The young, able-bodied men who were deemed capable of work were separated from the women and children; Mr. Clary, who was 16 but looked 12, managed to stay behind with the men. He would recall his mother’s last words that day, before she was sent to Auschwitz to die: “Do what they tell you to do,” she told him. “Tantrums won’t work anymore. I won’t be there to protect you.”
After he had been shipped to a nearby concentration camp, Blechhammer, he began to perform in weekly Sunday revues with other prisoners. “Because I entertained, sometimes I would receive an extra piece of bread and another bowl of soup,” he wrote. As if poised for stardom, he adopted the stage name Robert Clary, taking his surname from the 1942 French film “Le Destin Fabuleux de Désirée Clary.”
By January 1945, the Russian Army was pouring in from the east, so the SS evacuated Blechhammer and herded 4,000 prisoners on a two-week death march through the snow toward another camp, Gross-Rosen, and ultimately the infamous Buchenwald camp near Weimar, Germany. “If you sat down to rest or were too weak to go on, you were shot by one of the guards,” Mr. Clary wrote. “Twice during those two weeks, they gave us a piece of bread.” Fewer than 2,000 prisoners made it to their destination.
Finally, on April 11, 1945, Mr. Clary and the other prisoners awoke to the sight of empty guard towers. The SS guards and officers had fled, just before Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army would roll in to liberate the camp.
After the war, Mr. Clary returned to Paris, where he carved out a career as a nightclub performer and singer. Records he made in those years attracted a following in the United States, particularly his rendition of “Put Your Shoes On, Lucy.”
In 1949, he followed his show business dreams to the United States, where he continued performing in nightclubs. In the 1950s, he appeared in Broadway musicals and occasionally in movies, including the Technicolor adventure film “Thief of Damascus” (1952).
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