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Monday, November 16, 2015

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Nazi Stamp Album: Part 1

Arnold Schwarzenegger's father was not a hate-filled person who dedicated his life to the extermination of the Jewish people. At least, that's not the way Arnold remembers him in his autobiography Total Recall. He was an Austrian gendarme, or policeman, who served in the German army during WWII. Thus, in his small way, he worked to transform Hitler's dreams into reality.

All conquerors and empire-builders dream of doing good works that will benefit the majority of their subjects. Like my grandfather with his stamps, and me with my Wacky packages, Arnold remembers collecting Nazi stamps, and putting them into an album. Its pages awed young Arnold with the glorious new world Hitler promised to create. 

The book was actually a do-it-yourself album for promoting the mighty accomplishments of the Third Reich. There were sections for different categories, such as public works, tunnels and dams under construction, Hitler’s rallies and speeches, great new ships, new monuments, great battles being fought in Poland. Each category had blank pages that were numbered, and whenever you went to the store and bought something or invested in a war bond, you would get a photo to match up with a number and paste into your book. When the collection was complete, you’d win a prize.

But WWII turned against the Germans, and Hitler's dreams turned to ashes.

Those who worked hardest to bring Hitler's dreams to life--those who survived--were imprisoned, tried in courts of law, and executed. The rest--those who merely served, and carried out the orders of their commanders--were sent home, to rebuild their communities, and resume their ordinary lives. Yet what can be ordinary about returning home to a devastated land, one in which all the glorious visions that the media has inundated its citizens with have failed? What can be ordinary about returning home as a soldier, after having lost the war, and being told by the world community that you must atone for your crimes? Imagine doing your civic duty for years, then returning home, and as the years go on, you work hard in relative poverty, and keep learning more revelations of the cruelties and horrors the regime you served had perpetrated. Definitely not a situation you'd want to relive with your friends every Saturday night, or regale your family with your war stories.

Arnold would have loved to have talked with his father, and understood why his nation, Austria, now had to atone for its participation in WWII. But Arnold's father refused to discuss the war. And then, one day, Arnold's cherished stamp album disappeared. Like all such reminders of the Nazi movement, it too was spirited away by the forces now occupying Austria, never to be seen again. 

This is the societal and familial situation in which Arnold Schwarzenegger grew up. It wasn't a situation of his own making. Yet, it was one he had to live with. Amid poverty, feelings of isolation, and an authoritarian upbringing, Arnold forged his own path to independence. He would become the greatest world championship bodybuilder of his era, a world-famous star on the silver screen, and a two-term governor of one of the largest and most famous states in the United States of America. But he started off poor, lonely, and without any real resources to call his own. Aside from ambition, of course. But then, what else do you really need in life?

Dragon Dave

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