Afro-Germans and the Holocaust
I have just read a review, in the New York Review of Books, of a new biography of Barack Obama’s mother, a remarkable woman. She lived and worked in Indonesia for a couple of years, together with her son, until she sent him back to Hawaii to her parents. I had not known that skin color was (and perhaps still is) a very important social marker in Indonesia as well. The review led my thoughts back to the situation of Afro-Germans during the Nazi era. I had already seen a film based on a famous book by Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi, who survived with the help of his strong mother and other family and friends and left Germany after the war to work in the US as a journalist for Ebony. The book’s title is “Neger, Neger, Schornsteinfeger” (negro, negro, chimney sweeper), a racist nonsense rhyme of the time.
In the 1930s, about 3000 “Blacks” lived in Germany. Some came from the former German colonies in Africa, others were children of liaisons between black soldiers in the French occupation forces (after the First World War) or African/Afro-American diplomats/business men and German women.
Gert Schramm, e.g., born in 1928, was the son of an American engineer and a German lady from Erfurt in Thuringia. The Nazis imprisoned him in 1943 when he was 14 and later sent him to Buchenwald. According to the Reichsrasssegesetz (The Reich’s Race Law) he was “eine Gefahr für Volk und Staat” (a danger for the German people and state). As he said in an interview for the Frankfurter Rundschau (April 2nd/3rd, p. 24), he only survived “because of the Communists” – older prisoners who helped him find easier work in the tool shed and kept him out of sight of the SS. His father, who came back to Thuringia in 1943, was also captured by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz. He left no trace, i.e. he was murdered.
After the war, Gert Schramm worked as an interpreter for the Soviet Military Administration in Germany, as a miner in France, in the Erzgebirge (the mountains in the south of Thuringia), and in Essen in the Ruhr-Valley. In the 60s, he went back to East Germany where he founded a taxi company before the end of the regime. Gert Schramm has four children, many grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. When asked in the interview, whether he had ever thought of leaving Germany, the country which had almost murdered him and even after the Nazi era had called him a “negro-bastard” in an official letter, he answered “no”. A couple of years ago, when a right-winger shouted at him: “I am proud to be a German,”he shouted back: “Me too, blockhead.” If you want to know whether he feels accepted in Germany, he will say “yes, yes, yes.” His autobiography Wer hat Angst vorm schwarzen Mann. Mein Leben in Deutschland (Who Is Afraid of the Black Man: My Life in Germany) has just been published.