Insensitive or Unforgivable?

February 14th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 58 comments

Starting in 1965 and continuing through 1971, Hogan’s Heroes was a popular TV comedy. Actor Bob Crane played Colonel Hogan, the highest ranking American prisoner of war interned in a German POW camp. Unlike the actual Nazis, the Germans in the show were invariably rather benign and clumsy oafs, continually being outwitted by their prisoners.

If Nazis and captured American military men don’t sound terribly funny to you, I agree. As a child, I was enough offended by the show that when an adult in my orbit enjoyed it, it seriously reduced my respect for that individual.

Now, decades later, I am rethinking my views. Increasingly, accusations are being hurled at people for actions they took decades earlier. Imagine if there had been a TV show that portrayed a Southern plantation in the 1850s where the Black slaves actually ran the show because the White masters were incompetent? Would one of the show’s actors or anyone accused of liking the show be electable today? I doubt it.

I still think that Hogan’s Heroes was juvenile and in poor taste. But, maturity has provided me with the ability to see that disagreeing with me is not automatically contemptible. One of the stars of the show was a man named Robert Clary. As a Jewish teenager, he spent a few nightmarish years in Nazi concentration camps. After his release from Buchenwald, he discovered that his parents and many other family members had been murdered in Auschwitz. Robert Clary did not think that the Nazis were amusing clowns.

Werner Klemperer, who played the German Colonel Wilhelm Klink in the show also had a Jewish father.  If his family had not left Germany in 1935, he too would have met Nazi standards for extermination.

John (originally Johann) Banner, who played the bumbling German Master Sergeant, Schultz, was born into a Jewish family in Vienna, Austria. They emigrated in 1938 to the United States, avoiding the fate of many of their family members who were murdered. Mr. Banner served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II and told TV Guide, “Schultz is not a Nazi. I see Schultz as the representative of some kind of goodness in any generation.”

These are only three of Hogan’s Heroes actors whose lives intersected with the Holocaust and World War II. If you are shaking your head not understanding how they could participate in a comedy about the era, so am I. Despite reading their explanations for appearing in the show, I still don’t get it. I also don’t get how anyone found the show anything other than offensive.

However, I have no choice but to recognize that decent people disagreed with me. Pretending that those who watched the show were all anti-Semites is foolish. Jews and ex-GIs were not only among the actors but also among the audience. It is sophomoric and dangerous to suggest that it was o.k. for Jews and ex-GIs to appear in the show or find it funny but that anyone who had anything to do with the show who is not in one of those categories is a hateful human being.

I doubt that a show like Hogan’s Heroes would run on national TV today. Neither would a movie that featured blackface get made today. But, as much as I would like to see Democrat VA Governor Ralph Northam out of office, I fear that the forces urging him to resign care less about all Americans respecting each other as they do about political calculation; and it is a calculation that promotes hatred, resentment and victimhood. (It looks now like the press has decided to allow Governor Northam to tough it out—my point still stands.)

Here is a paradox. Until a few years ago, anti-Semitism and racism were declining. One of the factors in both their revivals has been that they have been turned into cudgels. Accusing someone of either “ism” became a weapon with which to destroy careers and lives. Because of the “isms” is has become impossible to have honest conversations about issues that affect and harm America and her citizens.

Today, the press and the expanding far-Left influence are out for blood rather than trying to create a nation of individuals who can live peaceably together.  By insisting that people identify by their nationality, bloodlines and genes (unless it has to do with specific approved gender issues, of course) we set ourselves up for loathing the other. We are all losers when we shut down free speech even of the juvenile, insensitive and offensive type. We imperil our society when we turn every single American into someone whose less than finest hours dangle over him or her like the sword of Damocles. 

Hogan’s Heroes isn’t going to be revived today, but we now have elected officials in Congress who speak positively about real-life, not fictional, people who want to wipe out the Jewish people. Today, we are judging people by their gender, racial and ethnic groups more than we did a few decades ago.

Is this progress?

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58 comments

Rick Thorn says:

Very well put!
I am not Jewish but I enjoy the teaching and look forward to each new article and book and consider myself blessed… having found your website and teachings.

