Tag Archives: Afro-German

Relations between Black people and non-Black people of color in the German context

Hello and welcome back!

In this blog I want to describe how I personally see and experience the relations between Black people in Germany and non-Black people of color.

One of the biggest communities of color in Germany are Turkish communities. As Black people do the Turkish community experience a big amount of discrimination and racism. For example a former finance senator of Berlin (T. Sarrazin) wrote a book in which he shames and “scientifically proves”, why Turkish people should have a lower IQ and that this is connected to Islam and their culture. Germany got internationally criticized for this waste of paper and the fact, that this was one of the bestselling books after World War II truly exposes the average white German mind. Also Germany showed itself totally  incapable to manage the racist debates, which erupted right afterwards, though it were Turkish and Arab immigrants, who rebuilt all the German cities after the war. The PEGIDA demonstrations in 2014/2015, in which ten thousands of angry white men (and  I have to admit: a tiny group of self hating Blacks as well ) “protested” against Islam and  against the people they label as Muslims were a new climax on anti Islamic (and therefore mostly anti brown) racism in Germany. To summarize: non-Black people of color experience a lot of racism in Germany.

And though to a certain point I envy them for their position. How can I envy a group of people, who also so often even get shamed in the media? It’s simple: They’re visible – and also feared. And as most of them  probably would not understand my envy: When you’re visible you get recognized, sometimes feared and therefore to some (limited) point even respected. Black people know what it means when you’re kept invisible. When you’re invisible nothing of your struggles gets seen, recognized and respected in the public – and nothing of you matters. People can do what they want with you. The police or average racist white men can do what ever violence they want  to do with you since if you’re Black in Germany you probably won’t even find someone to exchange your experience with. White people don’t identify with you or your problems and if you’re Black in this situation you probably dónt find the strength, to fight against a state, who claims, that your experience is a most individual and unique one and especially your own fault. When a German official institution wrote a report about racism, Jews, Roma, Arab and Turkish people were mentioned as victims, but not Black people as we don’t get mentioned as inmates in the concentration camps either, though thousands of us have been killed during the nazi regime. So even if the picture of Turkish and Arab people and Islam created in the media is bad, it exists, as also voices, who speak up for them.

From my non Jewish perspective I think Germanies institutions are sensitive concerning the hate towards jews – maybe not as sensitive as they should, but they do. The politicians as also the government learned from the German history in this case and show a sensitivity towards jews, they don’t show for brown, not to mention Black people. This does not mean, that the average people are sensitive concerning the hate towards jews (which they call anti semitism, like only jews are semits) in the same way but officials and media react quite alarmed, when a case of hate towards jews gets reported.

 

Many non-Black and Black people of color in Germany are still desperately trying to become recognised as Germans. Though many of them have a German passport they though get discriminated and they don’t understand, that racism and the problem of not belonging in a society is not only bound to only passports. So like it is with everybody who desperately tries to become loved and liked by the oppressor they don’t have a critical eye for the mistreatement and racism they experience and they internalize it again and again – and from my experience non-Black people of color unleash much of this internalized racism towards us Blacks and pass the aggression and violence down in the unsaid racial hierarchy. Also non-Black people of color steal Black culture. The hip-hop culture in Germany is not halfway as big as in the US, but it exists and it is dominated by non-Black people of color, while the music itself and all the fashion trends connected to it are (or at least were for decades) predominantly elements taken out of Black cultures in the US like clothing brands (FUBU), wide colorful clothing, sagging pants, etc. Yes, there are also Black German hip-hop legends like AfroB, Samy Deluxe, Matondo, D-Flame or Torch but except for Samy Deluxe they hardly dominated the German hip hop, especially financially.  To me non-Black people of color stole Black culture and got successful with it at least inside Germany. Also the expression “brother” – which is an expression of connection and solidarity in resistance is often used by nonblack people of color towards Black people and between them, though it is a Black expression of solidarity. When they use the term sister,* or brother for Black people they behave like we are all the same. This would be great, but on the meantime with these expressions they simply deny and don’t take responsability for the racial hierarchy, which definitely exists between us and them. On the other hand: When it comes to Black issues I hardly see non-Black people of color on demonstrations or actions for Black people.

