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Arnold Schwarzenegger Opens Up About His Father, Who Was a German Official During World War Two

Photo Credit: The Chosunilbo JNS / Imazins via Getty Images
Photo Credit: The Chosunilbo JNS / Imazins via Getty Images

Arnold Schwarzenegger, known for portraying action heroes including the Terminator, has stepped in front of the camera again. This time, however, it’s in a more personal light. The three-part Netflix docuseries, Arnold, shows the action star’s journey from his childhood in Austria to becoming a famous bodybuilder, actor, and politician in America. In the series, Arnold reflects on his life and is candid about his “tyrant” father.

Arnold’s ‘tough’ childhood

The first episode of Arnold focused on his childhood, which he described as “tough.” Arnold was born in 1947 in Thal, a village in Austria, two years after the end of the Second World War. His father, Gustav Schwarzenegger, had been a member of the Sturmabteilung (SA), the German government’s paramilitary wing, and was involved in the invasion of Leningrad. Arnold said that his father returned “suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome.”

Portrait of the Schwarzenegger family without Arnold taken in 1965.
Arnold’s family: Meinhard, Aurelia, and Gustav, 1965. (Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

Explaining his father’s experiences, Arnold said that Gustav had been buried underneath rubble for three days. He was also ultimately on the losing side of the war. Arnold said that German soldiers returned depressed and that Austria was a nation of broken men following the war. Arnold recalled that there were times when “my father really struggled.”

Arnold described his father as both a tyrant and a “very good police officer.” He recalled that his father would make him, and his elder brother Meinhard, compete against each other for everything. Arnold described one Mother’s Day when picking flowers for their mother, Aurelia Schwarzenegger, turned into a competition. This, however, was only the tip of the iceberg.

Arnold said his father’s behavior was “schizophrenic.” He could be kind, but then there were times when he returned home at three in the morning, inebriated and screaming. Arnold recalled, “We would wake up and, all of a sudden, our hearts were pounding because we knew that meant that he could, at any given time, strike my mother or go crazy.”

The physical abuse he and his brother endured seems to have been a common experience, as Arnold said that “everyone was going through the same thing… the kid next door was hit also by his father.” For Arnold, however, this abuse was a major contributor to his leaving for America, which he did in 1968 at just 21 years old.

The making of Arnold and the death of his brother

In 1971, while Arnold was living it up in California as one of the world’s premier bodybuilders with multiple Mr. Universe wins under his belt, he found out his brother had died.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in a promo still for Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991). (Photo Credit: Carolco Pictures / Tri-Star Pictures / Sawyer / MovieStills DB)

Arnold said that his brother, then 24 years old, was driving under the influence and died when he drove into a telephone pole. He candidly said he believes Meinhard “started drinking because our upbringing was very tough.” Arnold further explained that his brother was a “more delicate… person by nature,” and the abuse they were subjected to was not something his brother could handle.

Arnold also said that what ultimately killed his brother made him who he was. “The kind of upbringing that we had was beneficial for someone like me, who was inside very strong and very determined, but my brother was more fragile.” He referenced the German philosopher, Fredrich Nietzsche, saying, “Nietzche was right: what does not kill you will make you stronger.”

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The conclusion, as Arnold put it, was that ultimately the force that made him who he is today also killed his brother. Arnold’s father died of a stroke a year after his brother’s death, however, his mother lived until 1998.

Ryan McLachlan

Ryan McLachlan is a historian and content writer for Hive Media. He received his Bachelor of Arts in History and Classical Studies and his Master of Arts in History from the University of Western Ontario. Ryan’s research focused on military history, and he is particularly interested in the conflicts fought by the United Kingdom from the Napoleonic Wars to the Falklands War.

Ryan’s other historical interests include naval and maritime history, the history of aviation, the British Empire, and the British Monarchy. He is also interested in the lives of Sir Winston Churchill and Admiral Lord Nelson. Ryan enjoys teaching, reading, writing, and sharing history with anyone who will listen.

In his spare time, he enjoys watching period dramas such as Murdoch Mysteries and Ripper Street and also enjoys reading classical literature and Shakespeare. He also plays football and is an afternoon tea connoisseur.