Rick Thorn
Dallas

Susan Lapin says:

Glad to have you aboard, Rick. About 90% of the people who follow us are not Jewish, so you have lots of company.

Bruce Corley says:

Don’t feel self conscious about resenting a medium that insults your intelligence. My wife and I had our TV (cable) service torn out by the roots nearly 5 years ago. 🙂 It’s kinda like quitting smoking: The first 2 weeks are the worst. For sports radio is better anyhow. Most network shows are available online as well.

Susan Lapin says:

Bruce, when I spent a TV-less year in Israel as a teenager, I came back and was shocked at how vapid many of the TV shows I used to enjoy seemed as I watched them after such a long break. But that is an entirely different objection than I had to Hogan’s Heroes.

Pat says:

Excellent insight Susan. I have been struggling with anger over what the “other side gets away with” and wanting to give them a taste of their own medicine. But to be honest – it is exhausting and I’ve been realizing that being in a state of anger from judgement is not healthy. I am scaling back on looking at Twitter where others are equally mad, and working towards a mindset of defeating evil with good. For example, the tremendous work that Gary Sinise has done for the military and first responders over the years is inspiring. He is a “happy warrior” focusing on influencing others thru acts of service. I love your show! I learn so much from your and your husband. Thank you.

Susan Lapin says:

I don’t have a Twitter account, Pat, and while I think it might be good for ministry reasons, I have been avoiding it. Social media plays a huge role in making people angry, judgmental and unpleasant. Good for you for stepping back and taking a second look at how you want to live your life.

Deb-Ohio says:

This is spot on. Thank you for such a succinct writing about the growing racism being fostered by media and far left. Blessings.

Susan Lapin says:

Deb, I just saw some statistics showing how bad feelings between the races hit a low during G.W. Bush’s term and then skyrocketed during B. Obama’s. Encouraging people to hate each other is not a formula for a country’s success.

Faye says:

I was a teen during Hogan’s run & never understood its appeal. But any show showing any people as bumbling fools never appealed unless it was something like Home Improvement which poked fun at himself. But I don’t really understand how anyone would see Schulz as representing the good in mankind.
It is totally sad to realize where our country is today. I am amazed at the level of hatred that is directed at Pres Trump. Yet many other people get a pass. And the twisted views & ideas that are promoted. Our fervent prayers are needed every day for awakening. We have failed to bombard the gates of Heaven with our petitions to bring God’s kingdom here on earth. LOVE your columns & wisdom.

Susan Lapin says:

Faye, I’m afraid we need not only to bombard heaven, but to stand strongly for our views and not be cowered into silence. Thank you for your kind words.

Steve Lancaster says:

Most of the comedies from the 60s and early 70s would not, and could not be made today. The PC progressive wing of the democrat party had their sense of humor removed around 1995 and continuing chemotherapy has kept it from growing back.

Yes, some of the shows could easily be deemed offensive by today’s standards. Could anyone make Blazing Saddles today, or F troop? The writers and producers of many of these shows were Jewish. There is no 21st century Lenny Bruce in spite of the more obscene and vulgar writers. Mel Brooks and others like him are persona non grata much to the loss of our common culture.

Susan Lapin says:

Steve, I don’t know how or where to draw the line between things that aren’t funny and shouldn’t be out there and the fact that socialism needs to suppress humor. I also didn’t find The Honeymooners funny for example, when Ralph threatened his wife with, “To the moon, Alice.” I don’t mourn the demise of that type of humor.
I don’t find obscenity or vulgarity to be funny and can do well without them. However, humor and laughter are very important and trying to apply one generation’s values on to humor or actions of previous generations is a foolish endeavor.

Steve Lancaster says:

Susan, unfortunately there is no line, only a feeling that something has been said or done that crossed the line. I think as adults we sense the vulgar as much as we view or hear it. Red Skelton, Jack Benny, Jack Parr, Milton Berle, Bob Hope and even Jackie Gleason made an effort to temper their humor and their shows to the “common American”. They knew what was acceptable in mixed company without being told.