I make about between 30 and 50% of all the racist experiences with non-Black people of color. This percentage is on one side so high, because I live in the more diverse areas of Berlin, on the other hand because the majority of non-Black people of color don’t reflect racism but rather tends to kick down in the racial hierarchy, while they steal our culture. Yes, there are activists and scholars like Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz or the one member of the German parliament Özcan Mutlu, who seem to have understood much about their position in the racial hierarchy and show solidarity for Black issues, but like with white people they are a small minority inside of the racist non-Black people of color group. When I leave my house and go on the street the only difference in my personal experience with non-Black people of color and white people is, that if non-Black people of color are nice, they are much nicer then white people, but if they are bad, they can also be much worse. Especially Black women have it really hard because of the street harassment not only from white men, but also from a high percentage non-Black men of color (but shamefully also Black men).

 

I see this racist division between Blacks and non-Black people of color as implemented by white Germany itself and it becomes most obvious in the current incapability of a decent treatment of the incoming hundreds of thousands of refugees. While there suddenly is a huge wave of solidarity for the Syrian refugees, container villages are suddenly built out of nowhere , empty buildings are suddenly prepared to host people and the German government suddenly thinks even about changing its constitution to the benefit of the hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria it’s on the meantime though planning to build its deportation camps right in Libya – the country, where the refugees are predominantly African refugees, and where Germany still pays money to deport or keep African the refugees out of Europe – money for people like in colonialism and the enslavement. African refugees have tried to reach Europe for decades and Europe let them drown in the middle sea for decades and they were kept invisible or only seen as a problem. One of the biggest and political refugee protests at Oranienplatz (Berlin) was led by predominantly African refugees to break their invisibility and nobody except a tiny handful of radical left-wing activist thought about actually helping and supporting them. Now suddenly, when the refugees are not Black any more Germany discovers it’s solidarity. A picture from the Syrian toddler created an outcry around the world, while nobody reports about all the dead Black toddlers and people on Italys and Lybias coasts who get found there since decades. Germany itself creates and maintains this division between the value of the lives and of course non-Black people of colour immediately understand nonverbally what their position in this racial hierarchy is. They would not treat us the way they do if white people would not just tolerate but confirm it.

In the younger generations between 15 and 20 years there sometimes there sometimes seem to form some alliances between Blacks and non-Black poc, but I don’t think they reflect the general  relations between Black people and non-Black poc as I also don’t believe, that those alliance are free of hierarchies.

 

To summarise the racism in Germany I’d like to rise a simple example, of which I recognize , that it might get seen as controversial and might not reflect the opinion of the majority of Black people or non-Black poc in Germany, but to me it illustrates very clear as I see the situation:

  1. If a white man in Germany gets murdered, it is immediately recognised as murder and the police also immediately investigates in all directions with full commitment.The murderer could have been anyone.
  2. When a non-Black person of color , for example a member of the Turkish community gets murdered the police only investigates inside the Turkish community, because they deny the very high probability, that it could have been a racist murder. This is one of the reasons, why the NSU scandal could have happened.  There a neo nazi trio murdered 10 non-Black men of color in Germany over a long time period and the police did not investigate outside of the Turkish communities, but rather criminalized them, until the whole thing got uncovered, lead to many bad surprises and revealed much of Germanies unwillingness to investigate concerning white terrorism.
  3. If a Black person gets murdered they even deny the fact, that it was a murder like in the case of the brothers Oury Jalloh or Khaled Idris Bahray, but label it as suicide or accident. In the case of Oury Jalloh even the highest German court still believes, that a Black refugee, who was unconscious and fixed on arms and feet set himself on fire on a fireproof mattress without a fire lighter. Germany…

 

So, the hierarchy exists and gets poorly deconstructed and analysed by anyone. For my self protection does this lead to my three mandatory requirements for seeing non-Black people of color as potential allies:

  1. If a non-Black person, white or of color wants to team up with me or be a friend of mine the person needs to prove, that the person is not anti-Black racist and that the person has critically reflected their position in the racist hierarchy. Most Non-Black people of color would claim to not be anti-Black racist, but my experience teaches me otherwise.
  2. Non-Black people of color must give back the stolen (hip hop-) cultures, refer in a respectful way to their Black origins and create their own subculture of resistance, instead of appropriating ours.
  3. (Important:) Non-Black people of color also need to critically reflect the relations between their original cultures and Black people (Arab slave trade, Chinas neo colonial behaviour,…) and deconstruct this as well it in their own communities to be safe allies for Black people.

