Academic journal article Shofar

Holocaust Pornography: Profaning the Sacred in Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS

Academic journal article Shofar

Holocaust Pornography: Profaning the Sacred in Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS

Article excerpt


The 1974 sexploitation film Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS begins with a voice-over of Adolf Hitler delivering a speech while a titlecard from the producer, listed as Herman Traeger, states the following:

The film you are about to see is based upon documented fact. The atrocities shown were conducted as "medical experiments" in special concentration camps throughout Hitler's Third Reich. Although these crimes against humanity are historically accurate, the characters depicted are composites of notorious Nazi personalities, and the events portrayed have been condensed into one locality for dramatic purposes. Because of its shocking subject matter, this film is restricted to adult audiences only. We dedicate this film with the hope that these heinous crimes will never occur again.

The camera in the opening scene pans slowly to the left across Ilsa's living quarters. Through a mirror on the wall, we catch a glimpse of Ilsa and a prisoner making love. She is on top, moaning, "No, no, no not yet! No please. You should have waited." The male prisoner had already ejaculated.

Ilsa satisfies herself in the shower -- the downward tilt of the camera reveals that she is moving the showerhead across her naked body, giving the impression that she is masturbating. In the next scene Ilsa and her guards wake the prisoner and carry him away. This is followed by the film's title credits over the backdrop of a montage of new female prisoners being transported into the camp. The film then cuts to a laboratory room where Ilsa and her two guards are leaning over the male prisoner who is on the operating table.

"Once a prisoner has slept with me, he will never sleep with a woman again. If he lives, he will remember only the pain of the knife," Ilsa reports. When the prisoner asks why, Ilsa laughs, "To castrate."

The film is set in Poland in 1945 during the final days of the Second World War. When she is not castrating male prisoners who fail to satisfy her sexually, blonde and busty Ilsa, the Nazi commandant of Medical Camp 9, is busy conducting medical experiments on female prisoners. Her goal is to prove that women can withstand pain better than men and should therefore be allowed to serve the military in combat positions. She is so sadistic in her experiments that "even the Nazis fear her," claims the voice-over in the trailer.

What happens to Holocaust memory when the Holocaust is eroticized? Emile Durkheim has written extensively about the distinction between the sacred and the profane. He argues that things collectively held as sacred are always separated from things considered profane.(2) Sado-masochistic iconography has long exploited Nazi imagery by linking sex with power and violence. When victims and perpetrators become sexual partners in Holocaust film narratives -- contrary to the Nuremberg racial laws -- what does this say about our cultural imagination? What does the popularity of a film like She-Wolf reveal about what Nazis "mean" in American culture? What fantasies about society are being expressed by associating Nazi imagery with themes of power and gender, sexuality and violence?

While research is growing on how the Holocaust is represented within popular culture, little exists on pornography employing Nazi themes and imagery.(3) This paper explores how things collectively held as sacred -- the Holocaust and its memory, the body, traditional gender roles and sexual relations -- are systematically profaned in this film. I also make explicit comparisons between the events and characterizations presented in the film and the well-documented history of the Holocaust. By "reading" this film as a cultural text, I hope to uncover the socio-cultural understandings and appreciation of the moral ramifications of the Holocaust in American culture. I will describe how cultural context, historical trauma, and aesthetic form interplay in Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS. More generally, I will question why Holocaust memory is being eroticized, gendered, and ultimately, profaned. …

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