US movie star-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger likened last week’s riot at the Capitol by a mob supporting US President Donald Trump to Kristallnacht, the November 9, 1938 Nazi pogrom in which thousands of Jewish buildings were destroyed and some 30,000 Jewish men were arrested in what historians regard as the prelude to the Holocaust.
Schwarzenegger, 73 and a former Republican governor of California, compared the insurrection at the Capitol building in Washington, DC, to the rise of Nazi Germany, and in this context, spoke for the first time about the impact of World War II on his father’s conscience and behavior. Gustav Schwarzenegger was a local police chief who joined the Nazi party in 1938.
In a video posted to Twitter Sunday, Schwarzenegger began by describing Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” the 1938 Nazi pogrom across Germany and Austria, Schwarzenegger’s homeland. He called the stormtroopers who carried out the attacks on Jews and Jewish sites “the Nazi equivalent of the Proud Boys,” the far-right group that backs Trump and that the president has encouraged. “Wednesday was the Day of Broken Glass right here in the United States.
“The broken glass was in the windows of the United States Capitol — but the mob did not just shatter glass, they shattered the ideals we took for granted,” he said.
“They did not just break down the doors of the building that houses American democracy, the trampled the very principles on which our country was founded.”
My message to my fellow Americans and friends around the world following this week's attack on the Capitol. pic.twitter.com/blOy35LWJ5
— Arnold (@Schwarzenegger) January 10, 2021
Marauders on Wednesday raided and looted the Capitol after Trump called on them to march on the building to protest Congress affirming that President-elect Joe Biden had won the election. Trump has for months peddled the falsehood that Biden won by fraud. Some of the mob sought out lawmakers who were in hiding, and broke through windows to enter the Capitol. At least five people died as a result of the assault, including a police officer.
The attack on the Capitol included people who bore anti-Semitic and racist symbology; there is no evidence that it was specifically anti-Semitic in its intent.
Linking the assault to his own childhood in Austria, Schwarzenegger recalled: “I grew up in the ruins of a country that suffered the loss of its democracy… I was surrounded by broken men drinking away the guilt over their participation in the most evil regime in history. Not all of them were rabid anti-Semites or Nazis. Many just went along step-by-step down the road…
“Now, I’ve never shared this so publicly because it is a painful memory, but my father would come home drunk once or twice a week, and he would scream and hit us and scare my mother,” Schwarzenegger went on. “I did not hold him totally responsible because our neighbor was doing the same to his family, and so was the next neighbor over.
“They were in physical pain from the shrapnel in their bodies, and in emotional pain from what they saw or did. It all started with lies, and lies, and lies, and intolerance,” Schwarzenegger said in the video, describing the Nazi era.
“So being from Europe, I’ve seen firsthand how things can spin out of control…”
“President Trump sought to overturn the results of an election, and of a free election, he sought a coup by misleading people with lies,” he said. “I know where such lies lead. President Trump is a failed leader. He will go down in history as the worst president ever.”
Schwarzenegger called on fellow Republicans to disown Trump, and to support Biden. “We need public servants who will serve higher ideals,” he said.
Schwarzenegger’s father, Gustav, voluntarily joined the Nazi Party in 1938, and served in World War II as a “Hauptfeldwebel.” Wounded in 1943’s Battle of Stalingrad, he was discharged later that year after suffering malaria.
As his film career was taking off in the 1990s, the younger Schwarzenegger asked the Simon Wiesenthal Center to research his father’s background. It found that Gustav had been a member of the Nazi Party, but had not participated in atrocities.