These are my core demands, before I am willing to ally on a general basis and we are far away from that state. I have no resentments or prejudices towards non-Black people of color, nor do I have special feelings towards them as a group as diverse as totally diverse as this group is. But I care most about myself and my people – the people who are for me the most beautiful, most powerful and therefore also the most hated people on earth.

 

I am sorry if this blog somehow became again a long list of negative aspects, but to give a ruthless analysis of the situation of Black people inGermany one needs to address the problems without hesitating. What are my priorities after the fact, that non-Black people of color nearly treat us like white people treat us? My personal priorities are only my people, Africans and/or Black people all over the world. Though I also have a small bunch of white friends and mates Black people are the only people, that matter to me as a group and  here the Black German communities are the people, who are great for me and good for my soul. We are not a paradise, but to me our small safe space seems like little paradises to me with only beautiful people in it. In the very tiny but quite political communities in Berlin I can think free, talk open, be stupid and learn  on a much more dignified base, because the people  I learn from are the most loving teachers in my life.

 

I finished this blog after having had two wonderful evenings with a blast of conversations with Black friends – healing conversations! Especially as an ADHD/ Aspie it took me very long time to find some good people in Berlin but right at this moment it seems like I have found some. *feels good and happy* 🙂

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Growing up in German speaking Europe

Hey everybody and welcome back!

In my previous blog I announced to describe the everyday racism in Germany and how it led to the current state of mind of Black people in Germany and so now I’ll try to.

Many Black people in Germany live very isolated lives, or are organized into smaller local, mostly African, communities. In comparison to for example the USA or the UK, Black people here seldom live in segregated groups. This has advantages, but also disadvantages. The advantage is probably, that many of us had at least theoretically the same access to white structures at the latest after 1945. But this does not change the fact, that we experienced and experience to this day massive racist discrimination in public institutions. But in comparison to for example South Africa or the USA the access to those structures were not prohibited by law. This means as a Black person most German institutions were not trained in the same excessive way to keep Black people away from the public life or education. This is an advantage. The only exception are Germany’s immigration laws and the police. It is not enough that the police harasses Black people in Germany in general but with the immigration laws Germany has, it’s police practically have permission to mistreat African refugees as much as they want in “the name of the law”. Black African refugees are the group of Black people, who experience the most intentional racism from all institutions as well as from the average mostly white citizens. The government does everything to deport them – throwing the most vulnerable of us out of the country and once again keeping Black lives away from Germany.

As Black children in Germany the greatest problems we had growing up in mostly white areas were, that we often lived very isolated lives and had nobody to exchange our experiences with . Many Black people here don’t know that they are Black. Sisters,* and brothers from the US or the UK ask us how one could not know, that one is Black? Because you have nobody to exchange your experience with . For many of our people don’t know that their experiences of discrimination are not individual but are instead collective, institutionalized and global. And of course white people try to talk them out of such truths instead of sharing Black knowledge. Most of us (sometimes including myself) are still struggling to understand, that racism is not predominantly about color but much more about power. Also many of our people still believe, that racism works both ways including “reverse racism”. They define themselves with racist slurs or prefer to not recognize the fact, that race matters. It is widely believed by every person in Germany, that racism only happens in the USA – as if the cities of Hamburg and Bremen did not get incredibly rich from colonialism and much of Berlin’s museum culture did not only exists because of the stolen art during colonialism. AS if the German state of Brandenburg was not once one of the most frequented trading places for enslaved Africans and like the ministry of justice of Germany is not on a street, which has the racist name “Mohrenstrasse” – street of the moors while “Mohr” is a German slur for Black people. This is by the way also why some of us growing up in Germany get a stomach ache when we see Black Americans speaking of the glorious empire of the “moors”. The similar sounding word “Mohr” is probably best translated into “Coon” for Americans.

Germany does not want to see racism and denies its very existence to the fullest. Even when isolated Black children between the age of 8 and 10 try to commit suicide because of the racist bullying at school the teachers rather try to help play the tragedy down. The parents, weather they’re Black or white, for the most part don’t know how to deal with the situation since only in bigger cities do you have even a tiny handful of Black people to exchange with. You don’t have to be neurodiverse to get into psychological extreme situations as a Black individual in Germany. Whenever racism happens the county always tries to reduce it to “a single tragic incident,” denying that those “single incidents” are the everyday life for each of us.

