Afro-Germans and the Holocaust – 5
Zwischen (Between) Charleston und Stechschritt: Schwarze (Blacks) im Nationalsozialismus
This is the title of a huge book with 34 articles and several hundreds of fotos and documents from a major exhibition by the NS Documentation Center in Cologne on Blacks under the Nazis in 2004. (The Stechschritt is an especially martial way of parade-marching.) The book was edited by Christine Alonzo and Peter Martin, who is a specialist on slavery and the image of blacks in German history. He also happens to be the younger brother of my wife’s best friend, Jutta Martin.
Since Blacks and Afro-Germans were so few in Germany, they were not in the center of the Nazis’ racist activities; it was never considered to eliminate them. But they were highly important symbolically, the Nazi’s major concern being to keep them separate and not to allow any black “contamination” of the “Aryan race”. Blacks and Afro-Germans were heavily discriminated against, personal defamation or even physical attack was a constant risk. During the war, Nazi actions against blacks radicalized and many were sent to forced labor camps or to KZs.
Of the devious Nazi activities against Blacks and Afro-Germans, I want to mention two in particular. One was the forced sterilization of 385 Afro-German boys and girls, children of black soldiers, mostly in the French army which occupied the Rhineland provinces after WW I, and German women. They were called “Rhinelandbastards” and considered an especially insulting disgrace by the German right even in the Weimar Republic. In his pathological anti-Semitism, Hitler once said the Jews had brought the French blacks into Germany to undermine its “racial purity”. The sterilization took place in 1937 and was illegal even under Nazi law. (Sadly, I must mention that some of the justifications which the involved German physicians and bureaucrats used were based on US writings and practices.)
Another infamous and not well known case is the murder of quite a number of black prisoners of war in the conquest of France, many of them from Senegal. Nazi racist killings of prisoners of war, especially of Jews and Slavs, were common in the East, but they also happened elsewhere. Not only soldiers from the SS killed black French prisoners of war, but also from the regular Wehrmacht.
I want to close with a quotation from a long letter of 1934 to the Colonial Department in the Foreign Office by Kwassi Bruce, who had fought in the German colonial army in World War I and who lived in Germany with a German passport. He was a musician and, like many other blacks, could not find employment any more: “We Africans are not aware of ever having harmed the white race in general and the German Reich in particular. We never came to conquer Europe and never attempted to fight wars against it or to exploit it. Europe came to Africa! (…) Today, the blacks from the former German protectorates are standing in trust before the German people and appeal not for mercy but for justice. We remind it once more that in the hour of danger its poorest sons had been its most faithful ones. Do not forget this, Germany!”
The foto, which I have taken from the book mentioned, shows Anton de Kom, a Surinamese/Dutch intellectual and anti-slavery activist who was captured by the Gestapo in 1944. He was murdered in Sandbostel, a dependency of the KZ Neuengamme, April 29, 1945.
- Afro-Germans and the Holocaust – 3
- Afro-Germans and the Holocaust
- Afro-Germans and the Holocaust – 4
- Afro-Germans and the Holocaust – 2