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Fri, 01.27.1933

Black History in Nazi Germany, a brief story

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

The Nazis seized power on January 30, of that year with Adolph Hitler’s appointment as chancellor. Following the Reichstag fire on February 27 basic civil rights were 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 put into practice racial policies that aimed to "purify" and strengthen the Germanic "Aryan" population. Hitler had a vision of a Master Race of Aryans that would control Europe. He used powerful propaganda techniques to convince not only the German people, but 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.

Prior to 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 of the 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 defeat in World War I.

In the months and years that followed, Germany proceeded to oppress and murder Blacks and other non-Aryans. On July 14th 1933, they enacted a new law providing a basis for 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 2 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 his book Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that he would eliminate all the children born of African-German descent because he 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 intact the purity of the Aryan race. In 1937, all local authorities in Germany were to submit a list of all the 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 parents' knowledge.

The Black experience during the Third Reich is a missing one, mainly due to the comparatively small number of casualties compared to the Jewish loss. Many stories of what happened during the Nazi regime are brought out by author Hans Massaquoi (Child photo shown) 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 with out 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.

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


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