… when I told my white mother for the first time that I didn’t want to live anymore when I was about 11 or 12 she was very alarmed and sent me to a (white) therapist. It was a good decision. Though it didn’t really change my feelings at least I felt as if I was taken serious. I think it was my mother’s intervention, that prevented me from seriously thinking about ending my life. I know I didn’t say that to gain attention, but rather to say how I honestly felt and her reaction was right on a very basic level. And I didn’t really know why I felt like I felt. As a person with an ADHD and Aspergers it is easy for me to feel, but much more complicated to put these feelings in an order or to really know which feeling came from which situation. I just knew the school played a major role in the way I felt.

Compared to many sisters,* and brothers I had a lot of material luxury. But even with this I had and still have no words for the bullying I experienced at school, no words for the terror my soul was running from at school but also in my mind and in my dreams. In some of my dreams I got haunted by zombies in a post apocalyptic world being totally on my own. In my case they didn’t call me racist slurs at my school in Switzerland – at least not in primary school. They were “just bullying”. In comparison to sisters,* and brothers in east Germany I was lucky I didn’t get chased through the streets by a mob. Switzerland was too rich for its citizens to carry that much frustration in themselves so they’d unleash all of it on me in comparison to East Germany. Also nobody told me that they’d love to see me dead or that I am a n***** – at least not in prime school. But even if they didn’t voice it in so many words my time as a Black child in primary school was horrible. There was one white boy (I’d call him a sociopath ), who was intelligent and knew it. His intelligence made him much worse than the openly racist but stupid idiots I faced at secondary school. He barely used racist slurs but managed turned half of the class and many young people of our tiny village against me. He was sensitive and got bullied too when he was younger. But when he became older he was the bully and he knew how to do it. He recently tried to add me on Facebook. When I saw it I asked myself how small one can still to be? – petty and pathetic **********! It is like in every system of oppression: The oppressor needs the oppressed to be in his life, to maintain his unjust status of power, while the oppressed can live perfectly without the oppressor, and would find greater joy in life without them. I decided to live without his smile emoticon.

When I came in secondary school the words became more obvious and it became more clear what the bullying was all (or very much) about. The word n****** ( or the German colonial equivalent word “Neger”) became part of my everyday life. There I was one of two Blacks at the entire much larger school. But the white people there using these slurs were stupid so I could fight back – something I usually don’t do because I’m highly sensitive and a horribly bad fighter, though I’m very tall and I work out. People with autism or also ADHD will understand me. I tried so many martial arts but they’re useless when your much more likely to start crying because you’re so overwhelmed by impressions of violent emotions instead of remembering what you’ve learned. Starting to cry is a no go for a Black man in the province, who “has to be strong and male”. But at secondary school many white boys, who bullied me were so dull, that I could simply hit some of them and run away before they could fight back. In secondary school white boys had fun comparing me with shit. This is why I believe the American slur “piece of shit” comes from slavery and is a racist one, but that’s just my outside perspective. They also constantly made the gesture of whipping me as a parallel to the whipping during slavery. When I think back, I think I should have hit them much harder!

I haven’t spoken about this with anyone. I have not even my therapist about my childhood. I feel right now, that it might be time but I simply don’t know if I want to unfold my childhood in front of white therapist. In Berlin – a city with nearly 4 million people living in it, I know only about 4 psychologists, of which 2 are working as therapist. It is not easy to acknowledge, that you might have had a hard childhood, while on the meantime you grew up in the safest and wealthiest country on earth in a upper middle-class family. But I have to acknowledge it. Otherwise I’ll never heal.

I processed much of my experiences in the wars my toys were leading – desperate wars of defense against an always unknown and terribly supreme enemy, while most other children were building peaceful cities, drew pictures of animals or played soccer outside. I stayed inside my room and played wars – my everyday inner and outer wars. When I look back I think my toys were probably defending themselves and therefore simply did what I couldn’t in school. And the enemy was always unknown because I had no real words for my experiences and sometimes still don’t have them today. I didn’t understand how the other children were connected through their whiteness and their neurotypic being. Some Black people can channel the everyday aggression they experience in sport but when you have an ADHD/Aspergers intersectionality every ball becomes a terribly complicated object in your hands and between your legs.

