Science Fiction Studies

#13 = Volume 4, Part 3 = November 1977

Rudolf Stefen

Violence in SF, and Censorship in West Germany

Translated by George Hildebrand

The Law Regarding Dissemination of Youth-Endangering Writings (hereafter GJS)1 has the task of protecting children and juveniles to the age of eighteen from writings "tending to endanger their morals" (passed 9 June 1953; proclaimed 29 April 1961; amended 2 March 1974). Its safeguards are to be enforced not by restrictions on publication or distribution but through limitations on advertising, sales, and hand-to-hand transmission; thus, adults may still purchase such material.               

Youth-endangering literature includes, to cite the GJS (Paragraph 1, Section 1, Sentence 2), "above all, writings that are immoral, brutalizing, that incite to violence, racism, and crime, or that glamorize war."               

The judgments of the Federal Bureau for the Examination of Youth-Endangering Writings (hereafter FBE)2 and the decisions of the federal courts have regularly interpreted the phrase "endangering the morals of youth" (GJS Section 1, Sentence 1) as referring to writings that tend to confound the social ethics of children and young people. "Writings" in the sense of these regulations includes tapes, films, photographs, and other media or forms of reproduction (GJS). GJS Paragraph 1, Section 2, rules explicitly that no material may be put on the index "1) only because of its political, social, religious or world-view content; 2) when it serves art, science, research, or teaching; 3) when it serves the public interest, unless the method of presentation is objectionable."                

In order to achieve its objectives, GJS (Sections 3-5) provides for certain restrictions on sales, advertising, and hand-to-hand transmission. Under threat of penalty, it is forbidden to make such writings accessible to children or juveniles, to offer it to them, or to display it in locations that juveniles can enter or look into (GJS Section 3), such as in retail outlets outside of places which the customer does not usually enter; to peddle, disseminate, or lend such writings through the mail, reading clubs or commercial lending libraries, or to store them for such purposes. Further, publishers and jobbers may not deliver to such persons or places. With the exception of trade with acceptable businesses or locations, accessible only to adults,  such literature may not be publicized or advertised.                

These restrictions apply only to writings that appear on the official list of "youth-endangering writings." According to GJS Para. 6, the restrictions hold as well for material not indexed or published on that list provided that under conditions specified by the law they exalt violence, that they incite to racial hatred, are pornographic, or otherwise manifest a serious danger to the morals of children or juveniles.                

The FBE decides which books shall be indexed. This authority is a federal high commission, legally freed from guidelines. It makes its decisions in committees of three or twelve. The committee of twelve meets once a month; it consists of the chairman, three representatives of the federal provinces (by rotation), and eight members representing the special interest groups: artists, writers, publishers, booksellers, youth associations, juvenile welfare workers, teachers, and churches (Evangelical, Jewish, Catholic, by rotation). The group representatives are proposed for three years by the federal Minister for Youth, Family, and Health. The representatives of federal units are nominated by the provincial governments, and the chairman by the federal Minister for Youth, Family, and Health. The committee of three functions with one group representative, one other member, and the chairman.                

Usually, the FBE examines a specific work only upon complaint. The right to complaint resides only with the highest provincial ministries involved with youth—mostly the Ministry of Labour—and the Federal Ministry of Youth, Family, and Health. As a rule, the ministries become active in these matters only when urged to do so by the populace, and not on their own initiative.

1. On the Definition of "Youth-Endangering." The law defines as dangerous to youth those writings that tend to confound the social ethics of children and juveniles. In a specific case it is not necessary to prove that an individual has been endangered or that the material lends itself to such a danger: it is enough to establish the probability of such a tendency. In this respect, the law distinguishes between criteria of content and criteria of effect by enumerating some examples in GJS Para. 1, Sentence 2.                

The law finds a specific work to be dangerous to youth when content analysis shows that the material: a) glorifies war or makes it appear harmless; b) represents violence against people in a brutal or otherwise callous way, thereby showing such violence to be either innocuous or glamorous; c) incites to racial hatred; or d) is pornographic in the sense of Para. 184 of the State Civil Code.                

