The neat handwriting on the archive document is beginning to fade with age. Carefully composed, painstakingly recorded with pride, the papers tell the story of a Wehrmacht soldier of the Third Reich.
They reveal his unit, his war record and details of his discharge. On the first page of his log book is a picture of the soldier: straight-backed, firm-jawed and with the style of moustache so typical of the era.
His eyes stare out with determination and pride. Were it not for the name on the papers, there would be very little to distinguish this from any other soldier’s record during the Second World War.
But these documents finally answer one of the most puzzling questions in Hollywood: what was the precise wartime role of Gustav Schwarzenegger, father of multimillionaire film star Arnold?
In 1990, I revealed in my book, Arnold: The Unauthorised Biography, how Gustav had been a member of the Nazi Party. But, until now, the exact nature of his wartime activities has never been revealed.
Even Gustav’s wife Aurelia, to whom he was married from 1945 until his death in 1972, professed to know nothing about his war record, not even where he was stationed.
Since then Arnold, who was never close to his father, has made his hatred of the Nazi era absolutely clear, donating about £3 million to the headquarters of Simon Wiesenthal, the famed Nazi hunter.
The actor, who was born in 1947, had no idea his father was a Nazi until 1984, when he contacted the Wiesenthal Centre for information regarding his father’s war record.
He was told about the Nazi Party membership and was assured that Gustav had not been a member of the SS, nor was he on any war crimes list.
But that is not the full story. Documents lodged in the Austrian State Archives in Vienna, only now available as 30 years have elapsed since Gustav’s death, give the most detailed account yet of that role.
They show that not only did he join the Nazi party but was also a member of the SA (Sturmabteilung or stormtroopers), the brown-shirted Nazi paramilitary wing made up of the most enthusiastic of Hitler’s followers.
After enlisting in the Wehrmacht in November 1939, he served as a sergeant major in the Feldgendarmerie — the German military police.
His unit was attached to a Panzer group and took part in the invasion of Russia, where he would have witnessed some of the most brutal fighting of the war and the murder of civilians.
It’s a long way from the horrors of the Russian front to the idyllic Austrian region of Graz where Gustav Schwarzenegger was born in 1907.
As a young man, he was broad shouldered and elegant, a sportsman who loved music. He joined the local police force at 18 and became leader of the local police band.
He went on to become a police chief in a small village near Graz where he developed an interest in politics. Those who knew him claim he was hot-tempered and prone to arguments.
By the end of the ’30s, Europe was changing. Hitler had been in power in Germany since 1933 and was determined to bring Austria (his country of birth) within the German Reich and there were many there who supported him.
Schwarzenegger was certainly one of them. He joined the Nazi Party when it was still illegal — on March 1, 1938, days before Hitler annexation of Austria. In August, as Europe stood on the brink of war, he joined Feldgendarmerie Unit 521, formed in Vienna with the help of the Ordnungspolizei (the German Order Police).
His 110-man unit was first attached to the 14th Army during the invasion of Poland and then Hitler’s Panzer Gruppe 4, part of the Army Group North, in the attack on Russia.
It was when Unit 521 was ordered to join up with General Eric Hoepner’s Panzer Gruppe 4 for the attack on Russia in May 1941, that Schwarzenegger became involved in the most brutal fighting of the Second World War. During the advance, the Feldgendarmerie was often involved in burning down villages and shooting partisans.
The Feldgendarmerie units soon earned an unenviable reputation for brutality. They were so hated in Russia that a bounty was put on their heads by the Soviets demanding they be shot on sight in revenge.
But there was a more sinister role for the men of the military police: they liaised with the Einsatzgruppen, the SS forces responsible for shooting partisans, Jews and Communists and initiating Hitler’s Final Solution through the use of mobile gas chambers on specially adapted lorries.
Between June, 1941, and January 31, 1942, Einsatzgruppe A, which was attached to Panzer Gruppe 4, was reported to have killed 2,29,052 Jews.
Schwarzenegger’s involvement in the war ended in August 22, 1942, when he was wounded. Initially, he was treated in the military hospital in Lodz but according to the records he also suffered recurring bouts of malaria, which led to his discharge in February, 1944, when he was allowed to return to Graz.
The next record in the archives comes on October 20, 1945, when he married Aurelia Jadrny, a widow, in Murzsteg. During the war, Aurelia worked in a government office, dispensing food stamps.
However, as mundane as her job may have been, she wasn’t immune to Hitler’s allure. Many years later, Arnold confided to a girlfriend that when Hitler marched into Austria, Aurelia was in the crowds and almost swooned.
During the de-Nazification of Austria after the war, when Nazi sympathisers were investigated and assigned a category from one to five — with one representing those believed to have committed war crimes and five for those deemed innocent — Schwarzenegger was classified as Category 3, meaning he was incriminated by his wartime activities though not guilty of major atrocities. He was banned from resuming his job in the police department.
What happened next is not on record, nor is the process by which he was able to resume work, but by 1948, Schwarzenegger had become police chief of Thal. It was here that he and Aurelia had their two sons. Meihard, in 1946, and Arnold the following year.
The Schwarzeneggers lived in a house with no heating, plumbing or fridge. Aurelia had to cope with her husband’s brutal temper and violent possessiveness.
Gustav was so protective of her that he forbade her to wear sleeveless dresses in summer. At times, he would even accuse her of having been unfaithful to him, screaming that Arnold was a bastard.
From an early age, Arnold was terrified of his father, who gloried in pitting his two sons against each other, making them fight, then humiliating the loser. Years later, Arnold would say, “My father always acted like a general. I grew up in a disciplined atmosphere.”
Arnold turned his father’s ferocious discipline to his advantage and trained in weightlifting to eventually become the world’s youngest Mr Universe before moving to America to make his name in blockbuster action films.
Throughout Arnold’s youth, his father never talked about what he did in Hitler’s army. But that didn’t mean Gustav had forgotten. He turned to drink in the years leading up to his death in 1973.
A friend recalled, “Gustav drank two litres of wine in an evening and then he would say, ‘Now I will drink myself sober’, but every often he drank so much that he didn’t know where he was.”
Or, perhaps, where he’d been during the Third Reich. And what he’d done.
9 March 2003