If I had to summarize the experience of Black people in Germany in one word I’d choose “isolation”. And if I had to summarize the experience of Black ADHD/Aspie people in Germany in 2 words then I’d choose “TOTAL isolation”.

Me being Black and becoming conscious in all white Germany, while at the same time being neurodiverse in such a childhood needed much time, much self love, a lot of patience from many of the beloved Black people around me. The willingness to face the history from a Black perspective, to my past and current traumas and a thirst to understand, and to BE and STAY Black aware in Germany means for me to acknowledge, that as soon as I leave my flat I’m in a battle zone , a battlefield – post apocalyptic world. Like in my dreams. In a post apocalyptic world, post colonial, but also post world war two, I find myself in as soon as I leave my flat , leading desperate wars of self defense while being surrounded by zombies – brain dead creatures trying to invade my beautiful Black body and my beautiful Black hair. They’re hungry for my Black flesh, to eat my body, to infect me with their colonialism and their Nazi race theories, to turn me in one of them: Brain dead (without memory and Black perspective and Black knowledge) and lifeless. This is, what my reality feels like being a Black man in Germany.

But I didn’t come so far to loose myself in self pity or grief! I did not sharpen my eye to all the dangers around me, acknowledging in what colonial world I am living in to spend my life in frustration. I’ve cultivated my Black neurodiverse self love far too well for that . Since I see the danger and the challenges I don’t just want to continue the bare survival. I want to live, to build and create, to love and to fight – to honor all our fellow sisters,* and brothers, who fought before me and to leave all sisters,* and brothers coming after me a better world to live in. Also for this I write, I speak, I think and I dream!

By Noah Hofmann

Melody LaVerne Bettencourt / Zwiegespräche Vernissage

Bild 7Melody LaVerne Bettencourt

Zwiegespräche

Vernissage

Freitag 06.02. 2015 19:00 Uhr
bis zum 08.03.2015

Freuenkreise

 

 

Choriner Straße 10 ∙ 10119 Berlin
fon 030 – 280 61 85 ∙ fax 030 – 280 45 723
kontakt@frauenkreise-berlin.de
www.frauenkreise-berlin.de
www.facebook.com/frauenkreise

„Ich benutze die Drucktechnik der Monotypie, um spielerisch meine eigenen und vorhandene Symbole immer wieder neu auf dem Papier anzuordnen. Die Farben sind teils satt und kontrastierend, dann wieder transparent und lasierend. Meine Geschichte wird immer wieder neu erfunden. Ich nehme Bezug auf Schwarze Widerstandskultur, die sich auch immer wieder neue Wege des Ausdrucks suchen musste.“

Melody LaVerne Bettencourt
2001-2008 HFBK Hamburg (bei Michaela Melian, Isaac Julien)
2004-2005 Iceland Academy of the Arts Februar
2008 Diplom

In ihrer Malerei widmet sich Bettencourt Frauen*, die in der Unabhängigkeitsbewegung und im antikolonialen Widerstandes aktiv waren, jedoch im Verborgenen wirken mussten in dem sie zum Beispiel geheime und verbotene Treffen organisierten. Darüber hinaus stehen in ihrer Arbeit allgemein Frauen der afrikanischen Diaspora im Vordergrund. Es ist ihr Anliegen den anonymen Opferstatus der Kolonialisierten zu brechen und ihre individuellen Beiträge zum Widerstand zu würdigen. Es interessieren sie die stereotypen Bilder afrikanischer Frauen* und ihre Funktionen als Trägerinnen rassistischer Ideologie. Die Auseinandersetzung mit ihrer Positionierung als Schwarze Frau führt Bettencourt zu einer Rückbesinnung auf das Heimatland ihrer Mutter. Die Inselgruppe Cabo Verde ist unter den oben genannten Aspekten interessant, da sie der erste Außenposten für Deportationen von Afrikaner*innen auf dem Weg in die Amerikas war und als ehemalige portugiesische Kolonie ihre Unabhängigkeit erst 1975 erlangte. Das Gedächtnis an die Veränderung ist frisch und dies macht sich Bettencourt unter anderem in einer Reihe von Interviews mit weiblichen Zeitzeugen zu nutze.

