Sex after Fascism
Memory and Morality in Twentieth-Century Germany
By Dagmar Herzog
Princeton University Press – £18.95
This book is such an involved, complex, in-depth, inflammatory and ultimately satisfying read, it’s rather arduous deciding where and how to start writing about it. Admittedly, the subject matter is a moral fascination within itself; while the inexplicably tempestuous terrain covered such as ‘Sex and the Third Reich,’ ‘The Morality of Pleasure’ and ‘The Romance of Socialism,’ although perhaps a little hard going here and there, it absolutely doesn’t disappoint.
Even the title Sex after Fascism – Memory and Morality in Twentieth-Century Germany is a beguiling source of intrigue.
Living in Berlin, I often travel on the city’s huge underground U-Bahn network reading, and I have to say, that even in English, this book’s blood red cover generated considerable curiosity from that of a considerable cross-section of society. A society, which only as far back as the early nineties, was still coming to terms with its modern day self. Not to mention the dark, tragic trajectory of its grim and ever so elongated stifling history; as the book’s authoress Dagmar Herzog writes in ‘The Morality of Pleasure’: ‘’On the one hand, there was the oppressive proximity of the 1960s to the 1940s – in other words, the very real sense of threat still emanating from the older generation. As Klaus Theweleit strove to express it in 1990, it could be quite frightening to try to grow up in the wake of the Germans’ ‘’’great lost/won war’’ […]. It was, as he put it in almost hallucinatory stream-of-consciousness style, terribly scary and confusing to come of age knowing that many of the adults around one had been ‘’Russian killers, Jew burners’’:
All these ground-beef faces… all these good warbling Germans, tears in the eyes at the sad melodies, blood in the mouth at the happy ones, and with rage and horror at the suspicion of anything sexual in the ‘’little ones,’’… still not sated, still chewing, remains of the dead hanging out of all the holes in the sheared skull, lard from the occupied territories rotting in the yellow gaps between the teeth, the cold stench of tobacco in all the toilets, covering the past with stink.’’
With an almost Bukowskian inflection of obvert observation, such graphic description(s) hit their mark whilst simultaneously inviting one to read further, even if only to (mildly) come to terms with such a senseless satiation of ones’ own mode of historical foreboding.
Meticulously researched and written in such a way as to fundamentally defy any form of clinical criticism, Sex After Fascism delicately traipses across the high-wire of sexual politics and existentialist nihilism. Lest one forget that no other society on earth – before or since – has ever conveyed the disposition of this perplexing puzzle, quite as urgently as that of Nazi Germany. To quote Anita Grossmann (in the American Historical Review): ‘’Herzog’s passionate insistence on the centrality of sexuality as an explanatory category and on the uncomfortably tight link between pleasure and evil provides fresh and bold insight.’’
Amid many fine examples of the double-edged sword of sexual politics (and there are indeed countless within the first three chapters alone), perhaps none other sets the tone of Nazi bestiality as that regaled in ‘Sex and the Third Reich.’ Herein, the appalling Nazi medical doctor and psychotherapist Johannes H. Schultz, along with a commission of co-workers at the Goring Institute in Berlin: ‘’instructed accused homosexuals to perform coitus with a female prostitute while the commission watched. Whoever performed heterosexually to their satisfaction under these conditions was set free; whoever did not, and hence had revealed his incurability, was sent to a concentration camp.’’
To even try and remotely understand the barbarous inhumanity of the above, I cannot recommend Sex after Fascism highly enough. It’s as fresh as it is idiosyncratic, fascinating as it is as it is insightful, frenetic as is it insightful.