Today, what passes for entertainment is intended to offend, repel, and cross the line between decent and vulgar. Earlier comedians would be hurt to know that they had caused offense to someone or group. Today the intent is to inflict harm through humor or what passes for humor. Red Skelton used to end his stage show with an apology to anyone he might have unwittingly offended. I don’t think that could happen today.

Susan Lapin says:

That is an amazing statement about Red Skelton, Steve. Thanks for sharing it. One of the reasons I have trouble taking seriously the women who are aghast at some of Donald Trump’s statements from years ago is that the Left has been promoting vulgarity for decades. All of a sudden, vulgarity became a problem when President Trump became a serious contender.

Steve Lancaster says:

There are lots of things I wish President Trump might say or do better, however, after George H Bush, George W Bush and Mitt Romney all as genuinely decent people who ever ran for office were savaged by the media/democrat establishment. It seems that the only way to maintain the unique experience of America is to have someone in office who fights on the same level as the progressive/communists. I wish it were not so, but it is.

Susan Lapin says:

I so agree.

Carole Carrara says:

My daughter and I, through her work, became friends with a Jewish man and his family. We visited with them often and they came over to our home too. We got talking about anti-Semitism which was having a good start in Europe. I had mentioned that it wouldn’t be long before it hits the United States. The husband loudly proclaimed that it would never happen in the United States. I said if it’s happening throughout Europe it will happen here. They thoroughly disagreed with me and rather than continue on something that seemed to have no conclusion oh, I chose not to reply. They have since moved away and I wonder if they ever thought about what they said that it would never happen in the United States. Well! Here we are!

Susan Lapin says:

My husband and I have noticed that Jews (too many of them) wedded to the Democrat Party cannot accept the growing anti-Semitism of the party no matter how blatant it is. It is hard to admit that you are part of the problem.

Leslie says:

Oddly, when I “cut the cord” and started using an antenna I found lots of old shows. I enjoy many old Westerns and was surprised with the wonderful way they explored issues back in the day. Also, one of my daily options, although I find it too silly for me, is Hogan’s Heroes. LOL….. guess I will have to try and watch and episode or two now.

Additionally, as to your comments re social media…. I am also taking a break from it. I will evaluate at the end of the month, but if my anger level stays down, and if I find myself LESS lonely without it… I will bid good-bye forever.

Susan Lapin says:

Do let us know how your social media experiment goes, Leslie. I have actually been enjoying old episodes of The Waltons recently.

Janet McIntosh says:

Thank you Susan your argument was brilliant as always. I had watched Hogan Heroes as a young girl but I didn’t get the humor. Now I’m glad I couldn’t see how insidious the media plants messages into society. Ever since I started watching your show back in 2011 I have been careful not to fall into the trap that the media sets to indoctrinate people. Whenever I have a opportunity to speak up to teach what I’ve learned I do. Thank you Keep up the good work ! 🙏

Susan Lapin says:

Janet, when you see the same unifying message being blasted by all the major media outfits, that is a good clue that indoctrination is at work.

Karen Jones says:

Hmmm, I want to comment on this , but don’t want to offend you …as a child of the 60’s I was brought up watching every film of Nazi Germany that was ever shown ,,all of it , no matter how horrific ,and no matter how young I was ..my parents talked about how awful this was frequently…and we watched Hogan’s Hero s every week …when I became an adult and was friends with an emergency room nurse he let me in on the “jokes” they told each other after an extremely upsetting medical incident that was public and everyone was upset about …he said to me how do you think we can remain sane and do our work when it has such depths of dispare ?? If we can’t laugh we will die inside and not be able to do our work…. we do NOT really think it is funny , it is a way of coping under fire…the laughter helps , I also will confess something very horrible sounding ..when I worked a friend and I made jokes about the holocaust in the same way ..our job had us doing something that brought up these “feelings or memories” of this horrific time we had learned of in childhood ,we would crack the same joke and it would sound “funny” but bring a tear in our eyes …and an ache to the heart and the laugh would make it less hidden and tolerated…because we were both thinking the same thing if we expressed it or not…I look back at Hogan’s Hero s the same way ..a way to relieve a little of the horror from the heart by letting it out by a laugh ..like a pressure valve to keep something from exploding…I do not know if this sounds like an ” excuse ” or just terrible…I do not mean it to be . please forgive me if I just sound horrible .