Die Ausstellung “Zwiegespräch” wird bis zum 8. März 2015 bei uns zu sehen sein.

The Black Experience in Nazi Germany

At the height of the Jazz Age in the 1920s it is estimated that roughly 20,000 – 25,000 Black individuals of African, Afro German, or Afro-Diasporic descent were living in Germany.[i] However, with the rise of National Socialism what little racial acceptance Germany had had would disintegrate.

On January 30, 1933 Hitler was appointed Reich Chancellor of Germany, and celebrated with a torch-lit rally where thousands of SA, SS and Stahlhelm[1] formations marched through the Brandenburg Gates saluting their newly appointed leader.

The central focus of Hitler’s racial obsessions would be Germany’s Jews, but they were by no means alone. All other “non-Aryan” people were equally in his sights, and would be subjected to laws and regulations concerned with racial hygiene, including the Nuremberg Laws of 1935. Germany’s estimated twenty-thousand-strong Black German community was in particular a thorn in the Nazi’s eye, and bizarrely linked in Hitler’s mind to the Jews. Years earlier in Mein Kampf he had already written that, “Jews were responsible for bringing Negroes into the Rhineland, with the ultimate idea of bastardizing the white race which they hate and thus lowering its cultural and political level so that the Jew might dominate.”[ii] Now they, along with millions of others, would be subjected to his rule.

As thousands of drunken SA, SS and Stahlhelm men marched beneath the torch-lit figure of their leader on that January 30th, life, which for many Afro-Germans had previously been lived in isolation, became life lived in isolation and fear. The Afro-German Erika Ngambi ul Kuo, an eye-witness growing up in Nazi Germany,[2] recounted about looking for a training position in the late 1930s, “I heard at every turn: ‘What, you want to work for us! We only hire “Aryans”’ … One good friend who I had been close to dropped me like a hot potato. Later, in Berlin people spat on us in the street and taunted us with ‘bastard,’ and ‘mulatto.’ It was awful.”[iii]

In the 1940s the SS took over independent preexisting Black establishments and performance groups to present a primitive image of Africa and to subvert them into vehicles of Nazi political propaganda confirming their own racial stereotypes.[3] During the course of the war many performers from such shows would simply disappear, or were deported to concentration camps.[iv] But it was not just Black individuals in the theatrical and live performance world who were used to promote Nazi agendas. Not long after the Nazi seizure of power Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels began exploiting the German feature film industry, the most popular entertainment medium of the time, to spread the Nazi gospel of Aryan supremacy.

As a young extra used by the Nazis, Werner Egiomue, describes in an interview, “they had an agent. He knew all the blacks in Berlin. He had all of their addresses. The Cultural Department contacted him when they were casting a film. They’d say we need six blacks, or four Chinese, three Japanese. All were available in Berlin. Then we’d play the natives in films like ‘Congo Express’, ‘Quax in Africa’ or ‘Auntie Wanda from Uganda.’”[v]

Through such films Black extras and actors were able to network and connect with one another. The film studios also provided some level of protection from the full brutality of the Nazi regime. Others were not as fortunate.

As narrated by James Earl Jones in the documentary Black Survivors of the Holocaust,

“Between 1939 and 1945 an estimated 200 thousand black troops recruited from France’s African colonies were serving in the European theater of war. The Africans were especially loathed by the SS because of the history of the Rhineland occupation. In many POW camps the Nazis segregated the Black prisoners of war from the rest of the camp’s population. Often, in what was a breach of their rights under the Geneva Convention, Black prisoners were denied food and given dangerous jobs…Black civilians in Germany’s concentration camps received much harsher treatment at the hands of their SS guards. No one knows how many Black soldiers and civilians perished in [Germany’s POW and Concentration] camps.”[vi]

The French African soldiers were not alone, they would be joined by thousands of African American and colonial Black British soldiers. The Nazis however were notoriously inconsistent in how they dealt with the Black soldiers they captured in combat. There is evidence[4] of colonial and African American soldiers and Air Force personnel being summarily killed and mutilated across the European theater of war in complete disregard and abuse of their rights as POWs under the Geneva Conventions.[vii]

There are equally many accounts of Black civilian victims sent to work as slave labor in concentration camps and being deported directly to death camps. These stories include the eye witness accounts of Gert Schramm, a Black German survivor who was sent as a young boy to the Buchenwald concentration camp, and also that of his African American father Jack Brankson, who was deported to Auschwitz in 1941 and was never heard from again.

