Arnold Schwarzenegger and His Nazi Father

The movie star and former governor speaks out against antisemitism. You should too.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s video speaking out against Jew-hatred is going viral, racking up hundreds of thousands of views every day.

The video features the former California governor, bodybuilder and movie star speaking directly to “people who’ve stumbled into the wrong path.”  Schwarzenegger describes meeting with Holocaust survivors and visiting Auschwitz, and how these searing experiences reminded him how crucial it is to counter antisemitism and all forms of racism and prejudice.

Standing up to Jew-hatred is even more personal for Mr. Schwarzenegger, as his own father was a member of the Nazi party. “I’ve talked a lot about my father and the broken men I grew up surrounded by in Vienna after the Second World War,” Mr. Schwarzenegger explains in the video, noting that hatred ultimately leads to misery.

Uncovering the past about his father

Growing up in suburban Graz, in Austria, Arnold Schwarzenegger knew little about the wartime exploits of his father, Gustav, a police officer and postal official.  Gustav died in 1972 when Arnold was already well on his way to becoming one of the world’s top bodybuilders.  As Arnold’s fame grew, journalists began to dig up evidence that Gustav had been a willing member of the Nazi party, instead of merely a conscripted soldier who had no choice but to fight.

By 1990, Arnold was a world-famous actor, living in California, and was beginning to contemplate running for governor.  He turned to Rabbi Marvin Hier, who founded the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, a Jewish human rights organization which researches the Holocaust, for help.  He asked Rabbi Hier to find out the truth about his father.

Rabbi Hier found out that Gustav had applied for membership in the Nazi party in 1939 and was eventually accepted.  The LA Times uncovered proof that Gustav had applied to join the Nazi party a few months after Kristallnacht, the pogroms that rampaged through German and Austrian cities the night of November 9 and 10, 1938, and claimed the lives of hundreds of Jews.  Gustav became a member of Sturmabteilungen, the “storm troopers,” and went on to fight with the Nazi regime in some of the most brutal battles of World War II, including the invasions of France and Poland, and the siege of Leningrad.


Mr. Schwarzenegger is unsparing in his description of where hate leaves people.  “I’ve seen enough people throw away their futures for hateful beliefs,” he explains, describing the former Nazis of his father’s generation he grew up watching.  They were unhappy and wracked by self-loathing: “Besides the guilt and the injury, they felt like losers.”

Instead of finding scapegoats to explain away our problems, Schwarzenegger urges us to take responsibility for our own success.  Lifting weights and building muscles is incredibly difficult, he describes, but that sort of dedication and commitment to growth and success is what we all need to build strength and resilience, not blaming others for our challenges and obstacles in our way.

Mr. Schwarzenegger warns against entering online antisemitic echo chambers which “tell you that you’re right and they’re wrong.”  In a desperate plea to reach antisemites and racists, he warns: “No matter how far you’ve gone, I want you to know that you still have the chance to choose a life of strength.” Sadly, we desperately need this positive message today.

Skyrocketing Antisemitism

2021 saw record levels of violent anti-Jewish attacks in the US and Britain.  In the years since, it seems there’s been a not-so-subtle change: antisemitic attitudes and slurs are becoming more mainstream.  Numbers back this up: a recent Anti-Defamation League (ADL) poll found that the number of Americans holding negative views of Jews has jumped significantly in the past three years.

In 2019, 11% of Americans harbored anti-Jewish beliefs (defined by agreeing with six or more anti-Jewish statements out of a total of 14); by 2023, that number had jumped to 19%.  In Western Europe, nearly a quarter of people polled agreed with six or more antisemitic statements; in Eastern Europe, 34% of people agreed.  The situation is even more grim in the Middle East, where 74% of respondents report agreeing with multiple anti-Jewish statements.

A 2023 survey by asked over a thousand hiring US-based managers about their attitudes towards Jewish job candidates. 26% of the managers admitted that they would not be eager to move forward with a Jewish candidate.  Nearly a quarter – 23% – reported that they want fewer Jews in their industry.  17% of American hiring managers say they’ve been explicitly told not to hire Jews by their managers; 29% report that antisemitism is “acceptable” in their company.

On social media extreme anti-Jewish content runs rampant.  The result is large numbers of people embracing anti-Jewish lies, often finding a community of like-minded haters to support them and parrot back their odious views.

Jewish Pride

In the face of rising anti-Jewish sentiment, refuse to be intimidated. Proclaim your Jewishness loud and proud. Fight back against antisemitism and racism whenever you encounter it, and to take the time to cultivate friends and allies who can help you battle rising racism and Jew-hatred. When others seek to denigrate you, proclaim your Jewishness with even greater pride and love.

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