Susan Lapin says:

Karen, you would have to try really hard to offend me. I actually had the same experience as you did and I believe I have written about it – I’ve certainly spoken about it. My friends and I, too, told some horrible jokes to relieve the tension of seeing things that were horribly emotionally disturbing. And some of their parents were survivors. So, I completely understand what you are saying.

Karen Jones says:

Thank you ,I would have felt badly if you hadn’t gotten what I meant. Hogan’s Heros might have worked just that way for the men who had been at war seeing these things 15 years before.

Kevin says:

I grew up watching Hogan’s Heroes and thought it was funny. I knew nothing about history nor the subject being made into comedy. I was a kid. I just laughed and enjoyed Schultzy saying he knew noooooothing. Other shows characterized women a certain way. Other shows characterized blacks a certain way. Much of it just went over my head as a kid. I’m sure that today if I sat down and watched an episode, I would interpret it so much differently with a more mature and wise lens than the one of my youth. I sure appreciate your posts that make me think. I look forward to reading you and Rabbi’s thoughts. Rabbi Lapin is the first and only Rabbi I’ve had. I so appreciate you both.

Susan Lapin says:

Kevin, there are certain things one does in life that one can’t undo. But this casting back for “abominations” from decades ago while ignoring the current horrors of people’s positions, or ignoring the good they do is not the way to run a society.

David J says:

I guess I am the lone dissenter here. I watched Hogan’s Heroes as a child and enjoyed it. But I have an entirely different view of the show from Susan’s. The Germans weren’t portrayed as bumblers except for Sgt Schultz and Col Klink. The other Germans were portrayed as pretty scary people, such as Gen Burkhalter and the Gestapo Col Hoffstetter.

I don’t believe that all Germans of the time were evil Nazis, just as not all Southerners were evil slaveholders or defenders of slavery, not all soldiers in the Iraqi military in the 1991 Gulf War were supporters of Saddam Huessein but conscripts. I see Sgt Schultz as representing the non-evil non-Nazi Germans that would rather be just living a normal life, not having that war. I don’t see that character or Col Klink as whitewashing the Nazis at all. As I mentioned earlier, they did have some scary ruthless Nazi characters like the general and the Gestapo colonel who would threaten their enemies that they could make them disappear or transfer them to the Russian front.

I don’t see the show at all to be analogous to slaves running a plantation of foolish plantation owners. The Hogan’s Heroes POWs were not collaborators or enriching their captors at all, as slaves running the plantation would be. The POWs were clandestine warriors, still continuing the fight and doing so effectively, not surrendering to the enemy even in their captivity.

Hogan’s Heroes made no attempt to humanize Nazis, in my opinion. It was always clear that the Nazis were the enemy, with some very ruthless evil people in leadership, that had to be defeated.

As a side note, I will mention that my uncle was a US Army WWII vet in Europe and had some involvement with a liberated death camp. He told me that what he saw there was the most disturbing things he saw of the war that bothered him for a long time. My uncle also took part in marching the German locals through the camp, forcing them to look at what was done there, hoping to shame them.

Susan Lapin says:

David, I admit to not having seen the show in over forty years. So, my memories of it are coming from what I thought of it as a young girl. Maybe I need to take a second look?

David J says:

Susan, while I was writing my previous comment, I kept thinking that perhaps you saw only part of a show and might have thought it is a whitewash of what the Nazis were. I saw every episode. Believe me, the POWs were presented as heroes, continuing the fight against the Nazis behind enemy lines, and the Nazis as those who must be defeated.

I haven’t seen the show in decades either, but my memory is still pretty good. I read a bit on the show after I posted my comment. Much of the cast, even more than you listed, are Jewish, including the actors that played the ruthless general and Gestapo major (I previously said “colonel”. I just remembered that he was a major). The actor that played the general was quoted as saying, “Who better to portray Nazis than Jews?” I will say, that actor did do a great job playing that general very convincingly, including showing the ruthless evil you would expect in a Nazi general. That character wasn’t a bumbler at all

Werner Klemperer was quoted as saying he would only take the role if the POWs were always the heroes. He said if his character were ever to be made a hero in an episode, he would resign immediately.