The FBE may index literature that brutalizes or incites to violence, crime or racism only if it can establish the probability that the specified effects indeed arise. That depends largely upon whether one holds with the "catharsis theory" or the "learning theory." Those who defend the "catharsis theory" argue that aggressive presentations have a "purifying" effect—that observing violent scenes detours or "abreacts" aggressive impulses into fantasy, and therefore, they are not acted out in reality.               

Contemporary psychology considers the "catharsis theory" as obsolete, although it might admit that aggressive tendencies may be reduced in already irritated and angry observers. The "learning theory" suggests that individuals who are not in such an affective condition will probably have an augmented potential for aggression after they observe violent scenes. This theory suggests that the danger lies in learning not only a single behavioral response but also the "characteristic" of aggressivity, i.e. the readiness to act more aggressively in a variety of situations.3

2. Putting SF on the Index. In 1959 Robert Schilling, chairman of the FBE from 1953 to 1966, wrote the following:

The "futuristic" novels ("utopian" novels or "SF" novels) require some special observations. This genre is rapidly multiplying. It should be kept in mind that every month the eleven "utopia" series require twenty new novels (not including similar lending library requirements). A good SF novel demands, along with artistic ability, a genuine knowledge of science and technology; otherwise, the product is likely to be sheer nonsense. Since the number of writers satisfying both these requirements is sharply limited, it can be predicted that qualified authors will not be able to meet the increased demand of this assembly-line production.... We can fear, then, that these circumstances will bring forth a new kind of thriller, which differs from a crime-thriller only in that the exaltation of violence, the display of brutality, and the celebration of jungle-law have been transferred to an interplanetary or interstellar setting where they are executed with futuristic weapons. Youth-endangering thrillers would then simply be given a different setting.... Several years ago comics were about to evolve in a similar direction. At that time we just managed to suppress this horror-tendency in embryo. We must serve youth in a similar way with respect to SF, thereby encouraging authentic SF and fostering the genuine reading pleasure appropriate to a genre that otherwise might fall into bad repute.4

It should be emphasized that Schilling called upon all those responsible for the protection of young people to use the GJS to curb the occasional excesses and abuses of SF in order to support the genuine article and to protect it from falling into disrepute.                

In retrospect, it can be established that the FBE has never indexed significant SF literature, although it has indexed corrupt imitations. Again, I emphasize that the FBE cannot influence the number of indexations. That depends on the complaints lodged by the various ministries. It should be apparent, then, that the following cursory review of FBE judgments reflects rather inadequately the rise in the actual sales of such SF writings.

At the beginning of its mandate, the FBE had also to deal with adventure novels having SF elements. In this category the adventure novels of Hellmut Hubertus Munch deserve special mention. Intended for circulating libraries, they were published under the pseudonym of Hanns Hart in runs of 5000 by Engelbert Pfriem Publishers of Wuppertal. The writer describes the "adventures" of ex-naval Lieutenant Hart and his buddy Schorsch Berger. Along with their U-Boat crew, they fled after the war to a South Sea island, the so-called "German Atoll"; they discovered there a fortune in pearls and became incredibly wealthy. Since the crew grew afraid of American A-bomb tests, their leader sent Hart and Berger to the USA to spy out the American plans and to frustrate any tests projected near their island. In carrying out this assignment, they came into contact with the underworld. The crimes, brutality and violence that result are detailed in the series. Finding that these portrayals exalt violence and brutality, the FBE has seen fit to index the following productions of Hanns Hart: Tuomotu and Agents of Vice (FBE Decision 24, of 2.11.54); Pistol Staccato (Decision 132, 11.11.55); Outlaw Legend (Decision 145, 16.12.66); Public Enemy Unmasked (Decision 148, 13.1.56); Monarch of Space and Carnations for Nora (Decision 990, 6.10.61); Panic in the Ether (Decision 1023, 8.12.61); License to Kill...For XP3 (Decision 1054, 9.2.62).5 The publisher appealed the blacklisting of Monarch of Space and Carnations for Nora in the Cologne District Court. The judgment of the court (AZ 2 K 2131/61 or 3.7.61) confirmed the indexing of these books as follows:

