Third Reich Body Worship

Science fiction, jokes and forbidden love: The book market in Nazi Germany was surprisingly varied. But perhaps the most bizarre bestseller to make it past the censors was an unabashed collection of nudist photography. It was a celebration of the Aryan body.

Photo Gallery: Naked Nazis and a Surprise Bestseller

Aus: "Mensch und Sonne" von Hans Surén

What did Germans read during the Nazi era? In search of the answer, author Christian Adam surveyed a total of 350 bestsellers from the 12 years of the Third Reich’s existence — making striking discoveries in the process. In addition to well-known propaganda books like Adolf Hitler’s "Mein Kampf" and Alfred Rosenberg’s "The Myth of the Twentieth Century," there were schmaltzy regional novels, science fiction, mysteries, love stories, joke books and cross-media marketed accompaniments to radio programs and films.

The rich variety of reading material likely arose because different censorship offices competed to have the last word on what books publishers could print, Christian says. The paradoxical effect is that some of the books printed seem surprising today. Perhaps the oddest of them all was Hans Surén’s "Mensch und Sonne," or "Humans and Sun," a collection of nude photographs that includes lyrical praise of the male member, instructions for yoga-like exercises and even naked skiing.

It could be seen as a precursor to the sexual revolution and "Freikörperkultur (FKK)," or "free body culture" of the late 1960s, if it weren’t so blatantly racist, researcher Adam told SPEIGEL ONLINE in an interview.

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