Schwarzenegger's Nazi problem.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Aug. 7 2003 6:46 PM

Arnold's Nazi Problem

Why won't he repudiate Kurt Waldheim?

A slight Waldheim problem
A slight Waldheim problem

Here's a question Jay Leno forgot to ask Arnold Schwarzenegger when he announced his candidacy for governor of California on last night's Tonight Show: "Will you renounce your support for Kurt Waldheim?"

A little refresher course may be in order. Kurt Waldheim, a widely esteemed former secretary general of the United Nations, was running for president of Austria in March 1986 when it came to light that he had participated in Nazi atrocities during World War II. Waldheim had always maintained that he had served in the Wehrmacht only briefly and that after being wounded early in the war, he had returned to Vienna to attend law school. In fact, Waldheim had resumed military service after recuperating from his injury and had been an intelligence officer in Germany's Army Group E when it committed mass murder in the Kozara region of western Bosnia. (Waldheim's name appears on the Wehrmacht's "honor list" of those responsible for the atrocity.) In 1944, Waldheim had reviewed and approved a packet of anti-Semitic propaganda leaflets to be dropped behind Russian lines, one of which ended, "enough of the Jewish war, kill the Jews, come over." After the war, Waldheim was wanted for war crimes by the War Crimes Commission of the United Nations, the very organization he would later head. None of these revelations prevented Waldheim from winning the Austrian election, but after he became president, the U.S. Justice Department put Waldheim on its watch list denying entry to "any foreign national who assisted or otherwise participated in activities amounting to persecution during World War II." The international community largely shunned Waldheim, and he didn't run for re-election. (This information comes from the1992 book Betrayal: The Untold Story of the Kurt Waldheim Investigation and Cover-Up, by Eli M. Rosenbaum and William Hoffer.)

Advertisement

One month after these revelations began to splash across the front pages of newspapers worldwide, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver held their wedding reception * at the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, Mass. Schwarzenegger, a native of Austria, had invited Waldheim to the wedding, which of course can't be held against him because the invitations surely went out well before the war crimes story broke. (Schwarzenegger, who held dual citizenship in Austria and the United States, had also endorsed Waldheim.) Waldheim didn't attend, but he sent a gift—a statue of Arnold, in lederhosen, bearing off Maria, who wore a dirndl. Admiring it, Schwarzenegger offered a tribute that stunned the assemblage into shocked silence (this is reported in Arnold: An Unauthorized Biography, by Wendy Leigh):

My friends don't want me to mention Kurt's name, because of all the recent Nazi stuff and the U.N. controversy, but I love him and Maria does too, and so thank you, Kurt.

Schwarzenegger's name remained on Waldheim's campaign posters. After Waldheim was elected, Schwarzenegger paid him a visit and was photographed with him. According to the New York Post's "Page Six" gossip column, Schwarzenegger was seen sitting beside Waldheim as recently as 1998, when the two attended the second inauguration of Waldheim's successor as president, Thomas Klestil.

In 1988, Schwarzenegger was asked in a Playboy interview what he thought of Waldheim. He replied:

I hate to talk about it, because it's a no-win situation. Without going into details, I can say that being half-Austrian and half-American, I don't like the idea that these two countries that mean so much to me are in such a disagreement. Austria is a very important place for Americans, because it is a neutral country. With a little bit of good will, the problem will be straightened out. I think it's well on the way.

Why on Earth didn't Schwarzenegger take this opportunity to speak out against Waldheim? It surely isn't because Schwarzenegger himself had any Nazi sympathies (though during the filming of the documentary Pumping Iron, he reportedly once made a foolish comment praising Hitler). Rather, Schwarzenegger was likely playing politics—to be more specific, Austrian politics and family politics. For years it was rumored that if Schwarzenegger didn't run for governor of California, he would run for president of Austria. Because Austrians have long resented what they see as Waldheim's pointless scapegoating, any firm denunciation would have ruled the latter possibility out. In addition, Schwarzenegger's mother had for many years lived with Alfred Gerstl, a prominent Austrian politician who rose to the top post in the upper house of Austria's parliament. Schwarzenegger reportedly addressed him as "Uncle." (Schwarzenegger's father, who died three decades ago, was a police official who had belonged to the Nazi party.)

Rather than confront his Waldheim problem head-on, Schwarzenegger has proclaimed his disgust for Nazism, raised money for education about the Holocaust, traveled to Israel (where he met with then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin), and given generously to the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, which in 1997 bestowed on him its National Leadership Award. "He wants no truck with … Waldheim," the Wiesenthal Center's Rabbi Marvin Hier told the Jerusalem Post. "He probably did not have any clue as to the seriousness of the allegations against Waldheim at that time [i.e., 1986]. To suggest that Arnold's an anti-Semite is preposterous. He's done more to further the cause of Holocaust awareness than almost any other Hollywood star."

Clearly, though, that won't be enough. If Schwarzenegger doesn't renounce Waldheim in a highly public way, he can forget about ever becoming governor of California.

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Votes to Remain in U.K.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

Can Democrats Keep Counting on Republicans to Offend Women as a Campaign Strategy?

Culturebox

Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 19 2014 11:36 AM Breaking Up Countries Is Still Hard to Do
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 19 2014 11:37 AM Why Urban Outfitters and Other Brands Troll Their Customers
  Life
Lexicon Valley
Sept. 19 2014 11:32 AM Why Do Pirates Talk Like That?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM Planned Parenthood Is About to Make It a Lot Easier to Get Birth Control
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 11:51 AM This Is All That’s Left of New York’s Once-Thriving Borscht Belt 
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 11:40 AM Apple Invented the Perfect Way to Handle Your Giant New Phone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM The Curious Incident of the Supernova in the Nighttime
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.