I have heard that the show was aired in Germany for a short time but it was a big flop.

Susan Lapin says:

David, I really am becoming convinced from your writing that I may be maligning the show incorrectly. I knew that the POWs were heroes, but my picture of the Germans was only as easily fooled bumpkins which seemed to me to belittle those they murdered. After all, if they were so easy to outwit why didn’t everyone do it? I do not remember ruthless generals and majors – but I’m glad to hear that they were there.

Norman Gordon says:

Sometimes humor is the best medicine to overcome trauma. I wonder how Germans viewed the show. Were they offended? Did they see the humor. We cannot lump all Germans into a particular category. Many opposed Nazism but could not express their opposition during the War. Might some of those agree that National Socialism was itself bumbling and worthy to be the butt of humor? After all, Germany suffered greatly, far more than America did, as a result of the War. And the humor was not directed at Germans generally, but at their military. Just some thoughts.

Susan Lapin says:

The show was written for an American audience, not a German one. As David commented below, I may have skewed memories of it. The point I was trying to make was that can be seen as very offensive by some isn’t necessarily so.

Bruce Barton says:

Susan,

Thank you for your insights on “Hogan’s Heroes.” I wasn’t aware of the backgrounds of the actors. I agree that the show was kind of silly; as my father-in-law, a WW II vet, pointed out, “It wasn’t like that.”

As mentioned by one of your readers, the show is still being aired on weeknights on the MeTV network. My grandkids like to watch it, so I use it as a springboard to teach them about the history of the war, about which they know nothing. As they grow older they’ll begin to understand the horror of war.

Susan Lapin says:

Bruce, using everything our kids come across as a springboard is vital. I’m so glad you are actively involved in your grandkids lives.

Leo S. says:

I appreciate your offer that disagreeing with you isn’t automatically contemptible. I recall reading or hearing Robert Cleary accepted his role on condition of how the Nazis were depicted. I don’t remember the exact phrase, and could not find it quickly. I believe some childhood opinions are worth retaining while others are not. If I misunderstand that your sense of humor is or was on a higher moral plane, I apologize. What you said about “The Honeymooners” reminded me of a woman I knew who never saw a movie in her life. Rather, she lived them. As though they were absolutely real. I agree with David J., and with Karen Jones’ description of “gallows humor”. I like what you said in your third-from-last paragraph., and cannot find words to sufficiently decry today’s retroactive morality. It seems to me to control society, first control humor and then vocabulary. If people cannot laugh, speak, or write except as approved, we are done for.

Susan Lapin says:

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Leo. I’m finding the conversation here very enlightening.

Mark says:

Susan, I had a friend from Germany, now deceased, who was born in 1939, the year the war began, so he experienced it directly from a child’s perspective. He had a lot of stories. Some were what you might expect—cowering in fear with his mother and brother in the basement of their apartment building during Allied bombing raids, for example. Others that were surprising, such as the postwar period, where much of his city had been reduced to rubble, a time which, oddly, he remembered with a certain fondness. For him and his childhood friends, this situation offered endless opportunities for a typical boy’s sense of romance and adventure: exploring ruins, finding valuables, and establishing secret “forts.” As a young man he immigrated to the United States. He loved America, and I still miss him. I was amazed when I discovered that he regularly watched “Hogan’s Heroes.” I wasn’t offended by the series, but I never cared for it. I thought it was a bit stupid and shallow, which is how I thought of most television situation comedies, then and now. But my friend thought it was endlessly amusing because from his perspective it’s whole premise was so totally absurd. He had a wonderful, and very European sense of humor.

Susan Lapin says:

Thanks for adding another perspective, Mark. I also have a friend who grew up in post-War England and while the adults faced austerity and difficult times, he too remembers the fun of climbing among bombed out buildings.

