A NYT story today, in their Jerusalem Journal, reports on a new documentary, Stalags: Holocaust and Pornography in Israel, which reveals that the much-disgraced "SS Camp" porno-books that thrilled and shocked their countrymen since the early 60s, were created by Israeli authors who mined an apparently unbeatable combination of horror and titillation in the wake of the hair-raising Eichmann trial.
The Times writes: "The most famous Stalag, I Was Colonel Schultz’s Private Bitch, was deemed to have crossed all the lines of acceptability, prompting the police to try to hunt every copy down."
At the time they were published, the Stalags were introduced as if they were translated from English, the memories of American soldiers who'd been tortured by big-breasted Nazi dominatrices. But as you can see from the interview with their original publisher, Ezra Narkis, it was all a big P.T. Barnum-style set-up.
Just to show you how touchy the subject is, journalist Debbie Nathan alerts us that the NYT censored their print edition to exclude a quote from an Israeli scholar, who insisted there were “no Jewish whores” at Auschwitz. The professor was trying to say something reassuring, but the fact that she used a phrase like "Jewish whore," in any context, clearly freaked out the Times' editors.
What should we make of this? “There were no Jewish whores” goes beyond simply saying [there were] none in Block 24. It’s a more comprehensive denial of debauchery and sexual victimization of Jewish women at Auschwitz. Which could be some small comfort to Jews, and you’d think the editors would want to preserve it. On the other hand, the point of this troubling piece is the extent to which Jews – like everyone else – often fantasize the darkest terrains of sexuality, including, sometimes, by using their own historical tragedy as grist (again, not unusual across cultures). [The scholar's] sentence, with its titillating word “whore,” just might add to the mill.
The Stalag pulps were banned in Israel, after selling like hotcakes, but the icons endured. Witness the revealing clip of an Israeli reserve officer talking about these stories as an essential part of his boyhood fantasy life.
Some of the torrid myths of these pulp novels were so influential on the public's mind that they became part of the public school curriculum— and, with the film's release, the angst over their veracity and "message" is a hot topic all over again.
Depending on your distance from these historical events, the memory of the boomer-exploitation Stalags may seem like the cruelest nausea, guiltiest pleasure, or most hilarious kitsch you've ever seen. They have their own lunatic cinematic dimension, with films like "SS Hell Camp," which are still banned in much of Europe.
One thing I have in common with the late Andrea Dworkin is that whenever we would get off a plane in a new country, we would seek out a sample of the nation's pornography. Why? Because it's like stepping into the sticky pool of a community's greatest historical burden.
The basics of erotic representation are people in various states of undress, fucking and sucking and rubbing and kissing. For many viewers, this is stimulating enough on its own.
But so often, erotic expressions are surrounded by a story, a fascination — and this is where cultural memories come into play.
While Dworkin was outraged that old-school Israeli porn sought out the frisson of Nazi uniforms and camp-style S/M scenarios, for me, that discovery was poignant, and reminded me of its parallels around the world.
The U.S., for example, has a black/white interracial obsession unmatched by anyone else, and it's a direct result of our legacy of slavery and the Civil War... which, you'll remember, ended 144 years ago. It goes to show that as long as something remains in the sexual imagination, it proves that the guilt and and unresolved issues have never died.
In overwhelmingly Catholic countries like Mexico, you'll see the wildest and most banal pornography featuring actors dressed as priests and nuns.
In Japanese porn, the bombing of Hiroshima/Nagasaki and surrender to the Allies provoked a new image: the specter of masochistic male castration and the eroto-humiliation of impotence. It has no Judeo-Christian aspect; it is entirely rooted in the tradition of war, honor, male power, and its shameful submission.
The irony about the current state of Mideastern porn— if one can call it a genre!— is that it's no longer consumed with Nazi insignias, but rather a next-generation view that incorporates all the hysterical racism between Jewish and Islamic culture. Doctrinaire Muslim communities have "secret" anti-Semitic porn, while Israeli erotic angst pools around images of evil (yet sexy) Arabs, with requisite historical nods to Germanic predecessors.
It begs the question, if human beings didn't create massive tragedies, horrible wars, and cruel betrayals, what on earth would we manufacture for the taboos of our erotic lemonade? The unbearable is matched by its erotic catharsis. I guess we'd always come up with something.
To read the rest of Susie's essays on porn, check out: