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Fri, 01.27.1933

Black History in Nazi Germany, a story

*On this date (Holocaust Remembrance Day) from 1933, the Registry looks into the Black history of Nazi Germany.

The Nazis seize power on January 30 of that year with Adolph Hitler’s appointment as chancellor. Following the Reichstag fire on February 27, basic civil rights are suspended. On February 28, the Nazis took control of the state apparatus. Leftist political parties were banned, Germany is declared a one-party state, Jews and leftists, including Blacks, are eliminated from the bureaucracy, and trade unions are dissolved and replaced with Nazi organizations. Police rounded up thousands of political opponents, detaining them without trial in concentration camps. The Nazi regime also implemented racial policies to "purify" and strengthen the Germanic "Aryan" population.

During the 1920s, 24,000 Blacks were living in Germany, and many were eventually caught unaware of the events of the Holocaust. Like most West European nations, Germany established colonies in Africa after the Berlin Conference. in what later became Togo, Cameroon, SPAN Namibia, and Tanzania. German genetic experiments began there, most notably involving prisoners taken from the 1904 Herero Genocide that left over 60,000 Africans dead following a 4-year revolt against German colonization. After the shellacking Germany received in World War I, it was stripped of its African colonies in 1918. As a spoil of war, the French were allowed to occupy Germany in the Rhineland, a bitter piece of real estate that has gone back and forth between the two nations for centuries. The French willfully deployed their own colonized African soldiers as the occupying force. Germans viewed this as the final insult of World War I, and soon thereafter, 92% voted for the Nazi party.

Hitler had a white vision of a Master Race of Aryans that would control Europe. He used powerful propaganda techniques to convince the German people and countless others that if they eliminated the people who stood in their way and the degenerates and racially inferior, they, "the great Germans," would prosper. This included mandatory Sterilization for Black Youth. Before World War I, there were very few dark-skinned people of African descent in Germany. But, during World War I, the French brought in Black African soldiers during the Allied occupation. Most Germans, who were very race-conscious, despised the dark-skinned "invasion." Some of these black soldiers married white German women that bore children referred to as "Rhineland Bastards" or the "Black Disgrace." On May 13, 1931, the International Olympic Committee, headed by Count Henri Baillet-Latour of Belgium, awarded the 1936 Summer Olympics to Berlin. The choice signaled Germany's return to the world community after its defeat in World War I.   In the months and years that followed, Germany proceeded to oppress and murder Jews, Blacks, and non-Aryans. 

On July 14th, 1933, they enacted a new law providing a basis for the forced sterilization of handicapped persons, Gypsies, and Blacks. After the International Olympic Committee put concerns about the safety of Black athletes in Nazi Germany to rest, most African American newspapers opposed a boycott of the 1936 Olympics. Black journalists often underscored the hypocrisy of pro-boycotters who did not first address the problem of discrimination against Black athletes in the United States. Writers for such papers as The Philadelphia Tribune and The Chicago Defender argued that athletic victories by Blacks would undermine Nazi racial views of "Aryan" supremacy and foster a new sense of Black pride at home. In the end, 18 African Americans, 16 men and two women, went to Berlin, triple the number who had competed for the United States in the 1932 Los Angeles Games. That all of these athletes came from predominantly white universities demonstrated to many Black journalists the inferiority of training equipment and facilities at Black colleges where the vast majority of African American students were educated in the 1930s.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote about his plans for these "Rhineland Bastards." When he came to power, one of his first directives was aimed at these mixed-race children. Underscoring Hitler's obsession with racial purity, by 1937, every identified mixed-race child in the Rhineland had been forcibly sterilized to prevent further "race to pollute," as Hitler termed it. Hitler considered them an "insult" to the German nation. "The mulatto children came about through rape, or the white mother was a whore," Hitler wrote. "In both cases, there is not the slightest moral duty regarding these offspring of a foreign race." 

The Nazis set up a secret group, Commission Number 3, to organize the sterilization of these offspring to keep the purity of the Aryan race intact. In 1937, all local authorities in Germany were to submit a list of all children of African descent. Then, these children were taken from their homes or schools without parental permission and put before the commission. Once a child was decided to be of Black descent, the child was taken immediately to a hospital and sterilized. About 400 children were medically sterilized many times without their parent's knowledge.   

Hans Hauck, a Black Holocaust survivor and a victim of its sterilization program, explained in the film "Hitler's Forgotten Victims" that when he was forced to undergo sterilization as a teenager, he was given no anesthetic. Once he received his sterilization certificate, he was "free to go" so long as he agreed to have no sexual relations with Germans. Most Black Germans attempted to escape to France, where Josephine Baker and others ran a French Underground; many still encountered problems elsewhere. Many nations shut their doors to all Germans, including the Blacks. Some Black Germans could earn a living during Hitler's reign of terror by performing in Vaudeville shows. Still, many Blacks, steadfast in their belief that they were German first, Black second, opted to remain in Germany. Some fought with the Nazis (a few even became Luftwaffe pilots!