As Paul Gilroy writes in Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line,

“Baker, Fanon, and Senghor are probably the best known of many blacks who opposed fascism in battle and in the resistance. There are other, little-known and largely unremembered people who joined the opposition to Hitler, passed their lives in camps and detention centers of various kinds, or who survived quietly and retreated back into the strange ambiguities of their existence as black Europeans. Among those who should be brought to mind here are Hilarius “Lari” Gilges, who was beaten to death by Nazis in Dusseldorf in 1933 and is one of the few black victims of Hitler to have a public memorial of any kind. The Belgian activist Johnny Voste was a member of the resistance movement. He was arrested in 1942 and not only survived Dachau but helped some of his comrades to do so as well. Another was Johnny William, a Frenchman originally from the Ivory Coast who was deported to the Neuengamme camp complex near Hamburg…”[viii]

In an interview Johnny William later described his deportation to the Neuengamme concentration camp, one of the harshest camps in Northern Germany.

“The journey [there] was apocalyptic, horrific. 120 of us packed in a single cattle car. Imagine all of those people locked up together for four or five days and nights, with no air to breathe and hardly any food. We had to relieve ourselves in there too. By the time we arrived some people were dead … in the Neuengamme camp there were 5 or 6 of us [Black prisoners]. As soon as we arrived, the SS separated us from the others. We didn’t know what to expect so we were scared. We thought we would be killed there and then. Then to our great surprise when the SS arrived they inspected us, touched us, and said ‘Ah, blacks…good.’ They had a good laugh at us because they considered us to be sub-human, like animals, chimpanzees…”[ix]

During the Nazi period many Afro Germans also escaped, fleeing the nation, while others stayed aided by friends, relatives, and their own sheer inventiveness. Good examples of survival would include the Afro-German Hans J. Massaquoi, and the Michael family.[5]

Massaquoi not only survived years of Nazi persecution, and the American and British bombings of Hamburg, but would later immigrate to the USA, becoming a journalist, author, and the managing editor of the Black publication Ebony magazine in the US. In 1999 he published his autobiography titled Destined to Witness: Growing up Black in Nazi Germany.[6]

The father of the Michael family, Theophilus Wonja Michael, was born in Cameroon and migrated to Berlin in 1894 where he started a family with his white German wife. Four children were born from this union, James, Juliana, Christiana and Theodor. After the death of their mother in 1926, and then the passing of their father in 1934, the children were left to fend for themselves and escape the Nazi regime of terror. Theodor found work in the Berlin film industry and after the war would go on to become one of Germany’s oldest and most distinguished character actors. While Theodor remained in Berlin his surviving siblings gained employment in a variety of traveling circuses, as these provided some protection from coming into close contact and conflict with the Nazi government.Through the nature of this work, and the need for anonymity, the siblings eventually became separated and only decades later would again be reunited in the 1960s in Cologne. And even after all of that time one brother, James, recalled one of the worst moments of his life:

“We were in Paris and had just pulled down the circus tent. My passport had just run out, so I went to the German consulate to have it renewed. I went in and said: ‘Good morning.’ It was early in the morning when I entered. They told me, ‘Here we don’t say, “Good morning”, we say, “Heil Hitler!”’ Had I again done something wrong? So, good, as I didn’t have any other choice, I also said, ‘Heil Hitler.’ ‘What do you want?’ the clerk demanded. ‘To renew my passport,’ I answered. ‘Your passport!’ he said. ‘What are you, are you German?’ ‘Yes, here is my passport,’ I answered. He examined it. ‘Born in Berlin on the October 2, 1916 and so on and so forth.’ Then he took my passport and went away with it. A quarter of an hour or more went by before he returned – but without my passport. I said, ‘I thought you were going to give my passport back to me.’ He said, ‘No, we are going to keep your passport. You are no longer German. Black Germans do not exist.’[x]

Recommended Reading:

9780415932950Hitler’s Black Victims by Clarence Lusane: Drawing on interviews with the black survivors of Nazi concentration camps and archival research in North America, Europe, and Africa, this book documents and analyzes the meaning of Nazisms racial policies towards people of African descent, specifically those born in Germany, England, France, the United States, and Africa, and the impact of that legacy on contemporary race relations in Germany, and more generally, in Europe. The book also specifically addresses the concerns of those surviving Afro-Germans who were victims of Nazism, but have not generally been included in or benefited from the compensation agreements that have been developed in recent years.

