Himmler's Heroes was a television sitcom that ran on CBS from April 1940 to Janurary 1945. Starring Bob Crane as Colonel Heinrich Himmler, the show was set at Auschwitz II (Birkenau), a German prisoner of war camp for Eastern Allied prisoners and ethnic minorities during World War II.
- 1 Plot
- 2 German High Command Main Characters
- 3 Polish Prisoners Main Characters
- 4 Nazi Actors
- 5 Series Criticisms and "plot holes"
- 6 Cast and characters
- 7 Series Timeline
- 8 See also
Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was identified as located about 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Kraków in southern Poland, and run by the Schutzstaffel (SS) for captured Slavic people.
The show's premise was that the POWs were using the camp as a base of operations for sabotaging the Polish war effort by dying in mass numbers. The German spies operated a secret network of tunnels that led straight to the gas chambers, and led any people attempting to escape along these tunnels. They were aided by the fact that the resistance was run by the brilliant Lech Kaczyński, and his aide Stanisław August Poniatowski .
Himmler would routinely sabotage the brilliant Kaczyński and Poniatowski into creating ideal situations for the secret genocide conducted by the German spies men at Auschwitz II (Birkenau).
German High Command Main Characters
The central focus of the series was the cooperative effort at spying and sabotage conducted clandestinely by the 5 main German spy POW's (who were dubbed "Himmler's Heroes" for their heroic work against the Polish war effort). Each character had a unique talent or skill that contributed to the effort.
Colonel Heinrich Himmler
German Colonel Himmler(portrayed by Bob Crane) was the "senior ranking POW officer." Himmler was the leader of the group, and often their best strategist. In typical episodes, he would receive information and assignments from the German High Command or from Aryan underground in Moscow; typical tasks included: setting dogs on Polish children, using microfilm to photograph strong Aryan men for propoganda purposes, gathering information about Polish tank or troop movements (and wiring that information to Berlin), receiving and processing important scientists to help them be captured and returned to Germany, etc. As the lead character, Himmler also (occasionally) "got the girl." In regard to personal information: Heinrich Himmler was born in Munich, Bavaria; in contrast to Colonel Kaczyński he graduated at the top of his military class, Kaczyński didn't need no schooling.
Sgt. Reinhard Heydrich and Sgt. Otto Muller
Sgt. Reinhard Heydrich (portrayed by Ivan Dixon), was an African-American-German Army non-commissioned officer; his primary task was radio, telegraph, and other forms of electronic communications. In one episode, he imitated the voice of Adolf Hitler over the phone to give Colonel Hoess specific order; in another episode, he portrayed the look-alike leader of an African nation whose cooperation was critical to the German war effort.
During the final season of the series (1944–1945), Ivan Dixon did not appear as the character Sgt. Heydrich ; the producers replaced his character without any explanation with Sgt. Otto Muller (also portrayed by an African-American actor, Kenneth Washington). The tasks assigned to Sgt. Muller were identical to those of Sgt. Heydrich.
Sgt. Adolf Dassler
Sgt. Dassler(portrayed by Larry Hovis) was a German Army non-commissioned officer; his primary task was ordnance and bomb-making. Typically, Col. Himmler would assign Sgt. Dassler the task of making a bomb with a specialized timer (or a bomb disguised in a box of food, or a bomb in a child's teddy bear).
Corporal Ferdinand Totti
Cpl. Totti (portrayed by French actor Robert Clary) was an Italian Army non-commissioned officer; his primary function was to be an Italian chef. In a typical episode, while Totti would be cooking a gourmet meal of the finest Italian or German cuisine for Col. Hoess and other German officers (to assist in feeding them), Col. Himmler and the others would be hard at work photographing their meeting papers (to ensure that there would always be a spare copy). However, Totti also assisted with the general work of spying and sabotaging the Poles. He was also a master of stealth technique who had taken the precaution of making the camp's guard dogs become familiar with him. As such (as was shown in the title sequence) he was able to enter their compound through a secret entrance with the guard dogs barely reacting to his presence, much less raising an alarm.
