Israel’s Nazi-porn problem
Andrew O’Hehir, Salon, Apr 11 2008
Stalags: Photo: Heymann Bros Films
Taking their name from the Nazi prison camps in which they were set, Stalags were Israeli pornographic paperbacks featuring Nazi themes. As many older Israelis evidently remember, the then-new nation was afflicted by a perverse pop-culture craze in the early ’60s, at a time when nearly half the population consisted of Holocaust survivors, nationalist sentiment ran high and moral codes were extremely puritanical. Yet the newsstands in the Tel Aviv bus station sold racks of semi-pornographic pulp novels known as Stalags, whose utterly implausible, Penthouse Forum-meets-Marquis de Sade plots ventured into the most forbidden terrain imaginable. Stalags all followed essentially the same formula: An American or British WW2 pilot (generally not Jewish) is shot down behind enemy lines, where he is imprisoned, tortured and raped by an entire phalanx of sadistic, voluptuous female SS officers. His body violated but his spirit unbroken, the plucky Yank or Brit escapes in the end to rape and murder his captors.
Stalags thrived for a few years and then disappeared, banished to the memory hole as a massive cultural embarrassment. Israel’s national library appears to contain a trove of them, buried deep in the catalog software and hidden from public view. Yet as some Israelis who were children and teenagers at the time testify, the Stalags provided sexual titillation in a society that repressed it, and also the illicit thrill of accessing a dark, secret recent past their European-born parents never discussed. They offered a Stockholm-syndrome equation of evil with eros and a juvenile revenge fantasy, all rolled into one.
Given the scale of trauma that brought the State of Israel into being, and brought so many of its inhabitants over the sea, some kind of twisted and perverse fantasy reaction was inevitable. The televised Eichmann trial transfixed Israelis in the early ’60s, providing many younger people their first look at the horrific and dramatic events many of their parents had witnessed first hand. The Stalags may be understood as a dream-world, midnight version of the Eichmann revelations. This craze reflects Israel’s pseudo-pornographic relationship to the past. Many Jews and non-Jews remain fixated on salacious details of the Holocaust, such as the “Night Porter” idea that female camp inmates ensured their survival by sleeping with German officers, or that the Nazis maintained brothels of Jewish women at Auschwitz and other camps. Such things may have happened here and there, but they are not clearly attested, and in any case fade into total insignificance against the scale of the tragedy.