The British And Their Bizarre Nazi Book Craze

golfing for catsGrowing up in 1970s Britain, it was a given that classic World War II movies like Where Eagles Dare and The Battle of Britain would play over and over again on our handful of channels, and WWII comics were ubiquitous among kids, usually with German soldiers spouting ridiculous phrases like “Achtung! Englischer Schweinhunds!” in most every panel.

I thought those days had passed, though, as the long shadow of that war gradually faded. Apparently not: Clive Anderson details the strange and continuing British fascination with the Nazis for the BBC News Magazine:

The late Alan Coren famously published a collection of humorous pieces in book form, called Golfing for Cats. And he put a swastika on the front cover. He had noticed the most popular titles in Britain in those days were about cats, golf and Nazis.

That was in 1975. Thirty-six years on – and now more than 60 years since the end of World War II – Nazi books are going stronger than ever. A staggering 850 books about the Third Reich were published in 2010, up from 350 in the year 2000.

And they mostly still have a swastika on the front cover.

The phenomenal and continuing success of books about the Nazis includes fiction, non-fiction and science fiction.

They include the occult and the Nazis, Nazi magic, Nazi weaponry and Nazi doctors. There’s the history of SS uniforms, SS staff cars, SS recruitment and propaganda.

You can read counter histories imagining Britain if the Nazis had won or post-war histories of the exploitation of Nazi scientific discoveries by America and the other Allied powers.

There is a first hand account of Himmler’s masseur. There are serious histories, adventures with the Panzer Division, and secrets of the Gestapo.

Collectible Spoons of the 3rd Reich by James Yannes is not an invention of Private Eye but a work, I suppose, of genuine scholarship. There’s even a book about the Fuhrer’s own collection of books – Hitler’s Private Library.

So what is going on here? Are British book-buyers still looking for a warning from history or are some of them attracted by the ghastly glamour of history’s most evil baddies?

Are some readers indulging some form of Nazi fetish? Some enthusiasts track down first editions of Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

Is that necessary to understand the workings of a deranged mind, or something bordering on hero worship?…

[continues in the BBC News Magazine]

, , , ,

  • justagirl

    i don’t know about all that, but, c. williams is a goof!

  • justagirl

    i don’t know about all that, but, c. williams is a goof!

  • Butter Knife

    It’s only natural, what, with the global rise of neo-fascism and right-wing extremism, that people would take an interest in the subject.

    Oh, and given that the U.S.’ so-called “History Channel” would be more aptly named “Hitler Channel” for all of the Third Reich-themed shows they run, I think it’s safe to say this is not an exclusively British phenomenon.

  • Butter Knife

    It’s only natural, what, with the global rise of neo-fascism and right-wing extremism, that people would take an interest in the subject.

    Oh, and given that the U.S.’ so-called “History Channel” would be more aptly named “Hitler Channel” for all of the Third Reich-themed shows they run, I think it’s safe to say this is not an exclusively British phenomenon.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Well, I think the cultural fascination was mutual. Many high-ranking Nazis were unabashed in their admiration of Britain’s “horsey set”.

    Ian Kershaw’s “The Nazis: A Warning From History” discussed this at some length, citing the examples of von Ribbentrop’s not-entirely successful attempts to fit in as ambasador to London, Hitler’s enjoyment of films glorifying the crushing of rebellions in India, etc., etc.

    Not to be too reductivist about this, because I am a bit of an Anglophile myself, to some extent, but this is hardly surprising. The vicarious endulgence in one another’s imperialist fantasies while paradoxically being able to disavow the same through appeals to hoary old jingoistic tropes. It’s a very sick and ultimately self-defeating type of fantasy, though.

    ‘Cause, just like Butter Knife said, it does seem to represent a romanticization of the fascist era.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Well, I think the cultural fascination was mutual. Many high-ranking Nazis were unabashed in their admiration of Britain’s “horsey set”.

    Ian Kershaw’s “The Nazis: A Warning From History” discussed this at some length, citing the examples of von Ribbentrop’s not-entirely successful attempts to fit in as ambasador to London, Hitler’s enjoyment of films glorifying the crushing of rebellions in India, etc., etc.

    Not to be too reductivist about this, because I am a bit of an Anglophile myself, to some extent, but this is hardly surprising. The vicarious endulgence in one another’s imperialist fantasies while paradoxically being able to disavow the same through appeals to hoary old jingoistic tropes. It’s a very sick and ultimately self-defeating type of fantasy, though.

    ‘Cause, just like Butter Knife said, it does seem to represent a romanticization of the fascist era.

21