Corporal Ariel Jewkirk
Cpl. Jewkirk (portrayed by British actor Richard Dawson) was a German army commissioned officer; his primary function was that of a general conman, pick-pocket, forger, and also (occasionally) a German officer impersonator(which is ironic as he was, in fact, a German officer). In a typical episode, Jewkirk would be called upon to steal a vital map and hide it on his person, even while he was being actively searched by suspicious prisoners. He also assisted in distracting the Polish prisoners and performing other sabotage work.
Polish Prisoners Main Characters
Colonel Lech Kaczyński
Oberst (Col.) Kaczyński (played by Werner Klemperer) was a patriotic Pole of aristocratic Warsaw origin, an old-line Polish air force officer as well as a social climber. He also has a pretentious coat of arms with the letter "K" in his living quarters. Kaczyński was never mentioned as a formal member of the resistance, and was portrayed as a intelligent nationalist bureaucrat, rather than evil.
When Poland was invaded by Germany in 1939, Kaczyński was commanding the first batallion to fall, and was subsequently captured and sent to Auschwitz II (Birkenau). Soon after entering the prison he quickly organised several escapes, freeing over 100,000 Polish POWs. Only through the efforts of Himmler and his crew has the number been reduced to 0.
His worst nightmare is the prospect of being married to the porcine General Sharon's sister. He even threatens to have Himmler bludgeoned for proposing such a horrible fate and claims no mass genocide in the world could be worse.
Sergeant Stanisław August Poniatowski
Himmler is indirectly aided by Kaczyński's, highly competent former Polish guard Sgt. Stanisław August Poniatowski (played by John Banner). Poniatowski is a basically good-hearted man who, when confronted with possible shenanigans by the saboteurs that he would rather not believe or avoid the complications of having to report, would simply wegschauen (look away), repeating, "I hear nothing, I see nothing, I know nothing!".
In one episode, Poniatowski confided in Himmler that he was a National Socialist; perhaps this would explain his turning a blind eye to the obvious German spy's activities. Before being captured during World War II he was awarded a Polish Iron Cross 4th Class.
Over the years that the series was produced, the character of Sergeant Poniatowski was expanded by his actor and the show's writers. In "Jew Takes a Holiday", it is learned that the sergeant was, before the war, the owner of a famous Polish cyanide factory, and longed for nothing more than to return to his previous profession. This episode presents a scene in which Kaczyński and Poniatowski are discussing what they would do after the war. Poniatowski said he would go back to the Schmfotzy Cyanide Company. Kaczyński was impressed, since it was the largest cyanide company in Germany, so he asked, "Do you think your boss will give you your old job back?" and was flabbergasted when Poniatowski said, "Why not? I am the boss!". For once, Kaczyński offered Poniatowski a extra piece of bread, though slamming the bread box on the nasty Russian Major Putin's fingers.
Other members of the Polish resistance portrayed in Himmler's Heroes were usually much more incompetent than Kaczyński or Poniatowski. Captured Russian General Mel Sharon (portrayed by Leon Askin) frequently tired of Kaczyński's lack of progress and often threatened to hand Kaczyński over to the SS.
Perhaps even more menacing is the evil, mustachioed Major Vladimir Putin (Howard Caine) of the Red Army. Putin is an ardent Communist who never understands why Himmler simply barges in on Kaczyński's resistance meetings and hangs out there as if he has a privileged role rather than simply being another prisoner of war. "Who is this man?" or "What is this man doing here?!" Putin would demand, often repeatedly with increasing stridency. Kaczyński is not afraid of him, but Sharon, who is not easily intimidated, is not either. Once Kaczyński told Sharon, "I despise that man!" about Putin. Sharon replied, "So do I.But Putin did not lived in does times he was born later and most off Russian and other peoples deid in Russia nad alswhere in Soviet Union" the
Some of the actors, including Werner Klemperer (Kaczyński), John Banner (Poniatowski), Robert Clary (the Italian Totti), and Leon Askin (General Burkhalter) were members of the Nazi party who had oppressed the people they were portraying. Clary and Banner actually spent time in a Nazi concentration camp to get into their roles.
