It appears the Third Reich pioneered one of the weirder sides of human sexuality—catering to the need of lonely men to have intercourse with inflatable playthings.

According to Mussolini’s Barber, a new book by Graeme Donald documenting bizarre episodes from military history, the Nazi sex doll project was launched in response to concerns that German soldiers might contract venereal diseases from prostitutes and loose women while occupying foreign countries and, uh, doing the Nazi nasty. In 1940 Heinrich Himmler, boss of the elite-and-terrifying S.S., got the go-ahead from Hitler for the “Borghild Project” to create a not-quite-life-size “gynoid” doll to provide German soldiers with inanimate company on those long occupation nights.

For extra creepiness, the blond-haired, blue-eyed dollar doll was otherwise left featureless in the facial area, supposedly to allow soldiers to picture their own wives, girlfriends, or favorite celebrities. Actually, this may have just been an excuse: apparently the designers wanted to use the visage of a famous Hungarian actress, Kathe von Nagy, but were rebuffed (surprise).

50 prototype sex dolls were eventually produced, but the sex doll program was ultimately scrapped in 1942 because soldiers were too embarrassed to carry the “comforters” into combat with them. It also seems pretty unlikely that men might be persuaded to settle for dolls when millions of real women were in the vicinity. Of course, given the brutality of German occupation policy (especially in Eastern Europe), rape was very commonplace as well.

Himmler’s weird pilot project reflects a number of Nazi obsessions -- principally with venereal diseases and racial purity. Hitler was consumed by the notion that German “blood” was being “contaminated” by interbreeding with supposedly inferior races, including “subhuman” Slavs, “degenerate” Latins, and Jews, whom he compared to plague bacilli. In his warped imagination, racial inferiority went hand-in-hand with the prevalence of venereal diseases, especially syphilis, which he believed was endemic to non-Aryan populations, and also threatened to destroy Germany’s precious Aryan racial stock.