Brian F. Tucker says:

Dear Susan,
When fresh out of the Navy in ’63 I laughed along with others at Hogans Heros and Mash.
However as I think about this article I realized how some may not think it so funny.
Then I began to recall my time in. Our squadron had 12 aircraft. Each plane had someone responsible for its flight worthiness. Our pilots lives depended on our doing our jobs correctly and thourouly. Everything from cleaning the canopy to checking fluid levels. We even examined the entire skin to make sure there were no popped rivets. While I was I the squadron we never lost a plane due to mechanical failure. Oh sure we had our share of goof balls and gold bricks. But for the most part the folks that I came into contact with from medical officers to mess cooks. From commanding officers to raw recruits were trying to do there jobs professionally and responsibly. We’re there good times and bad times absolutely. But I wouldn’t trade the life long friendships I made for anything you could name. So in essence I must agree with Ms Karen Jones, sometimes you gotta laugh to keep from crying. And with apologies to those of you who where offended I still think those shows were funny. Horrible me I even thought Amos & Andy was hilarious.

Brian

Susan Lapin says:

I am so enjoying hearing everyone’s perspectives.

CK says:

WOW! I am amazed at the sheer number of comments on this topic. Who could have guessed? I echo a lot of the sentiments stated here: I found the show–from the start, first run–not very humorous, but rather stupid and offensive. Yet, I have also known about many of the actors and writers involved. It is not hard to pick out the Yiddish style of humor, which often in history was meant to blunt the horror and pain of reality. Yet, lowering a very serious subject to that of mockery does little good. I am afraid that this sort of show did more to warp our understanding of what really happened around the world, turning it into a third grade kind of grade school humor. Some people probably needed such a thing to get past pain and horror. For me, though, it branded the German people as idiots, and savages, while pushing aside the realities of what had happened and was happening all over the world.
It seemed rather like the massive party the US held after WWI, the roaring twenties, while ignoring the growing threats around the world we had more or less unleashed.
Such is the way of humanity.
Not even a decade later came the series MASH, in which, if you really watch, the enemy always mocked was the US, all US military, and South Korean military, and all allies. The only ones never mocked or really denigrated during he series were the North Korean invaders.
That is what happens when we elevate to silliness something solemn.

Susan Lapin says:

CK, you’re the second person to bring up MASH. I am also delighted at how many comments there are.

As always a spot-on column, Susan. Socialism and Marxism will stealthily and quietly wrap us up like a spider does his prey if we do not remain vigilant. Evil exists where good men do nothing. I know that many of my friends have just stopped engaging in the process…I know it’s exhausting. I use my social media to post stories my followers will not see on the newstand or the alphabet channels. I don’t always know who’s scrolling through but this is a way I can hopefully make a small difference. This civil war may not be fought with the old tools of war…it’s full-on psychological warfare. Gaslighting people is designed to make them think they’re crazy. I love that one thing in my life will never change and that is faith in a merciful but just God.

Susan Lapin says:

Kristin, I do see many articles because friends highlight them for me. We do have to share information that doesn’t fit the agenda that is being presented to us.

Gordy Beil says:

Alan Sherman used to sing a song entitled “Oh Boy” (and I second that!). This is one of those topics that seems simple enough, yet isn’t. I may not be very smart and like the old rabbi who studied all of his life may be destined to die ignorant, but never the less I’ll put in my 2 cents (plain). There are many shows that would be impossible to broadcast today: Amos & Andy, The Gray Ghost, The honeymooners, Valentine’s Day, Have Gun Will Travel and more. Some of these would be axed for offensive content, some for stereotyped characters and some for the way in which a whole group of people are portrayed. It is, I think important, that these shows be judged by the time period in which they occurred.

On the other hand people are way too easily offended and I am offended by this. It is important to read “The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn” as written not in some expurgated form. This work needs to be understood in context.

Hopefully we will always be mindful of our short comings and prejudices so that we may grow into the people that we were intended to be!

Gordy

PS -I’m still going to listen to my Cosby albums.

Susan Lapin says:

Gordy, we used to sing Alan Sherman’s ‘Grow Mrs. Goldfarb,’ to one of our babies who was pleasingly plump. His songs were great. Trying to look at everything through our own eyes is one definition of arrogance.

