Our end-of-the-evening routine these days is to gather around the TV for a couple episodes of Hogan’s Heroes – I have all six seasons on DVD with me here. Did you know TV Guide declared it in the top five of the worst TV shows ever? (Because they see it as the trivialization of the suffering of real life POWs). All five of us here think TV Guide hasn’t a clue the important role of humor as a divine gift in suffering and salve for national healing. The show, quite understandably, was not broadcast in here in Germany over German TV until 1992. We feel a little bit as it we have brought contraband into the country.
Mostly, we all love Sergeant Schultz (aka John Banner 1910-1973). And here’s more reason to love him (I found this on Wikipedia). This little bit of background info has makes each episode a little more meaningful.
Banner was born in Vienna, Austria. Because of his Jewish heritage, he was transported to a concentration camp before being released out of occupied Germany. Fortunately for him, Banner’s time in the concentration camp was during the early stages of Nazi rule, when Jewish extermination policies were not yet fully implemented.
In 1938, Banner, a trim 180 pounds, worked with an acting troupe in Switzerland and found he could not return to his native Austria because he was a Jew. He immigrated to the United States and, though unable to speak a word of English, was hired as a Master of Ceremonies. Banner learned his words phonetically and soon mastered the English language. From 1942 to 1945, Banner served in the U. S. Army Air Force.
Before Banner came to acting, he studied law for two semesters. His feature film credits include over 40 films and his first was Pacific Blackout. He was usually cast as a Nazi spy because of his accent and Teutonic features. This was especially difficult for Banner, as his family had been wiped out in Nazi concentration camps.
In the 1950’s Banner’s weight had gone up to 280 pounds, and he made over 70 television appearances in the next two decades, including Mr. Ed, The Lucy Show, Perry Mason, The Partridge Family, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (The Neptune Affair 1964). … He also had a small role in a color episode of Adventures of Superman, playing a somewhat hapless character that to some extent anticipated his Sgt. Schultz characterization. Banner was loved by all the cast of Hogan’s Heroes (as told by those still alive on the recently issued DVD sets) and without effort became the main character of every scene in which he played. He told TV Guide in 1967, “Schultz is not a Nazi. I see Schultz as the representative of some kind of goodness in any generation.”
Banner died of an abdominal hemorrhage on his 63rd birthday in Vienna in 1973. He was buried at the cemetery in Mauer. His grave can be found under Gruppe 57 Reihe 2 Nummer 26.
Sergeant Schultz was not a Nazi, he was a Jew whose entire family was wiped out in Nazi concentration camps. I would have loved to meet him and ask him if he thinks he played a leading role in trivializing the suffering of the Jews. What do you think he might say?