Y & R star is a pro-Israel advocate

TORONTO — Emmy award-winning actor Eric Braeden, best known for his 31-year role as Victor Newman on the soap opera Young and the Restless, said he spent years trying to build bridges between Germans and Jews, and to repair the damage done to Germany’s reputation by the Nazis.

Eric Braeden

Braeden, who spoke to The CJN from Los Angeles just a day after his visit to Toronto for an appearance on the Marilyn Denis Show, said he was compelled to promote dialogue between Germans, Americans and Jews because of the way Germans were portrayed in the media and film after World War II.

“[I have] enormous anger towards what had been committed in the name of Germany by the f___ing Nazis, an anger at the vilification of Germans in all media, and an insistence on showing simply what that 12-year period [from 1933 to 1945] in German history was like,” said Braeden, who was born Hans Gudegast in 1941 near Kiel, Germany.

With a career that has spanned about five decades, Braeden has played memorable roles including John Jacob Astor in the 1997 film Titanic, as well as countless  television roles.

Many of the acting gigs he landed early in his career had him playing a Nazi. He said the roles he played on 1960s television shows set during World War II, such as Rat Patrol and Combat, “were all bullshit.

“As an actor you play what you’re given, what you’re hired for, so that is the one side of it,” Braeden said.

“[But] they were caricatures. If the Germans were that stupid, they would have been defeated in half a year.”

He said the simplistic portrayal of Germans and Nazis in American film and television “enraged” him because he felt it was a “total distortion of history, and if you want to learn from that period, you don’t deal with a caricature Nazi.”

He said it is more interesting to examine how easy it is to “seduce most people if the right economic conditions are given and if the right propaganda is given.”

Although he was a young child during the war, he has vivid memories of terrifying attacks near his village.

“There were bomb attacks every night and then every day and night. My most visceral memories are of seeing burning buildings, hearing animals screaming because farm houses had been fire-bombed by the Brits. And kids… had been shot at by low flying English pilots,” he recalled, adding that he remembers being carried into a bomb shelter in his basement almost every night.

“But I know there is much more to the country I came from than that 12-year period run by those bastards.”

In an attempt to educate the western world that there was more to Germany than Nazis and war, Braeden co-founded the German American Cultural Society in 1990. The GACS is a non-profit organization that works to promote German culture and foster German-Jewish dialogue.

“We talk to each other instead of creating caricatured images of each other,” Braeden said.

He said that today, he is not as involved as he once was due to time constraints, but he also added that he’s not as enthusiastic about it because he feels like the stereotypes are still being promoted in the media and in Hollywood.

When Braeden visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, during a 2004 trip to Israel for the annual tourism conference, he was disappointed with the way some of the exhibits were worded.

When the guides asked him what he thought of the tour, he said, “as a German, you are filled with enormous anger, shame guilt, and everything else.”

But he said the one thing that upset him was that the exhibits sometimes referred to the perpetrators as Germans rather than Nazis.

“There has to be a differentiation made. You cannot tell all young, Jewish generations that it was the Germans. You have to be specific about it and say the Nazis.

“It’s not as if Germany had been a democracy and said, ‘OK, now let us kill all the Jews in Europe.’ That simply was not that case. And it angers me because it contributes to the stereotyping and that is what I’m so totally against.”

He added that it is examples like these that dampen his enthusiasm for promoting dialogue.

“I see that there is no attempt at reciprocity, really. Certainly most of the Jewish media, I think, have contributed to perpetuating that image, so I’m no longer that interested, to be frank with you.”

Despite his disappointment, Braeden maintains he is still a staunch supporter of Israel.

His connection with Israel goes back about 40 years when he played soccer with the Los Angeles Maccabees in the 1970s, a team that won the US National Soccer Championship in 1973.

“I like Israelis, I have always gotten along well with them,” said Braeden. “I feel a kind of closeness with Israel and Israelis.”

In 2004, Braeden’s connection to Israel was solidified when he received a humanitarian award from the Israeli government, and met with former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and Israeli President Shimon Peres during the tourism conference.

The following year, Braeden joined Sharon and Noble Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel on the March Of The Living.

He said that he has been an outspoken supporter of Israel because “Israel is the result, in part, of the Holocaust caused by Nazi Germany. It gave the moral imprimatur to the establishment of Israel, and I feel that as a German of my generation or any generation that we have an obligation to support that country.”

He said he decided to visit Israel because he was “curious” about it.

“Historically, it is one of the most interesting countries. Jerusalem gives one goose bumps. You become aware of the history of that city… I remember standing at the Wailing Wall and, wow, it was such an extraordinary feeling,” he said with a whisper.

As for his work on Young and the Restless, Braeden’s contract expires in 2013, but he said it’s too soon to know if he will re-sign.

“I have no idea right now… It depends on a few things.”

Currently, Braeden’s character, Victor Newman, is becoming increasingly estranged from his family.

“When that amount of money is involved, strange things happen, even within families,” Braeden said.“You know, Victor always gets even, so that is all I can say.”

Braeden, who said he loves Canada and Canadians, is planning a visit to Ottawa to sign autographs at the National Women’s Show at the Ottawa Convention Centre on April 30, as well as in Toronto at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Nov. 30.

For more information about Braeden, visit www.ericbraeden.com.