In the early 1960s, you could find them all over Israel: trashy paperbacks graced with lurid covers featuring virile he-men and voluptuous SS vixens. Each book’s plot revolved around a soldier being captured by the Nazis, sent to the camps and engaging in depraved sexual acts with German amazons that were detailed down to the last whiplash and whimper. These dime-store novels were nicknamed “Stalags,” and the insane popularity of this pulp-porn among Israelis makes you wonder: Was this the result of a society searching for catharsis in smut, or the largest case of Stockholm syndrome ever diagnosed?
That’s the question that Ari Libsker’s doc on the literary phenomenon asks, as he traces the genre’s history, interviews critics and authors, and examines the books’ appeal to a generation once removed from the Holocaust. Since many survivors initially refused to discuss their traumatic wartime experiences, these misguided S&M Schutzstaffel fantasies were the only available (mis)information on the subject.
Ironically, once Libsker expands his horizons to incorporate the Eichmann trial and an earlier seminal piece of postwar Hebrew literature—K. Tzetnik’s The Dollhouse—the film loses its focus and falls apart. We’re told that Tzetnik’s classic influenced the Stalags, but the specific how and why is never fully explored; the way the wealth of testimonies now counteract the books’ mythology remains frustratingly murky. The 16-minute short that precedes Stalags—Roee Rosen’s “Two Women and a Man”—offers a deeper look at anti-Semitism and sexual taboos in art; given an hour, it’s a pity that Libsker couldn’t have granted his subject the same intense scrutiny.