Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sexy Nazis and Brute Polaks: Having Our Ethical Cake and Eating It, Too

"Black Book." source

Power is attractive.

Nazis were powerful.

Nazis are attractive.

This is all very pertinent to "Bieganski," the brute Polak stereotype.

Several recent big-budget, high-profile, critically-acclaimed and financially successful films and television productions share two remarkable features. They include full-frontal nudity in graphic sex scenes. The lovers are highly attractive, very sympathetic Nazis.

These films are doing hard cultural work. Sexy Nazis reassure viewers that we can have our cake and eat it, too. We can enjoy our attraction to squeaky leather boots, riding crops, engraved daggers and masterful warriors. Enjoying all the paraphernalia of power need not compromise us ethically. We are shocked, shocked at the Holocaust. We don't much like those dirty, primitive, Catholic, Polaks.

Christoph Waltz as SS Col Hans Landa, "The Jew Catcher," 
widely esteemed by fans as a Sexy Nazi source

"Bieganski" shows how a deep-rooted stereotype of Poles and other Eastern European, peasant- and Christian-descent populations is currently deployed in scholarly, journalistic, and popular prose devoted to the Holocaust, and, by extension, to all hate.

Not only are Polish Catholic peasants the world's worst anti-Semites, essentially and ineradicably responsible for the Holocaust in a way that Germans are not seen to be. Indeed, Sexy Nazi films are just the popular culture extension of trends taking place in the Ivory Tower. Nowadays, Bieganski, or the brute Polak, is humanity's representational hater.

In Willard Gaylin's 2004 book "Hatred: The Psychological Descent Into Violence," Gaylin attempts to illustrate human hatred for his reader. Gaylin does not turn to Al Qaeda terrorists, who had attacked the US just a few short years before, committing one of the most visually spectacular displays of hatred humanity had ever seen, and inaugurating the War on Terror. He doesn't turn to German Nazis as the epitome of hate. Rather, to illustrate pure hatred for his reader, to, as Gaylin puts it, engage in the courageous task of "confronting evil head-on," Gaylin turns to Poles, specifically Polish, Catholic peasants. They hold the key to understanding evil.

At the same time that an inescapably tainted Polish essence is positioned as responsible for the Holocaust, and hate itself, Germans, including German Nazis, are inched away from guilt. In a recent scholarly book that uses a fictional short story to depict Polish rescuers as sex deviants who help Jews in order to exploit them sexually, one can read a Jewish survivor state, "Not one German ever laid a finger on me … What I do hate is Ukrainians and Poles."

It's easier to hate Poles, "Bieganski" shows, exactly because of the distance between the stereotypical image of the dirty, laboring peasant, excessively religious, clinging, as Andrei Codrescu put it on NPR, to his "smoke darkened icons" and his "stink," and the modern, educated, secular person. It's difficult to accept that people who are human in the exact same way that we are human commit atrocities. It's difficult to confront the fact that we humans are attracted to power, and that Nazis, if nothing else, were very powerful. The Brute Polak image solves this problem for the contemporary Holocaust audience.

It's easier to locate evil in someone seen as utterly different from oneself, and utterly different from that which naturally attracts us. That is the reason that every ethical person, not just Poles, should care about the Bieganski stereotype. Indeed, prominent Polish Jews, including Adam Michnik, exactly on this ground of ethics and the manipulation of guilt by power groups, have spoken out against the stereotyping of Poles in the West.

Some Sexy Nazi Movies:

"The Reader." You really can't get a grip on the Holocaust until you've had a gynecologist's eye view of Kate Winslet's privates.

"Black Book." If you like seeing beautiful young women completely naked, and posed in compromising and perverse scenarios, then "Black Book" is for you.

Carice van Houten as Rachel, a Jew who falls in love with a Gestapo chief, is fully exposed on screen, and things are done to her body that I've not only not seen in movies before, I didn't think I'd ever see.

"Inglorious Basterds." As "Bieganski" records, female fans of this film decided that Christoph Waltz, as SS Colonel Hans Landa, aka "The Jew Hunter," was the sexiest thing they'd ever seen.

"Island at War." The youtube romantic tribute videos to Baron von Rheingarten, this series' sexy Nazi, are something to see. Being a mass murderer is no impediment to being a sex symbol to the discriminating BBC or PBS viewer!

