The clandestine erotica that secretly flourished during the Nazi regime
You have to hand it to Goliath Books – I can’t think of many other publishers who would take on as potentially incendiary a project as a study of pornographic photos taking in Germany during the reign of the Nazis. While the book’s theme is as defiantly anti-Nazi as you can imagine – this is essentially the work of an underground resistance movement, after all – the very title would be enough to cause many people to run away screaming.
There’s long been a connection between Nazi imagery and sexuality. It’s an uncomfortable truth that the Nazi uniforms were a long more stylish and ultimately fetishistic than any others, and the taboo surrounding those uniforms was bound to give an additional frisson for some, either dressing up or engaging in kinky and forbidden role-play. During the 1990s, several fetish clubs issued a ban on people wearing Nazi uniforms at their events, a spectacularly wrong-headed move that lacked self-awareness – surely they, of all people, should understand the power of the taboo and know that simply wearing something does not make you either a bad person or someone who subscribes to unpleasant viewpoints. Policing kink is what the tabloids and the politicians wanted to do.
Nazi themed smut was all over the place in the 1960s and 1970s – from the Stalag novels that were a popular if unspoken pleasure in Israel, to the Naziploitation movies that came out of Europe in the mid-Seventies. We’ll be looking at both of these in future articles. But they were works that played on ideas of uniform fetish, gleeful bad taste, taboo themes and a collective wartime memory. This Goliath collection is something different, and perhaps more interesting. It explores the secret sex lives of ordinary Germans during the Nazi regime’s rule, where both making and owning these images would carry considerable risks.
For all the inferences of Naziploitation books and movies, the Nazis were – of course – a rather prudish bunch, at least on the surface (like many an oppressive regime, what their leaders did behind closed doors was often a different story). The Nazis may have embraced the German obsession with nudism – more out of the same practicality than made Christians adopt Pagan holidays and rituals than because of any enthusiasm for nudity – but they frowned upon sexual freedom, and of course homosexuality was seen as a perversion that was as persecuted as determinedly as their extermination of the Jews. The Nazis hated the liberties and freedoms of the Weimar Republic, and for them, sex was primarily a way of building the Aryan population, with mothers venerated and encouraged to have large families. Sex was a duty, not a pleasure as far as Hitler was concerned.
But you can’t kill desire, and throughout the Nazi era, underground pornographers risked imprisonment or worse to produce or trade in erotic photographs, some two hundred of which are included in this book. They range from the sort of nude studies than might have been accepted, even celebrated by the authorities, to more overt glamour poses and explicit images of couples and threesomes, flagellation and lesbianism. Notable by their absence are gay men, possibly because that was still a step too far, but more likely because gay sex was of no interest to the anonymous collector from whom most of these images originally came.
As with most pre-1970s hardcore in particular, the notable thing about the images here is that, while every bit as explicit as modern porn, they have a naive charm that comes from their amateur origins. The poses are awkward, the smiles (where there are smiles) a little embarrassed, the photography for the most part crude and basic. This is both authentic and unrealistic – sex that is stiffly staged yet still seemingly more honest and real than most modern porn, where professionalism – even in allegedly amateur material – has led to a uniformity of style.
This book, taken from the Hans von Bockhain collection, is another of Goliath’s pocket books, evoking the nature of the original material, which would have been postcard-sized prints all the better for surreptitiously slipping into your pocket. I doubt that the anonymous models and photographers would have ever expected – or wanted – to see their work reproduced almost a century later in lovingly produced collectors editions like this, but it’s important that this material isn’t lost. While there is nothing in most of these photographs to even hint at the monstrous events taking place while they were produced, the very fact that they exist at all tells us more about ordinary life in Germany under Hitler and his henchmen than most History Channel documentaries ever come close to, and are a reassuring reminder that even the most repressive of regimes cannot stop the most basic of human desires and the entrepreneurial spirit that has to put it on film.