Eric Braeden has been the star of CBS’s “The Young and the Restless” for 37 years. He’s the only star of any show– especially of that length– to have an accent, and a German one at that. He’s published his memoir called “I’ll Be Damned” today– and there is quite a bit about his German upbringing, his father– who joined the Nazi party–and what his childhood was like. In the spirit of the current immigration crisis, Braeden’s story is a lesson:
“[There was] never so much as a racist, anti-Semitic word was uttered in my father’s household, nor was anti-Semitism even an issue. When World War II ended an English Allied officer came to our house, arrested my father, and took him to prison to be “denazified,” a common fate among members of the Nazi Party who were in positions of authority and, like my father, too old to be drafted into the military during the war. He was gone for a year, and I remember as if it were yesterday the sunny afternoon when my brothers and I were called indoors from a makeshift game of soccer to welcome home a father we adored and had missed so much. I was six years old when I joyfully threw my arms around his neck that day, too young to understand where he’d been and why, or what had happened to make all those terrifying bombs stop exploding around us.”
Within a few weeks we didn’t just see the end of our life of privilege, we plunged into utter poverty. The Nazis had confiscated most of my father’s trucks during the war. What trucks they didn’t confiscate, the British did, when the war ended and they took over. Those devastating losses, compounded by his year of imprisonment, had left my father in debt, a fact that undoubtedly contributed to the heart attack that killed him.
There’s so much in Braeden’s book. Who knew that he had worked so tirelessly to shake off the stigma of all Germans as Nazis, to make huge public strides in understanding the Holocaust and in strenghening Jewish-German relations. On a visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland– after already becoming a star– he recalls: “Tears in our eyes, we all gathered in a huge seating area in front of a massive crematorium. I was sitting with a group of Israelis and American Jews, and I’ll never forget the utterly bizarre experience of several Israelis handing me their cell phones, asking me to say hello to their mothers.”
I never have and never will try to whitewash Germany. Yes, there is anti-Semitism there, and the fact that it’s less prevalent than in other countries doesn’t excuse it. Yes, there were Germans who were complicit with the Nazis. Many of them were good, decent people like my father, who didn’t have an anti-Semitic or violent bone in his body and simply bought into Hitler’s propaganda-driven economic, anti-Communist agenda without a clue about the nightmare that madman was planning to unleash. And I’m sure there were Germans who were anti-Semitic but would have been horrified by the annihilation of Jews, while others quite willingly, and tragically, participated in the Holocaust. There are gradations when it comes to any prejudice— not every anti-Semite in Germany was a despicable war criminal, just as not everyone who’s prejudiced against blacks, let’s say, has a cross burning in their front yard.
More to come about this extraordinary memoir…