The Austrian-born actor and former governor of California, in a lengthy video posted to his YouTube channel on Monday, shared the horrors and atrocities that occurred at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination and concentration camp in Poland during the Second World War, and the emotional toll he felt after visiting.
“Today, I want to talk to the people out there who might have already stumbled into the wrong direction, into the wrong path,” said Schwarzenegger, whose father was a member of the Nazi party.
“I want to talk to you if you’ve heard some conspiracies about Jewish people or people of any race, gender or orientation and thought, ‘That makes sense to me,’” he said, looking directly into the camera.
“I want to talk to you if you’ve found yourself thinking anyone is inferior or out to get you because of their religion or the color of their skin or their gender.”
Schwarzenegger visited the Auschwitz concentration camp site a few months ago, and called it “one of the darkest moments of my life.”
The former professional bodybuilder told viewers “there has never been a successful movement based on hate,” and added that he’s “seen enough people throw away their futures for hateful beliefs.”
“Nazis? Losers. The Confederacy? Losers. The apartheid movement? Losers. I don’t want you to be a loser. I don’t want you to be weak … despite all my friends who might say, ‘Arnold, don’t talk to those people. It’s not worth it.’
“I don’t care what they say. I care about you. I think you’re worth it. I know nobody is perfect … I can understand how people can fall into a trap of prejudice and hate.”
Schwarzenegger pointed to his father, Gustav Schwarzenegger, whom he grouped in with “broken men” after the war who were “riddled with guilt.”
“They felt like losers, not only because they lost the war, but also because they fell for horrible, loser ideology. They were lied to and misled into a path that ended in misery,” Schwarzenegger said. “…In the end, it didn’t really matter why they joined (the Nazis). They were all broken in the same way. That’s the bottom line here.”
Schwarzenegger recalled seeing unclaimed suitcases that prisoners were promised to be reunited with as they filed into gas chambers. He spoke of scratches on the walls of gas chambers from the fingernails of desperate people “who tried to hold onto life.”
He said that those “at the crossroads” of choosing a hateful and racist path in life “will not find success at the end of that road.”
“Hate burns fast and bright. It might make you feel empowered for a while, but it eventually consumes whatever vessel it fuels. It breaks you,” Schwarzenegger said.
Instead of looking for scapegoats in other people, he recommended that people look more to personal accountability and inner strength, adding that there is “still hope” for those travelling a hateful road.
“There’s still time for you,” he said. “Choose strength. Choose life. Conquer your mind.”
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians not to become complacent as antisemitism and hatred grow across the country.
Speaking at a Holocaust Remembrance Day memorial in Ottawa in January, the prime minister warned that in times of peace, people “look back at this atrocity, bewildered at how it could ever have been permitted to happen.”
“We wonder what could ever have driven people to such cruelty. But hate never overtakes us all at once. It creeps up inch by inch,” Trudeau said.
According to Statistics Canada, hate crimes targeting the Jewish community have been on the rise. In 2021, there was a 47 per cent increase in police-reported hate crimes against Jewish people. Of the 884 religion-based hate crimes reported to police that year, 487 of them targeted the Jewish community.
On top of that, there have been high-profile incidents of antisemitism in popular culture in the last year. Rapper Kanye West publicly praised Adolf Hitler in a spate of antisemitic posts online that spurred a fierce wave of condemnation.
A study commissioned by Canadian charity Liberation75 last year found that one-in-three students of the 3,000 surveyed believed the Holocaust was fabricated or not reported accurately.
In January, Ottawa police charged two high school students with public incitement of hatred, criminal harassment, and mischief following an incident in which they were accused of displaying a hate symbol and using antisemitic language.
— with files from Global News.
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.