"Lust Caution" "Lust Caution" has chosen a monster for its lead. In bed, though, this torturer is one of the world's great lovers. His masterful feats of lovemaking are so acrobatic you'll not be sure if you're viewing a page from the Kama Sutra or a metaphor invoking ramen noodles.

Power is attractive.

Nazis were powerful.

Nazis are attractive.

This is all very pertinent to "Bieganski."


  1. You're right, and sexy nazis are not a new trend. I remember Brando as the nazi in Young Lions, James Mason in Desert Fox, and all the sauve generals in Longest Day. I guess what's new is the anti-Polish sentiment and the guiltlessness of the nazis. People want to see a monster succeed.

  2. John, I stand corrected. I really didn't know that there were earlier sexy Nazis. It seemed to me that when I was younger, they were seen as so evil that associating Nazis with sex was taboo. But I guess not, and thank you for illustrating your point with concrete examples.

  3. Wait! I'm just now remembering Maximilian Schell in "A Bridge Too Far." He's quite evil but incredibly handsome:

  4. And we can go back. I'm thinking of Erich von Stroheim in the WWI film Grand Illusion and his earlier Merry Widows.

  5. I have seen several of the films mentioned - both new and old. It doesn't matter how handsome a Nazi may be portrayed - including Christopher Waltz ( handsome? I don't think so) I only see them as evil and with palpable fear. We have, however, generations of young people who are so removed from the horrors of the Nazi regime that they may view these movie characters just as you have stated. This is the same generation that has "fallen in love" with the vampires portrayed in novels. It is a sick thing for authors and movie makers to portray these monsters as objects of adoration.
    Waltz' farmhouse scene so exquisitely portrayed the cunning evil of the regime that I cannot imagine anyone walking away from the movie with the wish that he had succeeded, much less, the thought that he was a sexy. Hopefully I am right about that.

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  7. How do you suppose evil should be portrayed? As some homely, ugly uncouth ogre with carbuncles littering its face, drooling beneath a bridge like some uneducated troll? Evil is handsome. Evil is attractive. Evil is inviting. Evil is dressed in finery to appeal to lust disguised as love. What attracts us to Charles Laughton as The Hunchback of Notre Dame is his heart of love and compassion, not his outward appearance, even though that becomes most beautiful beautiful.

  8. Great post,as always. Very troubling. I wonder if you have any ideas about why/how Nazis can be sexy--and by this I mean is it something as simple as the aryan features which are the staple of Euro-American standards of beauty? Or is it something more insidious, like the idealogy itself? We certainly don't get that (speaking of cinema) with Soviets or Russians. Or the Japanese. Is there something inherently erotic about Nazism? That would certainly be troubling.

  9. Muse Swings, you expressed doubt that anyone would find Christoph Waltz as the "Jew Hunter" SS Col Hans Landa attractive. In fact what I've said above about his attractiveness, including as a Nazi "Jew Hunter," is well documented in the Introduction of "Bieganski." Citations are provided to online sites where his fans gather. This is not a kink or fringe group – these are mainstream film fans.

    Also, Muse Swings, you said that the phenomenon I describe is a product of young people divorced from the war by time and ease, and you cite "Twilight" style fans.

    Please see "Bieganski," the chapter that focuses on the Holocaust. You will see that elevating German Nazis while finding particular fault with Polish and other EE peasants is very much not exclusively a product of recent years. Rather, this went on during the war as well, in the writings of Nazis themselves, who consciously compared and contrasted their "civilized, decent" selves with lowly EE peasants. And you will find excerpts from the memoirs of Holocaust survivors who see the world through the same lens. Shocking, but true. Again, all amply documented. And I also document, in this blog and in the book, statements exculpating Germans/Germany and associating Poles, essentially and in perpetuity, with evil. See the interviews in "Bieganski." In one very telling interview an informant mentioned that they would NEVER travel to Poland, that cursed, tainted, evil land. But would LOVE to go back to Vienna!

    Anonymous: "How do you suppose evil should be portrayed? As some homely, ugly uncouth ogre with carbuncles littering its face, drooling beneath a bridge like some uneducated troll?"