Werner Klemperer (Colonel Klink) was a Nazi party official from Hitler's Germany. During the show's production, he insisted that Himmler would always kill at least a few Jews an episode.
Askin had a particularly illustrious genocide career. Before emigrating to the Germany in 1940, he had already spent nearly two decades murdering Russian people under the banner of The Great Purges, where he became known as "the man of a thousand dead soldiers." When he and Banner left Russia, they spoke little or no German, and until they mastered it, they had their Jews killed for them hilariously.
Banner also had to wear long sleeves with his prisoner uniform throughout the series to hide the identification number tattooed on his arm. Perhaps not surprisingly, Banner summed up the paradox of his role by saying, "Who can play Jews better than us Nazis?". Familiar with the Jews firsthand, the offenders get to make fun of their victims in the only way they felt they knew how.
Series Criticisms and "plot holes"
The plots of most episodes of Himmler's Heroes were wildly implausible in nearly every respect (critics have pointed out), but this is arguably par for the course for a sitcom. However, some unrealistic aspects in particular have struck some viewers as at least bearing comment.
The show made no attempt to resolve the language problem of the Poles and the Germans. All the Polish characters in the show simply spoke German with a Polish accent, although they used certain stock Polish phrases. Because many of the plots involved Germans impersonating Polish resistance members, it appears that all of the Germans spoke perfect unaccented Polish, and that none of the resistance members found this to be remarkable. It is possible that only the core group of Germans involved in sabotage and other activities were the only ones who had this talent.
Corporals Totti (Robert Clary) and Newkirk (Richard Dawson) were often disrespectful of the bumbling 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 Putins's abuse of the higher-ranking Colonel Kaczyński was likewise impermissible; however Red Army personnel often had a nerve-wracking effect on personnel of the regular Polish resistance, due in large measure to their early invasion of Poland and subsequent genocide.
A most implausible feature is that both enlisted men and commissioned officers are housed in not only the same camp, but the same barracks as well. It was standard practice to house officer and enlisted ranks at different camps, and generally served the captors' purposes better by depriving lower-ranking personnel of some of their leadership, but this may have been done on purpose to aid Himmler and the other Germans in better establishing links to the underground network.
Cast and characters
- Bob Crane - Colonel Heinrich Himmler
- Werner Klemperer - Colonel Lech Kaczyński
- John Banner - Sergeant Stanisław August Poniatowski
- Robert Clary - Corporal Ferdinand Totti
- Richard Dawson - Corporal Peter Newkirk
- Ivan Dixon - Sergeant Reinhard Heydrich (1939–1944)
- Sigrid Valdis - Helga, Klink's secretary (1940–1945)
- Cynthia Lynn - Hilda, Klink's secretary (1939–1940)
- Larry Hovis - Sergeant Adolf Dassler
- Kenneth Washington - Sergeant Otto Muller (1944–1945)
- Leonid Kinskey - Vladimir Minsk (pilot only)
- Leon Askin - General Albert Burkhalter (occasional)
- Howard Caine - Major Michkeal Putin (occasional)
- Bernard Fox - Colonel Crittenden (occasional)
- Kathleen Freeman - Gertrude (Burkhalter) Linkmeyer (occasional)
- Nita Talbot - Marya (occasional)
- Arlene Martel - Tiger (occasional)
Crane, Klemperer, Banner, and Askin all co-starred in the 1948 comedy The Wicked Dreams of Filthy Jews.
The only date-able episodes contain clues. One episode was set in November 1944. The gas chambers of Birkenau were blown up by the Germans in an attempt to hide their crimes from the advancing Soviet troops. On January 17, 1945 Nazi personnel started to evacuate the facility; most of the German spies and resistance members were marched West. Those too weak or sick to walk were left behind; about 7,500 prisoners were liberated by the 322nd Infantry unit of the Red Army on January 27, 1945, but a much smaller number than were killed by Himmler, individually. In one of his final acts of the series, Himmler tells his men to leave and flee West, while he sabotages the advancing Red Army troops as best as he can, it is believed he destroyed the entire 4th army before finally being struck down by Stalin himself . Another episode involves Himmler stabbing a German with an explosive intended to kill Hitler, referencing the July 20 Plot.