In no way did the accused (the FBE) base its decision solely, as the plaintiff (publisher) alleges, on the assumption that warlike events in a futuristic setting were automatically youth-endangering. On the contrary, the FBE has explained how the probable effects of just the novel in question would tend to endanger young people in an educational and moral sense, and bring about their moral depravation. Thus, we concur with the FBE that, contrary to the contention of the plaintiff, the book contains not merely one brutal scene but multiple descriptions of brutalities.... The unremitting delineation of cold-blooded and deeply criminal acts with emphasis on minutiae and method constitutes a definite danger to the young reader. Reading such a book, the young person, who because of his youth has not yet developed mature concepts of society, law, and moral order, may suffer a misdirected moral development. He could develop false criteria regarding the morally reprehensible or acceptable action. Along with obscuring the distinction between right and wrong, the book threatens the emotional stability of young people. Its numerous and incessant atrocities raise jungle-law to an ideal, and celebrate brute force and violence as the most successful way of dealing with one's fellow man. In general, these crimes contribute to the brutalizing of youth by fostering a brutish mentality and aggressive drives. To instill a positive attitude toward violence is gravely youth-endangering. Nor are there anywhere in the novel counter-values which might offset its probable negative effects. For these reasons, the work is highly likely to endanger the morals of young people.

FBE Decisions 225 (7.9.56), 419 (15.9.57), and 428 (13.12.57) indexed the books If You've Seen One, You've Seen Them All, The Killer is Invisible, and Moon Shadows, all three from the "Crime Novels of Tomorrow" series by Allan Reed (Ravena Publishers, Basel). The point of If You've Seen One, You've Seen Them All is the annihilation of several nuclear power-stations situated in New York, Washington, Philadelphia, and Boston. A sort of deathray is beamed at the targets from a spaceship on behalf of a "second power" stationed on an artificial satellite. The book further describes three murders perpetrated by the gang, as well as numerous brutalities that arise from the gang's pursuit. In indexing the book, the FBE pointed mainly at its sadistic atrocities, citing several detailed examples in its judgment. The Killer Is Invisible focuses on a 21st-century murderer who has a machine that can make him invisible. He is "a pig who sports with chicks," a "pig" who likes to strangle naked girls. The story was indexed for its brutalizing effect.

In justifying the indexing of Moon Shadows, the FBE wrote: "A transvestite (girl) plays the criminal in this impoverished and drawn-out plot. He or she has invented a gadget that wipes out memory and alters personality, transforming victims into will-less robots directed by hypnosis. He/she criminally abuses the invention to force people to rob banks or, more commonly, to induce daughters of wealthy families to become call-girls...."        

Decision 742 (3.6.60) indexed the paperback Help From Andromeda by J.E. Wells, number 63 of the "Terra" SF series published by Moewig of Munich. The decision refers to the glamorizing of heroes who terrorize, violate, and murder; it goes on to say that "the damaging character of the work is not mitigated by its futuristic setting" and that "the presentation reminds one of the mentality shown in the horrors of the concentration camps." The publisher described the issue as a mistake and called back the remaining copies. The same title was indexed again when Hönne Publishers issued it in hardcover in 1962. Rendezvous Pito by the same writer met a similar fate. It was indexed as a book in 1959, and again when it turned up with identical content in a publication by Hönne Publishers in 1961.   Another pseudo-SF thriller by J.E. Wells was indexed by Decision 988 of 7.10.61. It takes the reader to the 11th millenium where death, the symbol of imperfection, and marriage, the symbol of obligation, have been overcome. Dr. K on the planet Genta has discovered the "electron of movement" and exploits it for criminal purposes. After having inhabitants of other planets murdered and buried, Dr. K has them transported to Genta, where he energizes the corpses with his "electron of movement." At the same time he cuts the "memory nerve" and places his reactivated victims under hypnosis, transforming them into creatures obedient to his every command. The operation changes highly intelligent men into sub-human puppets, dull, apathetic, and without memory. These zombies and a number of extraordinary robots give Dr. K unlimited power. The animated corpses vegetate in stinking barracks, and some are occasionally sent to other planets for more bodies to be resurrected into slavery. Dr. K's purpose is to make all mankind immortal and himself "Lord over Death." He is already immortal, thanks to the "electrons of movement" that he carries in his body and which make him immune to any kind of attack. Dr. K has two enemies; killed and condemned to mindless slavery, by the skill of a doctor they get their memory back and plan a horrible doom for the immortal Dr. K. A billion kilometres from Terra, they toss him out of a spaceship and abandon him to the infinity of space where time has no meaning. The book includes a chapter that explains love. One meets and loves for a few days and then one separates without any useless emotions; one marries, but one still lives an unfettered existence, viz.: "Life on Genta is great simply because of its freedom; one could label this star the 'Planet of the Shameless' had its inhabitants at all known what the word 'shame' means."                

