The Arnold They Remember Back Home

By Woodard, Colin | The Christian Science Monitor, September 24, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Arnold They Remember Back Home


Woodard, Colin, The Christian Science Monitor


When Arnold Schwarzenegger left this tiny Alpine farming village to chase bodybuilding dreams in America, he retained more of his upbringing than just his trademark accent, people here say.

There's a lot of Europe left in the California gubernatorial candidate, says Werner Kopacka, who has known Mr. Schwarzenegger for 20 years "And even the most conservative European is more concerned with the social issues of ordinary people than the most social[ist] American," says Mr. Kopacka, a reporter with the newspaper Kronen Zeitung. "He is a politician of a different type for America - a conservative who would really protect the small guy."

But it's another part of Schwarzenegger's background that has drawn much of the attention since he announced his candidacy.

Schwarzenegger was born in 1947 to a father who belonged to the Nazi party and served as the village's police chief. Yet, while he is the son of a Nazi, Schwarzenegger was mentored in his youth by a man who had been active in the anti-Nazi resistance.

"Arnold isn't a Nazi and he never was one," says the mentor, Alfred Gerstl, whose office walls include a large signed photograph of Schwarzenegger as the Terminator.

Schwarzenegger's childhood unfolded amid a national culture that denied Austria's part in Hitler's atrocities. After World War II, many Austrians chose to believe their country had been an innocent victim of Adolf Hitler, who annexed Austria into the Third Reich in 1938. This overlooked that Hitler and many of his closest associates were Austrians and that Nazi policies had considerable support here before and after the annexation.

Schwarzenegger has said that he did not know what his father did during the war and that he found out about the Nazi party membership only after asking the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles to investigate in 1990.

After a more recent investigation, Wiesenthal Center officials said this month that they had found no evidence linking Gustav Schwarzenegger or his Sturmabteilungen (SA) paramilitary unit to Nazi war crimes.

Gustav is said to have been a very strict parent who regularly pitted Arnold against his older brother, Meinhard, in various sports competitions. "Arnold always tried to do better than his brother to get the favor of his father because he knew that his father liked the kid who was physically better," Kopacka says. "He knew he had to fight hard to beat his brother and please his father."

As a teenager, Arnold began hanging around the nearby Thalersee Restaurant, a lakeside retreat that was at the time a hangout and training site for local weightlifters.

Gustav disapproved of the future Mister Universe's interest in body building - an activity the father regarded as the pursuit of homosexuals.

It was through body building that Arnold met Mr. …

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