    No one here has said anything like that, so I will refrain from responding.

    Anonymous: "Evil is handsome."

    Without pause, I name the top ten evil people I can think of in the world today: Robert Mugabe, Kim Jung Il, Ahmadinejad, John Wayne Gacy (is he still alive? Or did he receive capital punishment?) Charles Manson, Osama bin Laden, The Burmese Junta's leaders, the people recently charged with starving and torturing a little child to death in NYC … thinking of these people is making me ill. I see I don't have ten names but I'll stop, anyway.

    Top Nazis: Hitler, Goebbels, Goering, Eichmann, Himmler.

    On the other side: the man who committed mass killing in Katyn: Vasili Mikhailovich Blokhin, known as the most "prolific" mass murderer of all time. Lavrenty Beria, a serial rapist. Stalin, who, of course, was conscious of his pockmarked face.

    I didn't put a lot of thought into these lists; just typed names that came to mind. Google them. Look at their photos. Look at youtube videos of them. Look at the way they move. Then look at youtube videos of the sexy cinematic Nazis listed above, and factor in the features you have not noted: the graphic sex and love between, for example, Nazi commander and Jew. The differences are obvious.

    Myshkin, no, I don't think it has anything to do with Aryan features. I think it's much more than "skin deep." I think filmmakers are giving people what they want: the chance to embrace Nazis, a chance that conventional decency denies. Power is attractive. So is masterful behavior. Goodness is often subtle and not as cinematic as Nazism. I have so many thoughts about your post, about Nazism's inherent appeal that I'm afraid if I try to answer at length I'll be here for hours. Maybe we can meet in person some time and talk it out.

  10. Often, particularly in American productions, the Nazis are portrayed as they saw themselves, that is as representatives of a superior race and a superior ideology.
    Why? That is a complex question and Danusha's analysis in 'Bieganski' gives us part, but not the whole answer This kind of portrayal is also very much an American/Hollywood phenomenon connected to the star system, the self image of mainstream America and ideas about who constitutes the audience.

    Last night I watched a bit of Schindler's list - everyone including the Jews in the wagons looked far too clean. The lighting was too soft thus undermining the idea behind filming in black and white. Spielberg is a master technician who can tell a good story but no ideas whatsoever - what an empty shell! 'Duel' and 'Jaws' were his best films and it's been downhill ever since. Compare with Polanski's 'The Pianist', there people looked tired, frightened, hungry and desperate.
    I wonder if any of you have seen 'The Colditz Story'? There, the Polish prisoner group is portrayed with great sympathy in the trial of an informer who is sentenced to death but saved ultimately by the 'gentleman' Senior British Officer who doesn't believe in such executions.
    In the long run, negative Polish stereotypes will disappear only when a regular stream of Polish characters and stories appears on American screens. This might be hoping for a lot but Poland itself needs to play a leading role in creating such cultural products, while american Polonia should accept it's responsibility for fighting, loud and long, the use of 'Bieganski'.

  11. Peter:

    "Often, particularly in American productions, the Nazis are portrayed as they saw themselves, that is as representatives of a superior race and a superior ideology."

    Yes, thank you.

    About Spielberg being an empty shell ... well that's good for a film like "Jurassic Park." You don't want ideas getting in the way of your dinosaurs. Spielberg makes very smoothly running machines.

    I have not seen the Colditz Story.

    "american Polonia should accept it's responsibility for fighting, loud and long, the use of 'Bieganski'."

    I could not agree more.

  12. Let's not forget the uniforms! All the Nazi paraphenalia always gets top dollar on the collector circuit. So you have power, sexiness and money!

  13. You might enjoy the article "Names Will Hurt You", reviewing the book "Less than Human" in the NYT Book Review, Mar 6, 2011, p19. If the review is that good, the book must be pretty good too. Nemo

  14. Oskar Werner although no nazi was very handsome german actor,
    watch him in ship of fools, circa 1966.

  15. From reading American comics and seeing films and TV shows: I get the impression that the preference is to use 'nazis' and limit the amount of references to Germans.

    I also have read that Germans being the main enthic group in pre-WW2 America was a reason for America's belated entry into WW2. And I believe there is thinking among Americans to consider the war as beginning in 1941 after u-no-wot.


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