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Recalling Nazis From His Childhood, Arnold Schwarzenegger Decries The Capitol Assault

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger posted a heartfelt video to Twitter on Sunday, recounting his childhood in Austria after World War II and denouncing the violent mob that overtook the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

The video, nearly eight minutes long and set to swelling music, starts by recalling Kristallnacht — or the Night of Broken Glass — an infamous night in 1938 when a mob of Nazi sympathizers stormed through Jewish neighborhoods in Germany, destroying thousands of businesses, rounding up Jewish men to be sent to concentration camps and killing dozens of people in the process. The night was named for the broken glass from Jewish homes and businesses that littered the streets, and it came to symbolize shattered Jewish lives.

"Wednesday was the day of broken glass right here in the United States," Schwarzenegger says in the video, which by Sunday afternoon had been viewed nearly 12 million times. "The broken glass was in the windows of the United States Capitol. But the mob did not just shatter the windows of the Capitol. They shattered the ideals we took for granted. They did not just break down the doors of the building that housed American democracy. They trampled the very principles on which our country was founded."

Schwarzenegger, who immigrated to the United States in 1968, was born in Austria two years after World War II ended and the Nazi regime fell. In the video, he talks about the emotional pain he remembers all around him during his childhood.

"Growing up, I was surrounded by broken men drinking away their guilt with their participation in the most evil regime in history," he says. "Not all of them were rabid anti-Semites or Nazis. Many just went along step by step down the road. They were the people next door."

Schwarzenegger's father was a member of the Nazi party — something Schwarzenegger himself didn't know until decades later — and in the video, he talks openly about his father's anger and the abuse his father inflicted on the family after the war. He says he saw the same anger in his neighbors and grew up thinking it was normal.

"My father and our neighbors were misled also with lies. And I know where such lies lead," he recalls in the video. "President Trump is a failed leader. He will go down in history as the worst president ever."

The former governor is a member of the Republican Party but has often spoken out against Trump. In the video, he denounces members of his party who stand by the president, calling them "complicit" in the insurrection. But he also points out that within hours of the assault on the Capitol, Congress was back in session, certifying Joe Biden's victory over Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

"What a great display of democracy," he says.

In a surprising twist near the end of the video, Schwarzenegger — known not only for his role in the Terminator franchise but also as Conan in Conan the Barbarian — holds up the Conan sword from the film.

"Here's the thing about swords," he says, the blade gleaming in the light. "The more you temper a sword, the stronger it becomes. ... I'm not telling you all this because I want you to become an expert sword-maker, but our democracy is like the steel of this sword. The more it is tempered, the stronger it becomes."

He ends his message in support of President-elect Biden and with a final message for the people involved in the attack on the Capitol building.

"To those who think they can overturn the United States Constitution, know this: You will never win."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.