The fate of Hitler’s Black victims--whether Afro-German or African-American soldiers and citizens--is often overlooked in studies of World War II. The genocide of six million Jews is the central tragedy of the Holocaust and more recent studies point to the persecution of the disabled and homosexuals. Yet there is much more to be learned about Nazism from research on Nazi racial policies, particularly regarding Afro-Germans. Racial prejudices in Germany grew dramatically after World War I, as did anti-Semitism. Those who had lived in German colonies in Africa lost their positions under the 1919 Treaty of Versailles and brought back racist ideologies. Racial hysteria erupted with the occupation of the Rhineland by African and South Asian soldiers in the French colonial army, who were enforcing the reparations. The Nazis tragically built on this pre-existing German and Anglo-Saxon fear, distrust and hatred of Blacks to justify even greater persecution. By 1937, the sterilization of and then murder of hundreds of Afro-Germans as well as black soldiers became an important, tragic and still misunderstood component of Nazi policy.
The “Black Horror: on the Rhine: German and U.S. Race Propaganda
Interracial relationships between German women in the Rhineland and Senegalese or other African soldiers from the French army led to the birth of several hundred mixed race Afro-German children. These families and their children brought a new identity to interwar Germany.
However, some Germans, as well as Americans and British journalists and activists, used these relationships for their racist propaganda. They made films (such as “Black Horror on the Rhine”) and posters depicting Black soldiers as rapists who were a threat to the “purity” of white women and carriers of deadly venereal diseases. This racist propaganda was amplified by racist white Americans, as had been the case with the 1915 film Birth Of A Nation. That film was shown by the racist president Woodrow Wilson in the White House during his presidency and led to a rebirth of the KKK. White American racists influenced German and Nazi scientists, politicians and others and vice versa. America’s one drop rule and laws against intermarriage between the races influenced the Nazis when they drafted the Numenberg Laws (German laws that discriminated against Blacks, Jews, and other minorities). Additionally, Hitler blamed the Jews for African soldiers being stationed and reproducing in Germany with German women. Afro German children who were a product of these relationships, were referred to as “Rhineland Bastards’’ and were seen as a threat to the “racial purity” of Germany.
The Rise of Nazism and Racism, 1933-41
Unfortunately, Afro German children were isolated from German society- they could not go to German universities, they were barred from numerous jobs, and banned from the military. Intermarriage with blacks was made illegal in 1935 as an additional part of the Nuremberg Laws. Black people were banned from publicly performing in 1939 and going to school in state schools in Austria/Germany in 1939/1941. This was justified by a racist German scientist and member of the Nazsi party, Eugen Fischer, who lectured on June 20th, 1939 to argue that black people are “inferior” and should be “suppressed” (Kestling, 34).
Theodor Wonja Michael grew up in Nazi Germany, the product of a Cameroonian father and a German woman (Zane, BBC). Throughout his youth, he appeared in human exhibit shows and his black father could not get employment anywhere because of his race (Zane, BBC). In a BBC article he describes his experiences of black people in these human exhibits: "the idea was that people on display were foreign, exotic and were showing spectators what their homeland was like," he states. "Basically it was just a big show" (Zane, BBC). He also stated that, “I avoided all contact with white women. That would have been horrible. I would have been sterilised and I might also have been charged with racial defilement.” (Zane, BBC).
The persecution soon escalated to sterilization. A German doctor Dr. Hans Maco supported and encouraged sterilization in Afro German children in 1933 (Kestling, 89). The Nazis rounded up 365 Afro-German children who were sterilized by German doctors in 1937. One victim of sterilization was Hans Hauck, the son of white German woman and an Algerian man- taken without consent or permission to get an unprecedented vasectomy. After his vasectomy, he was forced to sign an agreement that stated he would not have sexual intercousse or romantic relations with people of German heritage. In addition, in the files of the Reich Ministry of Interior files, one Afro-German girl named Marianne Braun who whose father was a from a French colonial African country and stationed in Rhineland, was admitted to a Main State Hospital. There in the hospital she was sterilized on June 3rd, 1937 (Kestling, 90).
Others disappeared at the hands of the Gestapo or the SS, and there were Afro Germans sent to concentration camps. A concentration camp survivor, Jan Wosczyk, witnessed Afro-Germans in the concentration camp she was in (Chicago, Kestling, 90). Another victim of the Nazi regime , Hilarius Gildge, was tortured and murdered by six SS members (Oduah, HuffPost). Hilarius was from a working class family and a memberber of a local communist party. Fortunately, today there is a plaza in his hometown of Dusseldorf to commemorate his life. He is survived by his two children and wife who recieved money from the state as compensation for his murder.
