Schwarzenegger's Hometown Jews Doubt Pro-Hilter Report

From AP Wire Service via Dow Jones | 10/6/03 | AP Staff

GRAZ, Austria (AP)--To members of the Jewish community in Arnold Schwarzenegger's hometown, allegations that the California gubernatorial hopeful ever professed admiration for Adolf Hitler are ludicrous.

"It's just election propaganda," said Feridoun Djavid, a leading member of Graz's Jewish community who originally comes from Persia.

Gathering in the community center between Yom Kippur prayer services on Monday, others told The Associated Press that they are convinced that Schwarzenegger's opposition to anti-Semitism has always been firm and genuine.

Schwarzenegger, the front-runner in Tuesday's California recall election, struggled last week to counter allegations that he once expressed admiration for Hitler's rise to power from humble beginnings.

Even as that uproar faded Monday, Schwarzenegger tried to maintain momentum in the face of accusations by 15 women that he had groped and verbally harassed them during encounters dating to the early 1970s and as recently as 2000.

Schwarzenegger, who has acknowledged - and apologized for - having "behaved badly" toward women in the past, blamed the allegations on last-minute dirty campaign tricks and said some of them are flatly untrue. He hasn't discussed most of the accusations specifically and said he won't until after the campaign.

Asked about the Hitler flap, the president of the Jewish community in Graz - the southern Austrian city where Schwarzenegger began his bodybuilding career as a teen - said community members find the allegation ridiculous.

"No one took it seriously," said Gerald Sonnenschein as he led a reporter through the building that houses a modern, glass-domed synagogue on the banks of the Mur River.

"I know that he has always been pro-Jewish. He personally wrote me to congratulate me on becoming president," three years ago, Sonnenschein said. "And he said he would visit the synagogue on his next visit to Graz."

Sonnenschein also said that Schwarzenegger had requested that the community send him a book it published about the Jewish history of Graz, the southern Austrian city located just a just a few miles (kilometers) away from Schwarzenegger's boyhood home, the village of Thal.

On Saturday, Schwarzenegger's former trainer, Kurt Marnul, said that Schwarzenegger was "filled with rage against the Nazi regime" and took part at least twice in organized disruptions of neo-Nazi gatherings in Graz during the 1960s.

Many from in and around Schwarzenegger's hometown view him as a humanitarian. They cite not only his support for the Jewish human rights organization, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, but also his past work in helping the disabled by promoting the Special Olympics, and donations he made to a church in his home village.

"He is a very decent person," said Berthold Kaufmann, a 79-year-old member of Graz's Jewish community, adding that allegations of anti-Semitism were nothing but "slander."