Esther Weiss says:

Thank you Susan for your insight.
The Jewish Film Festival has a great movie “Heading Home The Tale Of Team Israel”. It was an eye opener when the players found their Jewish (distant) blood.
Shabbat Shalom
Esther

Susan Lapin says:

Thanks for the head’s up about that movie, Esther.

Interesting. Thank you.

In all my years, I never once thought of Hogan’s Heroes in any way as connected to Jews and/or the Holocaust. And as a teen I was a HUGE fan. In my mind it was more connected to WWI which my grandfather fought in, Korea which my dad was in during, and Vietnam which I was involved with. I also saw it as more like a satirical version of The Great Escape.

I NEVER thought of it as making light of the Jewish persecution and atrocities. Had I, I wouldn’t have watched it either.

I am sorry it brought you and others hurt and your having pointed that out, I can certainly see how that could be.

Here, on the west coast, I have friends who are of Japanese ancestry. One day we got into a discussion of how Americans of Japanese background were treated during WWII. Opened my eyes and mind and heart to a whole different point of view.

This is what has been largely lost in today’s world and a grand part of what you and the Rabbi bring to the table for the rest of us.

I sat down one weekend at a Christian Conference with a couple of Black Panthers. We were able to talk and hopefully see some of each others’ thoughts, ideas and feelings respectfully.

I don’t see that kind of healthy, respectful exchange these days. I just see people shouting over each other.

P.S. I don’t think The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son or Chico and the Man would fly today either.

Jane MacKenzie says:

I don’t remember watching Hogan’s Heros that often when it was on originally but now that it’s on METV, I watch it all the time. Somehow it’s amusing to watch the POWs outsmart the Nazis time after time. I also read lots of books about people who lived through the Holocaust and WWII. I wonder if watching Hogan’s Heros is just a kind of wishful thinking that it could have actually been that way.

Cheryl Busch says:

Marvelous comments, insights and perspectives on this all important topic.
As a side note, specific to Hogan’s Heroes: Robert Crane mentioned, while appearing on The Johnny Carson Show, that he had received letters from a particular group of POWs that had spent their time in a Stalag very similar to the one portrayed on Hogan’s Heroes. Their main comment was that whether through German boredom, disregard, stupidity, carelessness, humaneness or arrogance, they had a much easier time of it as POWs than so many others—they actually had a laugh or two along the way. However, they were quick to express how GRATEFUL they were THEN and AFTER their release to have had such an “easy go” of it.
And, although the characters were greatly exaggerated in the series, they found numerous similarities and liked the show.

Susan Lapin says:

I wouldn’t be surprised if I could find a clip of that Robert Crane appearance on the Johnny Carson show, Cheryl. Thanks for mentioning it.

Ian says:

Dear Susan Lapin,

The implicit question that you pose in the title of your blog, regarding the Governor Northam yearbook’s “blackface/Ku Klux Klan” photo, is whether “it is insensitive or unforgivable?”. In my opinion appearing in such a photo, i.e. a photo of a white man in blackface next to a man robed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan is both insensitive and unforgivable. Indeed, this photo was apparently selected by Governor Northam for his yearbook page. Others in his class selected pictures of their engagement, and/or hobbies for their page.

You write, “We imperil our society when we turn every single American into someone whose less than finest hours dangle over him or her like the sword of Damocles.”. I remind you of the words of Omar Khayyam (b. 18 May,1048 – d. 4 December, 1131):
“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

The arrow of time is unidirectional, and the things we do follow us through life. And if the words of Omar Khayyam are too poetic, then perhaps we should consider those of Maximus in Gladiator, “Brothers, what we do in life echoes in eternity”.

I believe it also imperils American society when we dismiss , or belittle the history and meaning of blackface and the Ku Klux Klan. Thomas Dartmouth Rice, a white actor dressed in blackface and performed the character “Jim Crow” in the nineteenth century. Blackface was used to spread ugly caricatures of African Americans, and indeed the racial laws that have hobbled the progress of blacks in the Southern United States were called “Jim Crow” laws: such was the power of the blackface caricature. Of course the Ku Klux Klan and the terror it visited on blacks also contributed to the loss of the rights African Americans. As Abel Meeropol (Lewis Allan) the Jewish American wrote, and Billie Holliday sung, Southern trees bear strange fruit.
“Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop” (Abel Meeropol / Lewis Allan).

