When Israel banned Nazi-inspired ‘Stalag’ porn
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'People were dealing with trauma, and Stalags were something young people used to deal with it'

When Israel banned Nazi-inspired ‘Stalag’ porn

As the Knesset prepares a bill to ‘filter’ Internet pornography, a peek at the Jewish state’s 1963 show-down with Holocaust-infused comics

Covers of 'Stalag' pornographic comic books from early 1960s Israel (Courtesy: Heymann Films)
Covers of 'Stalag' pornographic comic books from early 1960s Israel (Courtesy: Heymann Films)

To view the pornographic comic book, “I Was Colonel Schultz’s Private Bitch,” researchers must request special permission at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem.

After Israeli media deemed the 1962 pocketbook worthy of “extermination,” the government issued orders to confiscate and destroy every copy of the prisoner-of-war-camp rag. So inflammatory was “Colonel Schultz” that newspaper Yediot Ahronot accused the Nazi-inspired “Stalag” genre from which it came of spawning “immorality” among the young generation.

Half a century later, some voices in Israel still seek to control the public’s access to pornography, with the Knesset set to vote on a long-anticipated Internet porn measure. The proposed law would require Internet service providers block pornographic content unless a customer requests permission to bypass the government-created porn filter.

Proponents of the anti-porn bill have cited the need to crack down on the porn industry’s exploitation of women. Critics fear that religious fundamentalists will ultimately censor content that few people consider pornographic, such as information about breast cancer or women’s sports.

“Of course it is bad when women are exploited in pornography,” said Israeli filmmaker Ari Libsker. “We need to find when that happens and punish it. But we do not need to punish the whole system,” said Libsker, director of the award-winning 2008 documentary, “Stalags.”

In an interview with The Times of Israel, Libsker called the pending porn bill “a horrible overreach” by the Knesset’s Ultra-Orthodox religious parties, including some legislators who are “extremist radicals,” he said. If enacted, the law would be the government’s heftiest thrust against porn since putting down “the Stalag epidemic” of 1963.

Covers of 'Stalag' pornographic comic books from early 1960s Israel (Courtesy: Heymann Films)
Covers of ‘Stalag’ pornographic comic books from early 1960s Israel (Courtesy: Heymann Films)

In dozens of Stalag plots, POW camps run by dominatrix-like SS women are overrun by tormented male inmates, usually British or American soldiers. The men proceed to torture, rape and murder their former captors, some of whom were based on actual Nazis including “the Beast of Belsen,” Irma Grese, and Hitler’s acclaimed “Triumph of the Will” director, Leni Riefenstahl.

“A true and brutally honest story of the lives of male captives bound by sadistic girls,” read the description of some Stalags. “Their 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,” read the teaser.

Filmmaker Ari Libsker (Facebook)
Filmmaker Ari Libsker (Facebook)

The Stalags’ popularity cannot be overstated. The most popular title, Stalag 13, sold 25,000 copies to a population the size of today’s Tel Aviv, which is a whopping market penetration. Also, Stalags were the top reading material for 18-year old Israeli boys in 1963, according to a Hebrew University survey.

Today, when most Israeli teens have access to smart phones, cable TV and social media, a government-imposed porn filter seems anachronistic. However, according to Libsker, there is a lot more at stake than meets wandering eyes.

“The question is who will decide what is porn and how will they decide it. Because in Iran, a boy kissing a girl is considered pornography,” said Libsker. “Pornography of the Holocaust, and pornography in general, will never disappear.”

‘Accessing a dark, secret recent past’

As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, Ari Libsker has long been intrigued by the Shoah’s “graphic and explicit” representation in Israeli culture.

The filmmaker’s memory of Holocaust education revolves around images of naked women, he said. Pupils were regularly shown photos — and sometimes videos — featuring scantily clad or naked women who were either suffering, about to be murdered, or dead.

Whether the photographs were of corpses at Bergen-Belsen, or of women stripping before a mass shooting in Latvia, these images “became the Holocaust” for some children of survivors. Before hearing their own parents’ accounts of what took place in Europe, children were confronted with the most pornographic images imaginable.

“The memory of the Holocaust was made pornographic, with everyone focused on the graphic things and horrors,” said Libsker. “Until today, they want to shock you, and it has become a competition,” he said.

One of only two photos in existence showing Jews entering gas chamber facilities in a Nazi death camp. Outside the Crematoria V complex of Auschwitz-Birkenau, women enter the killing facility under the guise of taking showers. (Public domain)
One of only two photos in existence showing Jews entering gas chamber facilities in a Nazi death camp. Outside the Crematoria V complex of Auschwitz-Birkenau, women enter the killing facility under the guise of taking showers. (Public domain)

 

Shoah details had been largely repressed until the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, a key SS organizer of the genocide. For the first time, Israelis heard explicit testimony about Nazi atrocities, including sexual violence. Stalags premiered just before these dramatic radio-broadcast hearings, and the series morphed into a fictional counterpart to weeks of Eichmann-related testimony.

“People were dealing with trauma, and Stalags were something young people used to deal with it,” said Libsker. “Young men were identifying with American soldiers imprisoned in the camps who took revenge,” he said.

Stalag authors pretended their series came from abroad, claiming each copy was “translated fiction.” Attempts to hide the product’s local roots were prudent at the time, considering Israelis’ limited exposure to pornography and the volatile subject. The Stalag market expanded by leaps and bounds, spreading far beyond the central bus station area of Tel Aviv where the first installment premiered in 1961.

A prisoner-of-war camp in Pelkinie, Poland, 1941 (Public domain)
A prisoner-of-war camp in Pelkinie, Poland, 1941 (Public domain)

 

They heyday lasted for less than two years, at which point a Stalag called “I was Colonel Schultz’s Private Bitch” featured a Jewish woman as the POW-turned-avenger. This was a stark departure from the usual non-Jewish male as protagonist set-up, and it was a lot for some people to process.

“The story of ‘Colonel Schultz’ was about a Jewish woman captured by a Nazi officer who makes her his dog,” said Libsker. “Then she gets revenge and he becomes her dog,” he said.

“This was the first and only time the hero was a Jew and a woman. The true story under all the Stalags was revealed for the first time,” said Libsker.

Apparently, young Israelis could identify with captured British pilots as stand-in victims, but a Jewish woman in that role prompted a ban on all Stalags forever.

After claims that Stalags were fueling street crime, a court ordered police to confiscate and destroy every copy of “Colonel Schultz.” The series was branded “literary filth,” and Stalags imploded without giving readers a final money-shot.

Covers of 'Stalag' pornographic comic books from early 1960s Israel (Courtesy: Heymann Films)
Covers of ‘Stalag’ pornographic comic books from early 1960s Israel (Courtesy: Heymann Films)

 

“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,” wrote commentator Andrew O’Hehir.

Calling Stalags “a dream-world, midnight version of the Eichmann revelations,” O’Hehir said the series doled out “a Stockholm-syndrome equation of evil with eros, and a juvenile revenge fantasy, all rolled into one.”

Whether or not the Knesset passes a law limiting access to Internet porn, one rule is unlikely to change: viewing an original copy of “I Was Colonel Schultz’s Private Bitch” will still cost a round-trip to the basement of Israel’s National Library in Jerusalem, plus having to ask a librarian’s permission.

The 1962 trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, after which the so-called 'architect' of the Holocaust was sentenced to death (Wikimedia Commons)
The 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, after which the so-called ‘architect’ of the Holocaust was sentenced to death (Wikimedia Commons)
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