My Mother and the Governator

My Mother and the Governator

My mother couldn’t stand Arnold Schwarzenegger.  She wasn’t a spitter but if she had been the type to expectorate over her shoulder, peasant style, she would have spat at Arnold.

If she hadn’t been Jewish she would have made the sign of the cross whenever she heard his voice or saw his image.

She was appalled to see her fellow Austrian become an American hero, a movie star. My mother died in 1991, before Arnold became the governor of California — luckily — but she lived to see him married to a member of the Kennedy family, further insinuating himself into mainstream American culture.

I always thought her deep Arnimosity was a bit of a quirk, but now I’m beginning to understand why America’s increasing embrace of an arrogant Austrian bodybuilder must have been such an affront to her.

Austrian Antisemitism

My mother in Vienna, summer 1938, before Kristallnacht

Let me start with the myth of Austrian victimization by the Nazis, one that I believed until recently, in spite of my mother’s constant assertions that the Austrians were more anti-Semitic than the Germans.  When German troops entered Austria on March 12, 1938, they received the enthusiastic support of most of the population. And, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “The November 1938 Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”) pogrom was particularly brutal in Austria. Most of the synagogues in Vienna were destroyed, burned in full view of fire departments and the public. Jewish businesses were also vandalized and ransacked.”

And consider this, from “Austria and the Legacy of the Holocaust,” by Robert Wistrich:

Not only was the indigenous hatred of Jews in pre-1939 Austria greater than in Germany, but Austrians were disproportionately involved in planning and implementing the “Final Solution.” Apart from Adolf Hitler himself, the Austrian-born architect of the Holocaust, there were Adolf Eichmann, who was in charge of Jewish deportations from the Reich and most of occupied Europe; [and] Odilo Globocnik (formerly gauleiter of Vienna), who supervised all the death camps in Poland…. And this is not to mention the fact that 40 percent of the personnel and most of the commandants of the death camps at Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka were Austrians, or that 80 percent of Eichmann’s staff were recruited from his Austrian compatriots.

Back to Arnold

My mother didn’t call Arnold a Nazi, even when she learned that his policeman father had been a member of the Austrian Nazi party in 1938.  She didn’t fling that term around easily. When she accused Kurt Waldheim, the former president of Austria and the U.N. Secretary General, of being a Nazi before the truth about his past came out, she meant that literally. I didn’t believe her about Kurt Waldheim either, but she turned out to be right.

So although my mother never articulated it clearly, I think Arnold must have embodied everything in Austria during the war that she hated — or, to put it more accurately, that hated her, that forced her out of her beloved Vienna. How could seeing this man, all Aryan arrogance, become so famous in her adopted country not have affected her viscerally?

And, although it was just an instinctual disgust, she turned out to have been right about Arnold too.

Would she have experienced schadenfreude when Arnold was accused of sexual harassment during his gubernertorial run and when it was proved that he cheated on Maria Schriver with his housekeeper? Probably.  But there are talks of reconciliation between the couple and Arnold continues to make movies. If he has fallen, it isn’t very far.  Unlike those other seniors — he was born in 1947 and is thus eligible for social security — in those commercials for The Clapper, he can still get up.


Another thing my mother wasn’t fond of:  “The Sound of Music,” perhaps the most pervasive popularizer of the notion of the Austrians as victims of the Nazis. But she loved edelweiss so she didn’t mind that movie’s kitschy ode to them.

I found those fuzzy flowers that she had brought with her to America, pressed like pale caterpillars on black paper and encased in plastic wrap, a little creepy. But I can see why she never turned against them. Unlike other Austrian witnesses of atrocities who claimed they could not have done anything to stop them, the edelweiss were genuinely innocent.

22 Responses to My Mother and the Governator

  1. Hilary says:

    Interesting post, Edie. My maternal grandparents came over from Austria early on in the century, 1911, and often told of the pervasive anti-Semitic attitudes there. They both came from farm families–and many farms were torn asunder because of it. So my mother, born in 1911, was also never a fan of AS. She was appalled that a Kennedy would marry him. It’s something visceral, emotional, and not necessarily logical (all Austrians don’t hate Jews, for example). But I can understand…

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      I didn’t know that about the similarities in our backgrounds, Hilary. Fascinating that our mothers were roughly the same age and came to their dislike of AS independently. No, certainly all Austrians don’t hate Jews. And the type of arrogant disregard for others that AS displays is by no means uniquely Austrian either. But it certainly sheds a light on a period of Austrian history that it too little known.

