Black Germans and the Holocaust

14 January 2015 by Sam

German wartime identity card with portrait photo of a Black woman

The International Slavery Museum will be marking Holocaust Memorial Day on Tuesday 27 January 2015 with a special free guest lecture by Professor Eve Rosenhaft from the University of Liverpool, who will be talking about the experiences of the Black German community during the Holocaust.

Eve tells us more:

“When Hitler came to power in 1933, there were a several thousand people of African descent in Germany. They included African Americans, African-Caribbean and Africans passing through, working or recently settled, but the core of Germany’s Black community was made up of men from Germany’s former colonies – East Africa, Togo, and especially Cameroon – with their German-born wives and ‘mixed-race’ children.

This talk focuses on those families. While Hitler was still hoping to recover colonies in Africa, the Nazis hoped to make use of them for political propaganda. But ‘mixed’ families represented a particular challenge to Nazi racial policies, and in the long run they suffered exclusion, harassment, internment, and compulsory sterilisation. At the same time people’s experiences were varied and sometimes adventurous. Most individuals survived in Germany or as emigrants, thanks to support from other members of the community and from their families, though the community itself came out of World War II largely broken and scattered.

For example, one of the people I will be talking about will be the African-German woman pictured here. This is a document from Berlin that identifies the bearer as a victim of Nazi persecution.  These were issued after World War II in many parts of Germany and entitled the bearer to claim certain benefits.

Tracing the histories of these ordinary people in extraordinary times has involved research in Cameroonian, German, French, Russian, British, American, and Dutch archives over nearly ten years. Their personal stories have been pieced together from memoirs, interviews and official documents. They give us a new perspective not only on the nature of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust but also on how a Black Europe might have looked in the mid-20th century had it not been for Hitler’s racial crusade.”

Black Germans and the Holocaust, 2pm, Tuesday 27 January 2015 in the Martin Luther King Jr building (the former Dock Traffic Office building opposite the Pump House in the Albert Dock). This is a free talk, all are welcome.

  1. Florence Rush White says:

    Interesting! I have never heard of African Germans during the Holocaust. I trust this guest lecture on Holocaust Memorial Day will be on the web.

  2. KAY CAREY says:

    Yes, I would be interested in a written transcript (PDF file is ok), since I have trouble downloading & understanding most oral videos when played on my computer…
    I am also tracking some of the German ancestry groups who were brought back into the 3rd Reich from historical colonies in Eastern Europe as part of Hitler’s Greater Aryan Nation scheme.
    I wonder how different these groups’ experiences were.

    • Sam says:

      That also sounds like very interesting research. We have asked the lecturer for a transcript, so if one is available then we will add it to the website after the lecture.

    • Eve Rosenhaft says:

      A very interesting subject. The Nazi project of ‘repatriating’ ‘Aryan’ blood did affect black Germans who had fled abroad: In the occupied countries, the Gestapo sought out German women married to foreigners with a view to taking them back to Germany. We know of at least one white German woman who had emigrated from Germany with her Cameroonian-born husband, and was visited by Gestapo officers in Paris demanding that she abandon her husband and their son.

  3. John says:

    I hope that this presentation will be videoed and released so that those of us unable to attend will be able to learn about this.

    • Sam says:

      There are no plans to video this lecture but we have asked the lecturer for a transcript, so if one is available then we will definitely publish it on the website afterwards.

  4. Michael Goepfert says:

    DId not some black Germans descend from unions between black-african French soldiers occupying the ‘Saarland’ after WWi, and their German girlfriends?

  5. Michael Goepfert says:

    I thought there was a considerable number of black Germans resulting from the post-WWI French occupation army of the Saarland, also?

    • Eve Rosenhaft says:

      Yes, after World War I the Rhineland was occupied by French troops. These included soldiers from France’s colonies – North Africans, Sub-Saharan Africans and also East Asians. Their presence on German soil was the subject of a virulently racist propaganda campaign in Germany, which gained some international support from people who felt that the terms of the peace treaty had been too harsh and sympathised with the humiliation that Germany had suffered. The ‘Schwarze Schmach’ or ‘Black Horror’ campaign contributed to a general upsurge of racist sentiment and anxiety about sexual relationships between black men and white women the 1920s. Several hundred children were born to German women who had relationships with the French colonial soldiers (not all of them black), and as they came to adolescence in the 1930s the German authorities began to discuss the possibility of sterilising them. In 1937 these ‘Rhineland Children’ were forcibly sterilised in a secret action sanctioned by the government. As far as we know most of them lived to grow up, but they had little or no contact with other black Germans. Tina Campt’s book Other Germans focuses on interviews with one of the survivors, Hans Hauck.

    • Alex says:

      Yes, the Rhineland Children of the French African soldiers account for many African-Germans but they came to exist in Germany before that. The stories are wide and diverse and much more surprising than you would think. They cannot possible capture every aspect of this history in one swoop.

  6. Sam says:

    The transcript of Eve’s lecture is now available to download:

(Comments are closed for this post.)

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