The Stalags: Israeli Holocaust Erotica March 15, 2014Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback
Literature has some pretty bizarre dust balls under the bed – roadkill cookbooks, Marxist-Leninist poetry… – but there are few things that compete with the so-called ‘stalags’, Israeli erotica based around Nazi murder camps. In the late 1960s Israel was experiencing holocaust delerium: sweating out the killing of six million Jewish Europeans just two decades before. A country where perhaps half of all citizens were survivors or children of survivors was finally discussing the most painful experience in Jewish history: and remember that Jewish history includes the Romans destroying the Temple and the Babylonian Exile…. The event that really brought this to a head was the Eichmann trial, which opened in April 1961 and that essentially proved group therapy for Israel, particularly the long witness accounts and, of course, the execution in June, the only one carried out in that country’s history.
The stalags – where the Marquis de Sade meets the World at War – came to life in the shadow or perhaps they were the shadows of this trial. The story is almost always the same: a virile British/American airman, with biceps of iron, parachutes down into German territory after his plane has been shot to pieces. He – and the whole story is written in first person narrative – is sent to a prison camp run by women, who sexually humiliate him, until finally he gets the upper hand, and kills his oppressors, sometimes raping them first. This is pretty horrifying prose erotica: the only images were on the front and back cover and these were normally ripped off American publications, where there was already something of a Nazi erotic tradition, one that would eventually become a cinematic phenomenon: Ilsa, She-wolf of the SS etc etc etc etc
Stalag 13 Cover on Right
The first stalag was entitled Stalag 13 and was sold out of newspaper kiosks in 1961. It had been written by a twenty-three-year-old, Eli Keidar, who was published though under the penname ‘Mike Baden’, continuing the fiction that this was all the real life experience of an allied pilot. Stalag 13 wasn’t just erotica then, it was erotica masquerading as historical memoir. Take the blurb, which is almost laughable, but that seems to have kept Israel’s grumpy censors at bay:
A true and brutally honest story of the lives of male captives bound by sadistic girls . . . women whose entire essence is based on the brimming lust for the blood of others, for deriving sadistic pleasure from their pain, and for exploiting the manhood of the captive at their mercy.
‘Baden’ sold 25,000 copies of Stalag 13 (in four editions) and the game was on. Imitators with unlikely names like Victor Boulder, Kim Rockman, Ralph Butcher etc etc were soon being rushed out by pulp houses in Tel Aviv and gradually the form mutated.
The most infamous of the whole genre was I was Colonel Schultz’s Private Bitch, which changed the plot, offering a female victim, who is French not Jewish though, and a male guard, Schultz. Again there is a ‘happy ending’, if we can call it that. The woman, who is tortured and molested after slapping Schultz, rebels against her oppressor and finally Schultz is killed. But this particular stalag had cut too close to the national nerve and in 1963 Colonel Schultz was banned. The stalags craze continued, regardless, until 1965. And, by the time these books had run their course, about eighty titles had come out with some Israelis talking despairingly of ‘the Stalags Epidemic’.
The level of explicitness in the Stalags was actually fairly low: some writers pontificate about pornographic literature but this is to misrepresent what was going on. There was violent smut with men being undressed and lot of ‘sex’ talk that, in the socialist and austere Israel of the 1960s, seemed like a big deal. It is the kind of stuff that would have taken teenage boys off the Kibbutz to the moon, but that would not lift a modern sixteen year old from Israel (or America or Norway…) to a first floor window. There was also all the historical ‘stuffing’: references to show the serious intent of the book. For example, in one passage our airpilot has his genitals inspected by a female guard to make sure he is not hiding anything, but this is mixed in with standard holocaust details, shaved heads, guards shouting ‘schnell’ etc etc.
What on earth was going on here? Pinchevski and Brand wrote a very good essay on this in 2007 (‘Holocaust Perversions’ Critical Studies in Media Communication: the indented quotation above is their translation and the double illustration showing the ‘borrowing’ from an American pulp book is also from their work). They go deep into the psychology of the stalags including an extensive passage on S/M sexual practices and they may have a point: power and even better power switches seems to be behind so much of the human sex drive. They also note how none of the characters are ever Jewish: at most Jewish inmates are seen in the camps, but they do not become part of the narrative. Maybe, however, the fundamental truth is a little more pedestrian: the smut merchants had found a way of masquerading erotica as history and randy teenage boys reached for their wallets and prepared to brazen their way through a parental interrogation: ‘But Mom I want to learn more about the camps…’ Other thoughts: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
There’s a fascinating Israeli documentary: online it is only available in Spanish, which adds another level of bizarreness to this whole issue.
PS a reader passed on this topic to me a long time ago. I can’t find their name though to thank him or her. Apologies!