  2. Alison Jones says:

    Edie, the Swiss are at least as bad as the Austrians when it comes to Anti Semitism. Sure, they were neutral, but as Edmunc Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

    My uncle, Jewish, was head of currency trading for SwissBank. He made them billions. They told him, however, that he would not be promoted further up the ladder of SwissBank because, “You are of the wrong blood.” They actually said it! Anti-semitism is institutionalized in Switzerland.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      You’re right, Alison. There’s a lot of anti-Semitism to spread around. The amount of Nazi loot confiscated from Jews hidden in Swiss bank accounts is horrendous; I think they were finally sued to release some of those account so reparations could be made but they went kicking and screaming.

  3. When we visited Austria, we learned that Austrians in general don’t like the movie Sound of Music, but for the opposite reason that you site– it is because they don’t like being reminded of the Nazi history in their country. They also hated the made-up Eidelweiss song passing itself off as traditional music. Nevertheless, they make a ton of money from all the tourists that visit on Sound of Music tours.
    I’ve told you about the famous Marionette Theater and their “neutrality” during the war?

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      They don’t like even the sanitized version, huh? I don’t remember the story of the Marionette Theater (but that doesn’t mean you didn’t tell it to me!). Do share.

  4. Alison Jones says:

    oh–and I’m not sure if this is true or not. It’s just a rumor. But a couple of months ago I heard that AS was purchasing a big house in Tucson at Skyline Country Club. It is a hideous monstrosity, which is why I think the rumor might be true.

  5. Lydia Davis says:

    I have recently come across the very moving story of the old Jewish cemetery in the northwest of Vienna, in what used to be a suburb called Wahring (umlaut over the a). It was opened in 1774, in use for about a hundred years, contained eventually 8-9,000 graves. Over a thousand were destroyed by the Nazis, part of the terrain was dug up for a “fire prevention pond” that was never created. After the war, the vegetation was allowed to grow up, the cemetery completely neglected. At one point the government declared that the Jews should look after their own property–but there weren’t many Jews left to do that, of course. The government has still not restored the cemetery, which is closed to visitors most of the time. See video

  6. Great post, Edie. I never did like the Sound of Music though I wasn’t sure why. Now I know.

  7. Don’t forget Austrian ethologist, and architect of the “alpha theory” of canine behavior, Konrad Lorenz. He was an avid Nazi whose job was to determine which children of German + Polish ancestry had enough Aryan blood to stay in the gene pool, and which had to be either neutered or gassed.


    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Whoa — I didn’t know that. But somehow I’m not terribly shocked. A bit more shocking is that he shared a Nobel Prize in 1973 (as I just learned too) in spite of his well documented views.

  8. Here’s a link to an article written about Lorenz’ Nazi leanings:

    “What Is a Jewish Dog? Konrad Lorenz and the Cult of Wildness” by Boria Sax.


    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Ok, that may be even more mind-blowing than the original information on Konrad Lorenz. Thank you so much for sending. I’m planning to do a series on Freud & Fido — yes, from Will My Dog Hate Me — and will definitely do a post based on this article.

  9. Clare says:

    Speaking of schadenfreude, Alison will be pleased to know that Maria and Arnold purchased a piece of undeveloped property (having made plans to build a gigantic monstrosity in the area known as Rancho Monte Alegre) in the Santa Barbara foothills for $1.6 million and now want to dump it for less–no takers!

    The information about Lorenz reminds me of similar information in The Zookeeper’s Wife. Can’t remember whether that book is directly pertinent.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      I’m sorry to hear it, Clare — at least the part about them contemplating moving to Santa Barbara, but not the part where they can’t unload it. I had never heard of The Zookeeper’s Wife. I just checked it out and it looks fascinating. Thanks for the tip!

  10. Leo says:

    Your mother was spot on about Austria and the Austrians. Far-right sentiments are always looming. I can still remember the shock that went through Europe when Jörg Haider with his Freedom Party made it to government in 2000 after being governor of Corinth. I wonder if those tendencies come from a complex of not being a powerful nation anymore as they were centuries ago, or a spasm from an introvert smaller country, distrustful of everything foreign.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      I think it’s a long complicated history, going back to the Austro-Hungarian empire. The Austrians were able to pretend that they were victims of the Nazis so they never had to go through the kind of purging of right wing sentiments that the Germans did.

      Thanks for coming by. It’s nice to see you!

  11. […] Those words could have come out of my mother’s mouth. Her bile about Vienna and the German voice used to erupt unexpectedly, including whenever she heard Arnold Schwarzenegger speak; I wrote about it in My Mother and the Governator. […]

  12. […] thought my mother’s vehement reaction against the movie was just another of her irrational quirks, and I wasn’t alone in falling for the hype.  As […]

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