The bizarre Nazi book craze

Hitler with senior Nazis The UK's Nazi obsession is viewed with bemusement in some countries

Books about the Third Reich throng the British bestseller lists, but is it a matter of genuine historical interest or odd fetish, asks Clive Anderson.

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.

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Clive Anderson

Whether it is healthy or not for Britain's national psyche, it is certainly healthy for British publishers”

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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?

Find out more...

Nazi Gold: Publishing the Third Reich, presented by Clive Anderson, is on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday 17 March, 1130 GMT

Life in Stalin's Russia, Mao's China, and Pol Pot's Cambodia have never generated such popular interest.

It is not unreasonable that in Britain people tell and re-tell the story of World War II. It is some story.

As Winston Churchill put it 1940, just before the Battle of Britain: "If the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say 'this was their finest hour'."

The empire scarcely lasted another 30 years, but the hour continues to look finer and finer as time go by.

Signed copy of Mein Kampf Books connected with Stalin, Pol Pot or Mao are far less popular

But does this require people to pore over every last detail of life in Nazi Germany?

To be fair, the odder looking sub-genres turn out not the works of madmen but works about the madder side of the madmen in charge of the Nazi regime.

The Nazis, it seems, did experiment with flying saucers, they did consult Tibetan monks, they did devise semi-religious ceremonies, they were interested in the lost city of Atlantis, space rockets and time travel.

So there's plenty of stuff to read, and write books about. But is our obsession with their obsessions altogether healthy?

The stand-up Henning Wehn, who styles himself Germany's comedy ambassador, recounts the fact that on his first visit to Britain, he turned on the television and it happened to be showing a documentary about the war.

Popular topics

  • Nazi flying saucers
  • Nazis and the occult
  • Figures from Hitler's personal life
  • Nazi military technology

What were the chances of that? He now knows there are always programmes on about the war. Some channels seem to play nothing else.

And there are always books about the Nazis in the bookshops.

Whether it is healthy or not for Britain's national psyche, it is certainly healthy for British publishers. The top 100 books on the Third Reich have generated sales of more than £12 million.

Times are hard in publishing so they are not going to look the Nazi cash cow in the mouth.

Here is a selection of your comments.

I think part of our interest stems from liking to know about a nation/regime we defeated. The more we know about its power, knowledge and influences the more powerful we seem. Additionally I believe that there is less of a taboo surrounding the subject in England as we see our selves as the nation that defeated the Nazi's. As Churchill said, 'This was our finest hour', why should we not remember it, and be proud of it.

MR, Kent

I don't see the problem with books on the subject of the Third Reich being popular. The Nazi regime was one of, if not the most evil that has ever existed. A terrible, terrible regime that cost the lives of millions. However, that does not mean that it is not highly interesting. Whether we like it or not it is part of our history and the Nazis shaped the world we live in now. I have a collection of Nazi militaria which includes weapons, army documents, armbands, postcards, and many other items from Nazi Germany. I'm not glorifying Nazism rather just saying look these things happened and we can't change them. Holding history in your hands whether in a book or an actual item is important, valuable and essential to understand our present world.

Chris, Belfast

I have lived in Germany for just over two years now, and believe me, it isn't hard to find programmes about the War on German TV either.

Mark Grundy, Griesheim, Germany

I have a couple of titles on Hitler's Germany, as well as some on WWII and Stalin's Russia / The Cold War. My interest is in understanding the darkness that humanity is capable of, and how it can be that a population can be so apparently willingly convinced to play along. For me there is something very Jungian about it, the collective unconscious - it holds a similar fascination to the Stanford Prison Experiment: How good people can turn bad, and what it takes for them to make that transition. I think I also wonder how I myself might have coped, if at all. I find myself wondering if I could have stood up to it all, so I think in many ways its a fascination that makes us ask questions of ourselves. As to why Nazism is the most interesting, I think its as you say, the popularity of WWII. It seems to have more and deeper coverage than any other event in history.

Ross, Aberdeen

Germans seem equally interested! The last films I watched from Germany were Sophie Scholl about German students in WW2 protesting against it. The next, Der Untergang about the final days of Hitlers life. Last book I bought Hitler eine Biographie, by Joachim Fest. Every tourist shop in Cologne has postcards and placemats showing the Cathedral sticking up from the rubble.

