even for a worthy cause, not a lot of series' – even dramas – manage to pull off this feat and still leave the charcaters as sympathetic ones.

Fan fiction

Some writers of Hogan's Heroes fan fiction portray Klink and/or Schultz as being smarter than they appeared, and mildly in opposition to the worst of the Nazis. As examples, in one work, Schultz's family is portrayed as being part of the Confessing Church, an underground Protestant church that opposed the Nazis, but to which he obviously wouldn't want anyone to know he belonged. Some fans even hope for a feature film in the future. In other fan fiction, Klink is portrayed as being a master spy, his apparent bumbling incompetence being part of his cover.

Regular cast and characters

Series Pilot

The series pilot was produced in black-and-white and not broadcast at the time. It differed from the regular series in several ways, the most obvious being that Klink was not a buffoon. He is stern and describes himself as being of Prussian stock and "different from the new order."

Larry Hovis appears as a guest star, and not as Sergeant Carter. He plays a different POW who was recently captured. He escapes with the help of Hogan and his men, presumably on his way to England.

The pilot's other background POW's seem to be from many different (allied) armies - while in the regular series, most of the uniforms and background prisons all appeared to be Americans.

In the pilot, Klink's secretary also played a more active role involved in the prisoner's ruse and other activities but in the series, she was merely willing to look the other way in exchange for some nylons or a kiss from Robert Hogan.

The year is also noted as 1942 - in the regular series, the year is never mentioned (as every series wants to run at least 7 years - longer than Americans' involvement in WWII).

Noam Pitlik is in another guest role. He plays a German spy pretending to be a new American POW. He learns the truth about Hogan's operations but Hogan feeds him false information, and tricks him into making a fool of himself. He is thus discredited, and dismissed. Pitlik makes several appearances on the series over the years, each time as a different character.

Hogan's Heroes in the European Parliament?

Hogan’s Heroes was peripherally but bizarrely involved in a political row in July 2003, involving Italian prime minister and media magnate Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi was speaking to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, when he was questioned by German Euro-MP Martin Schultz, about ongoing conflicts of interest. The outspoken billionaire lashed out: "Mr Schulz, I know there is a producer in Italy who is making a film on Nazi concentration camps. I will suggest you for the role of commandant. You'd be perfect." Uproar understandably followed, and German chancellor Gerhard Schröder demanded an apology (which was never given, although the two leaders exchanged a frosty phone conversation. Berlusconi later claimed he was referring to the Sergeant Schulz character from Hogan's Heroes, a series that was broadcast by one of his television channels. "There was a Sergeant Schultz who shouted a lot but in the end was a good sort, people were taking the mickey out of him all the time," Berlusconi said.

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