Holocaust Porn

Written by Felicia Feaster on . Posted in Arts & Film, Posts.


Stalags
Directed by Ari Libsker
at Film Forum

With its water sports, funny games and power trips, pornography has often plumbed the zany and disturbing reaches of the human psyche. But for sheer perversity, it is hard to top the porno phenomenon of the Stalags, sadomasochistic paperbacks set in Nazi prison camps and devoured by a conservative, smut-deprived Israeli public in the 1960s.

The paperback covers featured lipsticked B-movie babes in Nazi uniforms unbuttoned to reveal va-va-voom figures. In the strange gender flip of this Holocaust porn, it was buxom lady Nazis—as sexually outrageous in their skintight short shorts and SS leather as Tom of Finland’s muscle boys—who brutalized brawny men from the McQueen or Mature school of ur-machismo. In the snuff denouement, the male captives fed up with pistol whippings and bloody swastikas carved into their he-man chests inevitably outwit, rape and kill their tormenters, thus gaining both erotic fulfillment and Israeli vengeance.

Though these Vargas Nazis seemed to bubble up from the fantastical ooze, their victims—cowering like submissive Shih Tzus beneath their mistresses cracked whips—were modeled on American soldiers. To hide their Israeli origin, the novels were written in a purposefully stilted, “American” style in order to give the impression that hardboiled Yanks or British prisoners of war had penned these first-person accounts.

Director Ari Libsker’s documentary excavation of one of the weirdest of pulp-porn subgenres interviews the kids (now adults)—many of them children of Holocaust survivors—who consumed the Stalags. And stranger still are the men who wrote them. The Authors included here are a radical leftist and one man, Eli Keidar, whose psychological abuse as a child perhaps informed the Stalags’ sadomasochistic themes.

Libsker acknowledges that the impetus for the genre was complex and included the early-1950s publication of Auschwitz survivor Ka-Tzetnik’s (née Yehiel Feiner De-Nur) influential novel of one of the “Joy Division” concentration camp brothels, House of Dolls.

But it was the Adolf Eichmann trials beginning in 1961, and all the gruesome, disturbing revelations of Nazi abuse in the concentration camps that truly birthed the Stalag phenomenon, endowing the genre with its themes of subjugation and sadism.

While the paperback covers flout vulgar, sexually inflamed hues—the crimson of painted lips, whip lashes and Nazi armbands—the interviews with Israeli aficionados and authors of the Stalags are photographed in black and white. Real life takes on a diminished, banal look next to the hot-blooded, tempestuous scroll of fantasy.
As the genre progressed—or degenerated—one-upmanship ruled, as themes of cannibalism and incest became incorporated. The Stalags were pushed to such a level of bad taste that director Libsker fails to even detail the depravities contained in the book that signaled the genre’s death knell, I Was Colonel Schultz’s Private Bitch.

Stalags probes a variety of strange collisions of sex and the Holocaust, from a retired Israeli police inspector playing out Holocaust revenge fantasies with a very compliant German woman to the questionable contemporary fixation on concentration camp brothels and forced sex. Libsker rightfully questions how sex and sadism have become the distorting lens through which we think about the Holocaust. And his questions about the strange human fascination with Nazi sadism, once raised, are provocative enough to linger.

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