The publisher agreed with the main criticism of the judgment, and confessed that his author had seriously erred in his "utopian" innovation, regretted that the editors had not taken exception to the book, and promised not to repeat his error.               

As a result of complaints launched by Lower Saxony and Hamburg, FBE Decision 1064 of 9.2.62 indexed the booklet Stop-Over at Callisto by Hilding Borgholm (Utopia Super Series No. 156, Pabel Press, Rastatt). The judgment reads as follows: "Both complaints rightly take exception to the nonsensical and spurious SF plot-frame, which obviously serves only to exalt in the most clumsily overt way the methods and policies of the Third Reich, the methods and slogans of the SS. Further, the book is an overt defence of convicted war criminals."                

Decision 310 (10.5.57) indexed Robert 0. Steiner's Eron, No. 9 of the Luna-Utopia Series, distributed by Lening Press in the kiosks of Hannover for 0.60 Marks. This was an abridged version of the Eron which Steiner had previously published at Commedia Press (Berlin, 1952). Despite the heavy cutting, both the FBE and the public prosecutor found the novella to be salacious. Eron is about the discovery and perfection of a serum by a Professor Wagner. The serum works to replace aggressive instincts with a greatly intensified sex-drive, "an overwhelmingly powerful appetite for the opposite sex." After experiments with animals, Wagner tries the serum on people; it surpasses his greatest expectations. This kind of writing latches on to pornography in a pseudo-SF manner. As examples I refer to Frankenstein 69 and The Sexplanet, both from Olympia Publishers and both indexed by Decision 2255, of 17.4.70. The indictment of the Westphalian Minister of Labour (with which the FBE was in full agreement) describes Frankenstein 69 as follows:

Hidden in a castle, a professor secretly manufactures in his lab some walking and talking female dolls that have special heating systems to make them capable of sexual activity. Later, the professor's wife rigs up a couple of male puppets for her own entertainment. Typical of the book's pornographic conception are phrases such as "Cock like a baby's arm with a knob like a clenched fist" (p 134). The dolls are outdone only by two water pixies, Ilona and Suleika, who sport several penises of varied length beside their vaginas. Their sexual capabilities have no limits; Ilona has coupled with a horse and would love to try out an elephant and even a whale. At one point the ocean god Triton makes a triumphal entry to the accompaniment of constructions like "cocksucker, supertit, slavering wanton, your fucking majesty."

Both the complainant and the FBE agreed that the coarseness of detail made it unlikely that lust was being portrayed ironically.                