Anthony Clapp, Wincanton

The finest, hardly read, accounts of WWII are the HMSO Official Histories. One suspects if the were rebranded as 'The War Against the Nazis' or something similar they would be bestsellers.

Andrew Stone, Greenock

Today I have heard how our pupils of the second form told each other about Nazi flying saucers. They are carried away with the secret Nazis aircraft showed on Russian television. I don't think that they perceive it seriously.

Ivan, Donetsk, Ukraine

I would think part of our national obsession with Nazi Germany also comes from our detachment from it during World War II. Only a small part of the UK was ever occupied by Nazi Germany, and the destruction caused to British cities was by Luftwaffe bombers, a harrowing event no doubt, but one in which the victim cannot identify personally their attacker. Compare this to the experiences of the French, Dutch, Belgians, Polish, Russians etc etc who experienced the brutality of the Nazis first hand, whether it was by the Wehrmacht and SS divisions, death squads or liquidation camps. Maybe it is our island detachment that leads some British to obsession with the Nazis that the continental European has little desire to be reminded of on a constant basis?

Nick Holland, Worcester

The Nazi craze is also making big money in the gaming world, look at the Call of Duty franchise Nazi Zombie success.

Keith Young, Bexley, Kent

The History Channel on cable here always shows a capital "H" in the corner. For decades we called it The Hitler Channel.

Lisa Kaye, Michigan, USA

I visited England in the 80s as part of a school exchange. There were swastikas on wall of the English school. I moved to Wales 11 years ago and people there still associate Germany with the war and Nazis. The ordinary people I have met have shown no interest in contemporary history of Germany. It is different when you go to university towns. It saddens me. Jokes about WWII are very bad taste and I do not even understand what can be funny about Dad's Army or any such nonsense. British people know names of SS officers I have not even heard of.

Annette Strauch, Machynlleth, Powys

A few months ago I gave a talk with the title 'Works of Fiction With Really Stupid Titles Or Covers Referencing the National Socialist Government of Germany 1933-1945'. The books I discussed included: I Was Himmler's Aunt; Freud and the Nazis Go Surfing; Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler; When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit; Song in a Nazi Night; Hansi, the Girl who Loved the Swastika; The Lamb and The Fuhrer: Jesus Talks with Hitler; Le Poisson Chinois a tue Hitler;

James Wallis, London, UK

When I was at middle school, I was obsessed by the Nazis even to the point where I embarrassed my family by wearing an iron cross to a restaurant. My mother made me sit down and watch the World at War episode on the concentration camps. I dropped my fascination in an instant. I was only nine.

John Connelly, Birmingham, UK

This goes beyond books as well, one only has to look at the product lines of most plastic kit manufacturers to see the preponderance of NAZI vehicles and planes (including prototypes and items that were only at the design stage) at the expense of all other periods and nations.

Al Simmons, Newbury

Here, in France, there are historical dramas, documentaries, and discussion programs on radio and TV almost every week concerning the role of France - particularly Vichy France - in the Second World War and the deportation of Jews and other acts of cooperation. The same goes for newspapers and magazines with many articles and investigative reports based on those years. Here, however, I think this is a healthy and long awaited cathartic experience for the people of France. There is certainly no equivalent Nazi fetish to that in the UK.

Stuart Hillman, Bellac, France

The purely biographical parts of Mein Kampf, the description of the infant days of the Nazi Party and the prewar context Hitler analyses are lucid and very interesting. And also rather dangerous because they inevitably humanise Hitler, which I suppose is why it is as good as banned in Germany. The long theoretical parts are indeed turgid and in places downright stupid.

harrythehorse, Taiwan

America's History Channel is obsessed about Adolf Hitler From HIGH HITLER (Adolf's drug addiction) to HITLER & THE OCCULT, US TV loves the Nazi's Even people think that Aliens and the Illuminati hephed the Third Reich build the V1 & V2 rockets. Great junk brain candy TV.

Lincoln Hudson, Las Vegas

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