An Afro-German of Cameroonian and German heritage, Soya K., was expelled from high school for being black after Hitler came to power. She could not get any jobs due to her skin color so she moved to France and performed on stage as a dancer. When she returned to Germany, she had to provide evidence that she was “Aryan”(Eve Rosenhaft, Black Germany). The German government did a background check on her family and discovered her father was baptised as a Jew so she was banned from performing on stage, and her mother was forced to work hard labour. Adding to the complications was that Soya K. became impregnated by her partner, white German man, in 1941. As a result of this, she had to meet with the Gestapo in a meeting where she was threatened with sterilization. After that, Soya K. lived underground illegally in Berlin and then eventually moved to Prague with her partner, where she was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944 (Eve Rosenhaft, Black Germany). During her imprisonment, she tortured and contracted tuberculosis. She was not released until the liberation was secured.
WWII Beyond Afro-Germans
Black Americans, Black British soldiers, and even Black American entertainers were not exempt from Nazi racist ideologies and persecution. A Black American jazz singer, Valaida Snow was placed in a concentration camp during a tour in Europe for not only being black but also lesbian (Monroe, Bilerico Report). She spent two years in a concentration camp. When she was released, she was malnourished, weighed only 65 pounds and never the same again (Monroe, Bilerico Report). Another example is performer and WW1 vet, Mohamed Husen, born in what is now Tanzania. Interestingly, he contributed to the German colonialism movement and supported human zoos. But he was later sent to a concentration camp Sachsenhausen by the Gestapo for having sexual/marital relations with white women (he several children by his white wife and white mistress). He eventually died there in 1949 and today he has a monument honoring him (MMEDIA RSS). Furthermore, in 1945, a witness saw a Black American airman get brutally executed by the citizens of a German town called Iserlohn at the demand of the Gestapo. Unfortunately no one was ever charged for the heinous crime (Kestling, 33). In addition, numerous Black British soldiers were worked or starved to death in concentration camps as well as German, war prison camps.
Written and researched by Enyonam Agbemadzo
References for further research
Aitken, Robbie, and Eve Rosenhaft. Black Germany: The Making and. Unmaking of a Diaspora Community, 1884-1960. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gbadamosi, Nosmot. “Human Exhibits and Sterilization: The Fate of Afro-Germans under Nazis.” CNN. Cable News Network, July 26, 2017. https://www.cnn.com/2017/07/21/world/black-during-the-holocaust-rhineland-children-film/index.html.
Kestling, Robert W. “Blacks Under the Swastika: A Research Note.” The Journal of Negro History 83, no. 1 (1998): 84–99. https://doi.org/10.2307/2668561.
Clarence Lusane. The Historical Experiences of Afro-Germans, European Blacks, Africans, and African Americans in the Nazi Era. London:Routledge, 2002.
“KZ Buchenwald: Gert Schramm – Ein Afro-Deutscher Überlebte.” MMEDIA RSS. Accessed November 11, 2019. http://www.m-media.or.at/welt/europa/kz-buchenwald-gert-schramm-ein-afro-deutscher-uberlebte/2012/05/08/index.html.
Monroe, Rev Irene. “Valaida Snow: Black and Queer in Nazi Germany?!” Bilerico Report / LGBTQ Nation. Accessed November 11, 2019. http://bilerico.lgbtqnation.com/2008/02/valaida_snow_black_and_queer_in_nazi_ger.php#80Soo81M6JKxc1Hq.99.
Museum, US Holocaust Memorial. “How Nazi Germany Weaponized the Race Card against the US Army.” Medium. Medium, February 21, 2017. https://medium.com/@HolocaustMuseum/the-nazi-plan-to-divide-and-conquer-the-us-army-296a3c97fb54.
Nelson, Keith L. “The ‘Black Horror on the Rhine’: Race as a Factor in Post-World War I Diplomacy.” The Journal of Modern History (Dec. 1970), 606-627.
Oduah, Chika. “The Afro-German Experience Under Hitler.” HuffPost. HuffPost, December 7, 2017. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-afrogerman-experience_b_9234700.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Accessed October 23, 2019. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/blacks-during-the-holocaust-era.
Zane, Damian. “Being Black in Nazi Germany.” BBC News. BBC, May 22, 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-48273570.