The Sexplanet, indexed by Decision 948(V) of 21.3.72, presents a spaceship with a male and female crew plunging toward a distant planet. The crew pass the time in uninhibited sexplay; aphrodisiacs heighten their sex potential. When they land on the planet they find only abandoned cities, but eventually they do meet humanoid inhabitants. A female native begs them to save the planetary race by fertilizing herself and 300 other females preserved on ice, as their few remaining males are impotent: most of the planet's inhabitants have "fucked themselves to death" as a consequence of their inexhaustible energy. In intercourse with the humanoids, the travellers achieve orgasms of incredible magnitude. The men develop yard-long organs, and some find themselves suddenly with female genitals:

they have sex with themselves. One creature endowed with especially strong unnatural erotic powers, "the Gant," takes on the female visitors. One spacegirl after another "sighs away her life" while enjoying "infinitely extended orgasms" with the Gant. The spacemen expire from sexual exhaustion as well. The last surviving spacewoman is ejected into space together with the Gant.6

Later complaints and judgments were directed more and more against horror and vampire tales, comics, and other illustrated fiction (some of foreign origin), all of which exalted brutality and murder. Several series were blacklisted permanently, and these subsequently ceased publication. Details cannot be entered into here. I will look more closely only at one thriller from the series "Dr. Morton Horror-Crime Bestsellers" at Anne Erber Publishers, Sasbachwalden. Booklet #48 is entitled A Slaughter-Feast for Demeter—Served by Grimsby. This book tells how Grimsby administers secret doses of radiation to two hundred unsuspecting members of the Finch clan, dooming them to a slow death by cancer; the victims include an innocent waiter as well as several servants. Earlier, Grimsby had recorded on video-tape how he murdered the clan chieftain's niece, cut up her body, and dressed the flesh for a meal. At a banquet in honour of the niece's expected return, Grimsby shows the video to the family members immediately after they have dined on the murdered niece. The book sells in kiosks for DM 1.20, and it describes the screening of the film as follows:

"I'll demonstrate now how to butcher and serve a human being. The subject, as you must all know by now, is Miss Demeter Finch, your relative." One of the younger Finch girls collapsed onto the expensive Chinese carpet, but no one paid any attention to her. What they were seeing could hardly be comprehended by a human mind. Rigid, horror-struck, frenzied, they saw how Grimsby executed Demeter Finch and heard his monotonous voice commenting on this or that cut. They saw how Demeter's blood gushed, much like that of a stuck pig. The well-made video-tape showed everything in consummate detail. Grimsby began to carve up the pale, bloodless corpse. He trimmed off the head, the arms, and the legs. He slit open the trunk and removed the internal organs. It was a regular slaughter-feast, an experience like those the Finches had had on the farm. Only this time not a beast but a human being was the sacrifice. And not just any person, but Demeter Finch, the clan chieftain's favorite, the light of his last years, she who meant everything to him.... The scene shifted to the kitchen showing Grimsby standing beside trays of flesh, all parts of Demeter Finch's body trimmed and ready for.... He was preparing a banquet, taking from the girl's body all the meat required for the entrée, the soup, and the main dish. He expounded and demonstrated. How difficult it was to give the faintly sweet human flesh the taste of beef, veal, or pork! What pains he had taken, he confessed, to plan the menu so that no one would become suspicious. After all, human flesh does not have the same texture as beef. "I did want you to enjoy your family member," said Grimsby with a chuckle.


1. Das Gesetz über die Verbreitung jugendgefährdender Schriften.                

2. Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Schriften.                

3. See Herbert Selg, Zur Aggression verdammt? (Stuttgart, 1975), 4th ed.; Rudolf Stefen, "Der Film—ein Medium fur Porno und Gewaltverherrlichung: Ein Bericht zum Theme 'Filmszene und Jugendschutz,'" Herder-Korrespondenz, No. 12(1975), pp 600ff.                

4. Robert Schilling, Literarischer Jugendschutz: Theorie und Praxis, Strategie und Taktik einer Wirksamen Gefahrenabwehr, (Luchterhand, 1959), p 82. For an analysis of a SF thriller, see Robert Schilling, "Utopia—ein neues Gebiet für Schundautoren," Jugendliteratur, 1(1959), pp 8ff.                 5

5. All originally German titles have been translated to give a better idea of the contents.—GH.                

6. The Sexplanet has been published in English: Peter Kanto, World Where Sex Was Born (New York: Ophelia Press, Inc., affiliated with the Olympia Press, nd [circa 1970]). Vanvogtian in narrative style, and quite idiomatic (i.e. it does not read like a translation), I assume that it is American in origin.—RDM.

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