Jewish World Review August 13, 2003 / 15 Menachem-Av, 5763
The cynical manipulation of Hitler's legacy for political purposes
By Zev Chafets
But before I do, I need to make something clear about my attitude toward Austria: I don't like it.
All my life I have endeavored to avoid Austrian products (not hard if you're not into beer and cookies). I've never visited the place and don't intend to.
My aim isn't to singlehandedly destroy the Austrian tourist industry. It's just that hanging out with Adolf Hitler's countrymen isn't my idea of a relaxing vacation.
I'd probably dislike Austria no matter what kind of country it became after World War II. But the modern version strikes me as an unnecessarily nasty place. Decades after Germany took responsibility for the crimes of the Nazis, Austria still falsely portrays itself as Hitler's victim instead of his enthusiastic supporter.
The country seems to have a passion for louses. In the 1970s, Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky was a prominent supporter of Yasser Arafat and other Arab terrorists. More recently, the neofascist Freedom Party has been a member in good standing of Austria's coalition government. That party's leader is Jorg Haider, an admirer of Hitler and friend of Saddam Hussein's.
Before Haider, there was Kurt Waldheim. The fact that the former UN secretary general was a Nazi war criminal didn't deter the Austrians from electing him president in 1986.
Which brings me back to Arnold. Since announcing his candidacy on the Jay Leno show, he has become the object of a campaign to smear him as a Nazi sympathizer. The paint comes mostly from "Arnold: An Unauthorized Biography," written by Wendy Leigh and published in 1990.
Waldheim is the brush.
According to Leigh, Schwarzenegger is close to Waldheim so close, in fact, that he invited the ex-Nazi to his Hyannis Port, Mass., wedding to Kennedy cousin Maria Shriver. Waldheim thoughtfully didn't show up, but he did send a gaudy gift. This reportedly prompted Arnold to declare his love (and Maria's) for Herr Waldheim.
This friendship forms the basis of a politically motivated gambit to disqualify Arnold from political office. Slate's Timothy Noah summed up the campaign nicely: "If Schwarzenegger doesn't renounce Waldheim in a highly public way, he can forget about ever becoming governor of California."
Schwarzenegger was born in 1947. He has lived most of his life in the United States. True, his father was a Nazi police official in the old country, but that isn't Arnold's fault. In fact, it was Arnold who outed the old man by asking the Los Angeles based Simon Wiesenthal Center to investigate his father's past.
Schwarzenegger himself is a strong supporter of Israel and a generous contributor to Jewish causes. For this he has been declared kosher by no less a hardliner than the head of the Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Marvin Heir.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not an Arnold fan. I've never liked his movies or his cheesy public persona. I also don't care who becomes the next governor of California. To me, it's like the debate over gay bishops in the Episcopal Church interesting, but not my problem.
What I do care about is the cynical manipulation of Hitler's legacy for political purposes. Casting Schwarzenegger as a Nazi sympathizer for the greater good of Gov. Gray Davis or any of the other candidates is a crime against human memory.
By trivializing evil, California's Holocaust impliers become, wittingly or not, allies and accomplices of the Holocaust deniers.
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