Governor Northam’s yearbook photo which embraces both blackface and the Ku Klux Klan, is not merely a reflection of “one’s less than finest hour”. Rather it is filled with a symbolism, that ought to be considered not only insensitive but also unforgivable.

As to your point that there are presently anti-Semites and/or racists in the Democratic Party. I believe that anti-Semites and racists whether Democratic or Republican, whether Jew or Gentile, whether Catholic or Protestant, and whether black or white should be called out. And I remind you that the present Imperial Wizard –Leader- of the Rebel Brigade Knights of the Ku Klux Klan endorsed President Trump and the Republican Party.

Kindly forgive me, for reminding you that it was the Republican Abraham Lincoln who championed the end of slavery in the “Southern States”. And that, the Democratic Governor of Alabama George Corley Wallace, championed “Jim Crow” and Segregation Race Laws even into the 1970’s. Indeed at his inaugural address as Governor of Alabama, he said “ In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever. Thus not all Democrats -and/or supporters- are devils, and neither are all Republicans –and/or supporters- saints. But whether of Republicans or Democrats, photos of black faced characters drinking with the KKK -or people in KKK costumes- are wrong, inappropriate; and in my opinion both insensitive and unforgivable.

Kindest regards and blessings,
Ian

Susan Lapin says:

Ian, I thank you for your thought out and detailed comment. I both agree and disagree with some of what you say, but mostly appreciate the measured tome of your words. This means that we could have a conversation, something that is sorely lacking in today’s times.

David J says:

I very much disagree with the idea that a past sin is unforgivable, even one concerning racism. As Susan pointed out in a past article of hers, we are not cows. As Rabin Lapin often points out, us humans are different from non-human animals. Non-human don’t change. We humans have been touched by the finger of God and have the ability to change and improve. I have witnessed it myself.

Several decades ago, I worked with a Texas husband and wife that seem to fit every Texas stereotype there is: loud, obnoxious, religiously fans of the Dallas Cowboys (understood that there are Houston Texans), White and quite racist. I am not White. They very much didn’t like me automatically when we first met, me being a member of an ethnic group whose members they assumed all shared a certain set of characteristics. The nature of our work required us to work together closely. As they got to know me, witnessed my talent and intelligence and honor and diligence, they realized that their prejudices are wrong and they corrected their thinking. We became very close, even staying in regular contact long after we moved to separate parts of the USA (BTW, we worked together in a foreign country). We stayed close to that couple’s eventual death of cancer in their old age (both but 10 years apart).

So I strongly disagree that one’s past actions are unforgivable. While most people don’t change, I think people can change when presented with a good reason to change or evidence of their errors. Sometimes people find a reason to change and do so. In my opinion, it would not be justice for my friends’ racist past to be held against them forever. They truly had seen the light and truly changed. I have no doubt about that at all.

Rabin and Susan Lapin are correct. We are not cows. We are touched by the finger of God and are not doomed to be forever what we are today and what we were yesterday. People can change and many do. I have witnessed it myself, and not just the couple that I mention earlier.

Susan Lapin says:

David, I am grateful for your story. I didn’t have time to respond in length to Ian, but you said it better than I would have.

Al Hoffman says:

Cmdr. Alfred Homann, aka GrandDado told me about WWII, as he was offended at the turning of war into something to laugh about. The hearing my repeating of foolishness I picked up was stupid indoctrination of a youth. Thus got my mother to have him state the facts.
Shoa denial was already spoken. Also the allie Germany, was under attack from ,”The Sov’s”, with the Cold war, and the Cuban Missile Crisis made many strange p.o.v ‘s.
I think there was intent of put down. This making the germans look stupid, as now these were allied by reason of events. Best not rewrite. “Lies told often enough become truth.” Need be two or more witnesses. What does Gd know?

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