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Schwarzenegger Supporters in Austria Defend His Record - 2003-10-05

Austrians who are closely watching native son Arnold Schwarzenegger's political campaign in the United States angrily reject allegations that the actor-turned-politician has Nazi sympathies. His one-time trainer in Austria tells of how he and Mr. Schwarzenegger once broke up neo-Nazi demonstrations in Austria.

The political show in California, where Mr. Schwarzenegger is running for governor, is a source of constant fascination for the Austrian public. Talk shows, documentaries and newspapers are running special reports on Arnie the Terminator and his gubernatorial bid.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was born near the Austrian town of Graz, the capital of Styria, once a Nazi stronghold. Now the actor is facing some accusations that he has praised another native Austrian, Adolf Hitler.

Reports have quoted Mr. Schwarzenegger as saying he was impressed with Hitler's oratorical skills and his ability to hypnotize mass crowds at the Nuremburg rallies.

But the actor-turned-politician insists that he detests everything Hitler stood for, and he is getting a lot of support from fellow Austrians who have known him for decades.

One is fitness studio owner Kurt Marnul, who first met Mr. Schwarzenegger 40 years ago and became his trainer in Graz. He insists that the idea that Mr. Schwarzenegger was a fan of Hitler is absurd.

"On the contrary," he said, "there were demonstrations in Graz by various neo-Nazi organizations, and we used to around and break them up or cause some kind of disturbance. At this time, from 1963 to 1966, Arnold was always with us."

Mr. Marnul says the pro-Nazi jibe is just intended to damage Schwarzenegger politically.

The former president of the Israeli cultural community in Graz, Kurt Bruhl, said the young Arnie mixed with people who had been active in the resistance against the Nazis.

Conservative politician Alfred Gerstl, who is of Jewish origin, said Mr. Schwarzenegger has helped handicapped children, unlike in Hitler's Third Reich, where they were executed. Mr. Gerstl said Mr. Schwarzenegger also supports the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles in the fight against anti-Semitism.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a U.S. citizen still has Austrian citizenship, and the results of the California campaign will be watched by millions in his former homeland.