Notes and Sources:

[1] “Steel Helmet, League of Frontline Soldiers”, one of the many paramilitary organizations that arose after the German defeat of World War I.

[2] Her story was published by May Ayim and Katharina Oguntoye in Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out.

[3] A good example of this would be the Hillerkus African Show founded by Julietta Tipner and Adolf Hillerkus

[4] The evidence was first drawn up in a collection of material from postwar investigators into war crimes by Robert W. Kesting, an archivist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.

[5] For more on the subject of Black experience in Nazi Germany please read: Schwarz und Deutsch, by Theodor Wonja Michael; Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany, by Hans J. Massaquoi; Other Germans: Black Germans and the Politics of Race, Gender, and Memory in the Third Reich, by Tina Campt; The Black Military Experience in Germany, by Monroe H. Little Jr.; Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line, by Paul Gilroy; “African Germans in the Third Reich” by Susann Samples, published in The African-German Experience, edited by Aisha Carol Blackshire-Belay; Hitler’s Black Victims: The Historical Experience of Afro-Germans, European Blacks, Africans, and African Americans in the Nazi Era, by Charles Lusane; Black Europe and the African Diaspora, edited by Darlene Clark Hine, Trica Danielle Keaton, Stephen Small; and Rewriting the footnotes : Berlin and the African diaspora, by Paulette Reed-Anderson.

[6] Hans Massaquoi sadly passed away on January 19, 2013.

[i] Sources: Chiponda Chimbelu, “The fate of blacks in Nazi Germany“. Deutsche Welle. 10.01.2010. Retrieved 9 November 2011. Anne Frank Guide, Black people in Nazi Germany.

Afrodeutsche – Black Germans, <http://german.about.com/od/culture/a/blackhistger.htm>

[ii] Hitler, Adolf, Mein Kampf (translated by James Murphy, February, 1939) Vol. I, Chapter XI (A Project Gutenberg of Australia)

[iii] Ayim, May, Katharina Oguntoye, and Dagmar Schultz. Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak out. Trans. Anne V. Adams. Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 1992. 56-76. Print.

[iv] Black Survivors of the Holocaust. Film. Director, David Okuefuna ; producer, Moise Shewa ; an Afro Wisdom Films production for Channel 4 and International Family Entertainment. Narrator, James Earl Jones. Publisher, SpiritWorld Entertaiment.

 

[v] Black Survivors of the Holocaust. Film. Director, David Okuefuna ; producer, Moise Shewa ; an Afro Wisdom Films production for Channel 4 and International Family Entertainment. Narrator, James Earl Jones. Publisher, SpiritWorld Entertaiment.

 

[vi] Black Survivors of the Holocaust. Film. Director, David Okuefuna ; producer, Moise Shewa ; an Afro Wisdom Films production for Channel 4 and International Family Entertainment. Narrator, James Earl Jones. Publisher, SpiritWorld Entertaiment.

 

[vii] Gilroy, Paul, Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line. Belknap Press, October 2, 2001. 303. Print.

[viii] Gilroy, Paul, Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line. Belknap Press, October 2, 2001. 302. Print.

 

[ix] Black Survivors of the Holocaust. Film. Director, David Okuefuna ; producer, Moise Shewa ; an Afro Wisdom Films production for Channel 4 and International Family Entertainment. Narrator, James Earl Jones. Publisher, SpiritWorld Entertaiment.

 

[x] Sources: Africa in Europe: Studies in Transnational Practice in the Long Twentieth Century (Liverpool University Press – Migrations and Identities Edited by Eve Rosenhaft and Robbie Aitken Pp 244, Reed Anderson, Berlin and the African Diaspora, p. 80. Black Survivors of the Holocaust. Film. Director, David Okuefuna ; producer, Moise Shewa ; an Afro Wisdom Films production for Channel 4 and International Family Entertainment. Narrator, James Earl Jones. Publisher, SpiritWorld Entertaiment.