A book by photographer Hans Von Bockhain released on Goliath Books, Sex in the Third Reich is definitely not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the most unquestionably evil movement in human history. What happened behind closed doors of a nation whose regime broke all moral taboos? A sensational 330-photo look behind the curtains of an anti-lust period, where sexuality blossomed more in hidden privacy, unless one belonged to the powers that ruled.
Orgies in Obersalzberg. Excesses in the SA and NSDAP offices. Porn productions for foreign currencies. Twilight bars serving the Gestapo. Diplomats and generals whispering state secrets into silk cushions between the thighs of loyal prostitutes, whilst the Germans say goodbye to lust under the whip of surveillance and repression. A true representation of sexuality in Germany from 1933 to 1945? Hardly. Sometimes, very dark times arouse very dark fantasies. However, truth is much more down to earth.
Bigotry and hypocrisy characterised the sexuality under the rule of Nazi terror. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, who on the outside played the role of a caring father of six and the loving husband of his wife Magda Goebbels, was a notorious womanizer. He was unceremoniously nicknamed the “Babelsberg buck“. He claimed he was opposed to Philistines and upheld the principles of wholesome sensuality. As the leading figure in the National Socialist media industry, he was also the boss of the UFA movie production halls of Potsdam-Babelsberg. Many of the secret jokes of the time illustrate that Goebbels, a very tiny man with a lame foot, was not an Adonis. “Dear God, make me blind, to believe Goebbels is of Aryan kind.” But due to his almost unlimited power he was able to force many famous actresses into bed. When he fell in love with czech movie star Lída Baarová and wanted to leave his Arian prototype family, Hitler intervened personally and put an end to the affair.
Hitler saw the German woman mainly as the German mother. Her traditional role was systematically magnified under the Nazi regime and exploited for propaganda. “The most wonderful duty that truly fulfills a woman is to give children to her people.” This doctrine was supported by financial subsidies, awarding women with “outstanding birth rates.” The Mother’s Cross In Gold for instance was presented to mothers of eight or more children. All this was done under bizarre racist-biological concepts of NS-ideology. The condition for the award was “that the parents of the children are of true Germanic blood and fit for heritage, the mother is worthy of the award, and the children are born healthy.” The aim was to spread Aryan ideology, and to „replace“ the millions of soldiers who lost their lives for the Third Reich.
The Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler was not much of an example for the traditional role of family man. Towards Hitler, he even supported bigamy in favour of higher birth rates, and gave out an SS-internal order to father illegitimate children to fulfil the highest Aryan standards. The unofficial order became stuck. The fear of offending the overwhelming sexual morality of the German population was too big. Many of the anti-human breeding concepts of Himmler blossomed behind closed doors. Sexual liberty remained a privilege of the SS-elite, while ordinary people had to stick to law and order.
Sex in the Third Reich: this subject is bound to raise wild speculation. Probably because one would assume, a regime that broke all moral taboos would not refrain from unconventional practices. However, it was rather an anti-lust period, where sexuality blossomed more in hidden privacy, unless one belonged to the powers that ruled.
Prostitutes, in all their forms of appearance were part of the normal street life in Berlin in the Weimar Republic during the 1920’s. Up to 120,000 women and 35,000 men allegedly worked the trade in the Republic years before 1933. The large number of different types of prostitutes was unique in Europe. There was nothing that couldn’t be had. The Nazis soon put an end to this colourful and decadent variety. Tolerance in some modern German cities, was superseded by strict and merciless prosecution. Prostitution in all its forms contradicted the politics of the maintenance of the “Pure Race” and was considered a “breeding place of perversion.” However, this did not stop the new powers from entertaining their own brothels under their own management. They forced women who, in their racist ideas, were considered “non-German” to work for them as whores. Brothels were run in several concentration camps. Furthermore women were coerced to „serve“ the German Wehrmacht in order to “fortify morale.” If they were infected with a venereal disease, they were threatened with immediate execution.
The traditionally “liberal” and left wing leaning “German Nude Culture“ movement was infiltrated by the Nazi’s as soon as they came to power, because this loosely organized, widely supported mass movement could have easily become a thorn in the side of the new regime. The new powers made good use of the overlap between their ideas of a “new society” and those of the life reformers, integrating them into their own plans. The latent, rather romantic ideas of a pre-Christian or Heathen “Nordic People,” where women, men and children were healthy and merry and frolicked around on green meadows, were merged skillfully with the racist fiction of an “Aryan Race“. All publications and clubs that op-posed these ideas or didn’t want to consolidate were forbidden.
The impact of Nazi terror on sexual liberty became horrifyingly evident in their approach to homosexuality. The famous Hirschfeld institute, founded in 1919 by homosexual sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, was one of the first institutions the Nazis discredited as being debauched and they soon raided and closed it. The chief Nazi ideologists considered homosexuality incompatible with National Socialism since homosexual men and women didn’t contribute to reproducing the “Aryan master race“. Homosexuals as well as prostitutes were fiercely punished, and shipped off to concentration camps.
The possession of pornographic books, pictures and films was strictly prohibited. Of course, this did not keep the deceitful representatives of the new regime from dealing in confiscated erotica on the international markets in order to accrue foreign currencies. Double moral standards were the measure they used. Reinhard Heydrich, director of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, in March 1935 gave permission to sell copies of the seized pornographic collection of writer Eduard Fuchs in Paris. The profit from the sales was 30.670 French Francs.
Two hundred photos, privately captured or traded during the Third Reich, mostly arising from a single private collection, bear witness to this demonic era when pornographic pictures were still sensational and daring, coquettish and provocative, scandalous and hot, but most of all: prohibited.