‘The Young and the Restless’ Star Eric Braeden Once Revealed His Father Was Involved With the Nazi Party

After 40 years playing Victor Newman on CBS’ The Young and the Restless, Eric Braeden opened up about his traumatic childhood. In his memoir, I’ll Be Damned, Braeden confessed a number of shocking revelations — including the one about his father belonging to the Nazi Party (and more).

Eric Braeden grew up in Germany during World War II

Eric Braeden
Eric Braeden at CBS’ ‘Young And The Restless’ Celebrates Eric Braeden’s 40th Anniversary at CBS TV City | Ella Hovsepian/Getty Images

Long before Victor Newman graced the TV screen on The Young and the Restless, Eric Braeden was a boy trying to survive in Kiel, Germany during World War II.

In his memoir, I’ll Be Damned, Braeden wrote that the day after his mother gave birth to him and abandoned the hospital, bombs destroyed the area. It’s something he’s come to terms with but will always be a part of him.

“Time does heal most wounds, but you don’t forget. It’s a scab over certain things, and then once you dig a little bit, it starts bleeding again. I would say [life during World War II] was an experience that I remember more viscerally than consciously,” he told TV Insider at the time of his memoir’s publication.

“When I hear certain sirens, or hear airplanes, for example, there’s a visceral reaction to it. Every so often in L.A., on the Fourth of July or whatever, they fly these old-fashioned planes in squadrons. When they fly, I say, ‘Whoa’. All of it comes back, all the sounds come back. When you happen to smell certain smells, [like] the aftereffects of a burning building or whatever — that brings back memories.”

He went on to explain how the sights and sounds of war come back to one haunting loss.

“The more conscious, visceral memories really relate to my father’s death, I think. That had an enormous impact on me,” he said.

Braeden’s family moved to the United States in 1959. He later attended the University of Montana, Missoula and never considered acting, until it happened.

‘Eric Braeden’ is not his birth name

The name “Eric Braeden” is synonymous with the success of The Young and the Restless. It’s hard to imagine the actor with any other name. Still, it’s true that his birth-given name is not that of the American-sounding moniker.

Braeden went by Hans-Jörg Gudegast through his early career. He even won the German National Team Championship in Track and Field under the name.

“I did not change my name lightly. It was arguably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I was proud of my name. I thought, ‘This is ridiculous! I won’t do that,'” he previously told Soap Opera Digest.

The change came after the head of Universal Studios at the time wanted Braeden for the film, Colossus. The caveat was that he didn’t think anyone, “with a German name will star in an American picture,'” he recalled. He added his earliest roles were often that of “Nazis, then bad guys.”

“It just was dehumanizing!” he said.

After doing a Broadway play with Clarence Williams III, Geraldine Page, and Curt Jurgens, it was Jurgens’ suggestion that Braeden could ever only play Germans and Nazis in America that struck a nerve.

He became determined to make it big on American TV. He changed his name for Colossus and the rest came into focus.

“For a while, it was very difficult. I’d been doing a film at that time with Raquel Welch and Burt Reynolds and Jim Brown in Spain called 100 Rifles and none of them wanted me to change my name,” he said. “‘No! You can’t change your name!’ But they didn’t have the same kind of needs that I did, so there you are,” he said.

The star added that family and old friends still refer to him as Hans, but for everyone else, it’s “Eric.”

His father was a member of the Nazi Party — and Braeden’s early roles were as Nazis

Braeden lost his father at the age of 12. He credits that loss to the man he is today — specifically because of his father’s loyalties.

“I knew my father, who was the mayor of our town, was an honest, decent man and there was never a hint of anti-Semitism in our home. Like most German professionals and government officials of the time, he joined the Nazi Party,” he said in that same TV Insider interview.

“It was what one did. But he was not a part of the atrocities. In fact, I found out my eldest brother was approached by the Hitler Youth and my father forbade him to join. So I have come to peace with all that.”

Braeden revealed a neighbor later told him about his father’s Naziism.

To make amends in some way for his father’s choices, Braeden created a German-American Cultural Society. He spends much of his time and career creating a better narrative of Germans in the media.

The Y&R star played on the Jewish-American soccer team (the Maccabees), has taken trips to Israel, and visits Auschwitz with Holocaust survivors in an attempt to repair fractured German-Jewish relationships.

The Young and the Restless airs weekdays on CBS.