Nazi Porn

sachsenwald

At the Berlinale earlier this month, some of the most sensational film discoveries were not in the festival itself but were featured in the headlines of the country’s daily tabloids.

A week prior to the festival, news of the discovery of a cache of erotic home movies shot secretly by Nazi officers in 1941 broke when publication of novelist Thor Kunkel‘s Final Stage (Endstufe) was abruptly cancelled by Rowohlt, one of Germany’s leading publishers.

Rowohlt’s managing director, Alexander Fest, stated that the novel was shelved because the company was not able to resolve “aesthetic” and “content” differences with the author — whose previous novel, The Black Light Terrarium (Das Schwarlicht Terrarium) won the Ernst-Willner, one of Germany’s top literary prizes.

The book details “the morbid leisure society of the Third Reich,” says Kunkel, but the Nazi officers portrayed are blissfully unaware of the existence of the concentration camps. “My novel takes place in 1941 when not a single bomb was falling on Germany. It’s not that I’m trying to ignore the Holocaust,” he explains, “it’s merely that it’s totally passe as a theme.”

Kunkel reportedly came across the topic for Final Stage after watching a TV documentary in 1991 that looked into the then unknown porn industry during the Third Reich. He eventually located copies of the so-called Sachsenwald films.

According to The Guardian, “Officially, pornography was forbidden under the Nazis; in reality, however, the films were not only screened privately for the amusement of senior Nazi figures, but were also traded in north Africa for insect repellent and other commodities.

“Kunkel discovered two of the black and white films — the pastoral Desire in the Woods and The Trapper. In one of them, a man ties a naked woman to a tree. Incredibly, Kunkel tracked down the actress some 60 years after her woodland nude scene, living in an old people’s home outside Hamburg. ‘I found her via a photographer who had known her since she was 14, when she posed for nude photographs,’ Kunkel says.

“The 83-year-old was slightly taken aback by the novelist’s visit, but agreed to help. She could recall only two ‘polite, charming men’ who approached her outside a tobacconist’s kiosk in Berlin. The men had driven her and her sister in a black Opel Admiral — the saloon car favoured by the Gestapo — to the woods outside Hamburg. There she had disrobed.

” ‘She told me she and her sister had had a threesome with a man. I found this a bit surprising,’ Kunkel says. The novelist never did discover who the director of the film was, but he used the movies as the framework for his 622-page manuscript, which his publisher, Rowohlt, had originally lauded as a ‘packed, minutely researched portrait of morbid Nazi society … and the demise of the Third Reich.’

“Kunkel also interviewed 57 elderly German soldiers who had served with Erwin Rommel in north Africa, where much of the novel is set. They confirmed what he already suspected — that during the second world war, the German military traded Nazi pornography with the locals. The Sachsenwald films even ended up in the hands of the Bey of Tunis, a regent with a legendary collection of pornography. ‘It was the thing the locals were most interested in. In return, the soldiers got food, water and supplies,’ Kunkel says.”

Kunkel’s novel has already been scooped up by a new publisher, Eichborn Berlin, which plans to release it this spring.

In a related story: Rosa von Praunheim, the aging enfant terrible of New German Cinema, is set to direct a documentary entitled Homosexuality and Fascism for North German Television, and a feature film with the same theme called Even Gay Nazis Like to Kiss. (von Praunheim told me he is also racing to develop a film based on another story ripped from the headlines of recent German news, about Armin Meiwes, the gay cannibal recently convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to eight-and-a-half years for killing and eating Bernd-Juergen Brandes, a man he met on the Internet. The working title is Your Heart in My Brain.)