Many Black German citizens were also arrested, charged with treason, and shipped to concentration camps. Often these trains were so packed with people and (equipped with no bathroom facilities or food), that, after the four-day journey, box car doors were opened to piles of the dead and dying. Once inside the concentration camps, Blacks were given the worst jobs conceivable. Some African American soldiers, captured and held as prisoners of war, recounted being starved and forced into dangerous labor (violating the Geneva Convention). Still, Black German concentration camp detainees were forced to do the unthinkable, man the crematoriums, and work in labs where genetic experiments were being conducted. As a final sacrifice, these Blacks were killed every three months so they would never be able to reveal the inner workings of the "Final Solution."

In most accounts of Black oppression, they found a way to survive and rescue others. As a case in point, consider Johnny Voste (article image), a Belgian resistance fighter who was arrested in 1942 for alleged sabotage and then shipped to Dachau. One of his jobs was stacking vitamin crates. Risking his own life, he distributed hundreds of vitamins to camp detainees, saving the lives of many starving, weak, and ill conditions exacerbated by extreme vitamin deficiencies. His motto was, "No, you can't have my life; I will fight for it." According to Essex University's Delroy Constantine-Simms, there were Black Germans who resisted Nazi Germany, such as Lari Gilges, who founded the Northwest Rann, an organization of entertainers that fought the Nazis in his hometown of Dusseldorf and who was murdered by the SS in 1933, the year that Hitler came into power.

*During World War II, the Nazi Party adopted and developed several pseudoscientific racial classifications to justify the mass murder of people the Nazis deemed "inferior." The Nazis considered the putative "Aryan race" to be the "superior" or "master race" while defining Slavs, Gypsies, Jews, and Blacks as racially inferior "sub-humans," suitable only for slave labor and extermination. These beliefs stemmed from a mixture of 19th-century anthropology, scientific racism, and anti-Semitism.  Different Nazis offered a range of pseudo-religious or pseudoscientific arguments to prove the Aryan people were superior.

Officials espoused the central dogma of Aryan superiority throughout the party.  Cinema was also used to promote racist theories under Joseph Goebbels' Propaganda ministerium. The German Hygiene Museum in Dresden diffused racial theories. A 1934 poster of the museum shows a man with distinctly African features and reads, "If this man had been sterilized, there would not have been born ... 12 hereditarily diseased."  According to the current director Klaus Voegel, "The Hygiene Museum was not a criminal institute in the sense that people were killed here," but "it helped to shape the idea of which lives were worthy and which were worthless."  

J. Kaup led a movement opposed to Günther. Kaup believed that the German nation, all of whose citizens belonged to a "German race" in a population sense, offering a more convenient sociotechnical tool than Günther's concept of an ideal Nordic type to which only a very few Germans could belong. Nazi legislation identifying the ethnic and "racial" affinities of the Jews reflects the populationist concept of race. Discrimination was not restricted to Jews who belonged to the "Semitic-Oriental-Armenoid" and/or "Nubian-African/Negroid" races but was directed against all members of the Jewish ethnic population. Also, in 1938, the boxing victory of Joe Louis over Max Schmeling gave America another black citizen to equate to democratic pride.

The Black experience during the Third Reich is small compared to the number of casualties of the Jewish experience. Unlike Jews (in Israel and Germany), Black Germans received no war reparations because their German citizenship was revoked (even though they were German-born). The only pension they get is from those of us who are willing to tell the world their stories and continue their battle for recognition and compensation. So much of Black history is lost to us because Blacks often don't write the history books, don't film documentaries, or don't pass the accounts down from generation to generation. One documentary telling viewers to "Always Remember" is " Black Survivors of the Holocaust" (1997). Outside the U.S., the film is entitled "Hitler's Forgotten Victims" (Afro-Wisdom Productions). It codifies the black dimension to the "Never Forget" Holocaust story. 

Author Hans Massaquoi brings out many Black views of what happened during the Nazi regime in his book Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany 1999. Yet the Black history of these times also includes the brutal treatment of the Herero people before WW II in the (then) German colony of southwest Namibia. Additionally, when African American allied soldiers were caught behind enemy lines during the war, racial abuse was inflicted on top of their prisoner-of-war status. In 1937, nearly 385 Black German children disappeared without a trace. In Europe, the memory of the Third Reich still induces pain. Annually on Veterans Day, millions of families all over Europe still mourn lost loved ones, many of whom were Black. NEVER FORGET



Jewish Virtual


Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany
by Hans Massaquoi
Copyright February 1, 2001

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