Tag Archives: Germany

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


A Story of Black People in Germany

Hello and welcome to my second blog post!

In this blog I want to briefly summarize the history of the Black German movement from my perspective. I think it is important to understand the current situation and the current state (of mind) of Black people in Germany. For more detailed information about the history I also want to refer to the other great blogs on the “Arriving in the future” website, which greatly describe and summarize many chapters of Black history in Germany.

We’ve always been a part of this country, and sometimes even a significant one. Until now we know, that the earliest mentions of Black people in Germany were Saint Maurice and his Theban legion, which were Black Egyptians around 200 ad. If you ask me I personally believe the common picture of Christian saints with a golden halo around their heads standing on a mountain is the sun shining through the Black African hair and the white Celts and Germans saw the sun shining through our hair, because they had to look up and they had to look up because we sat on moving gray mountains – elephants, when people like Hannibal or earlier African queens,* and kings rode through the European mountains. But these are so far only my personal conclusions.

We make a little jump until the 18th century, where the enslavement and colonialism were going on. The German state Brandenburg was one of the most significant trading place for enslaved Black people in whole Europe but nowadays nobody knows about it. Why this is the case I’ll explain later. The German philosopher Anton Wilhelm Amo was an enslaved African himself. As a child he was sent as a gift to a German aristocrat in the 1700’s, who decided to see how far a (insert colonial slur for Black people) could make his way in the German education system. Amo got two PhD’s, became a lecturer at a German university and wrote wonderful texts that shattered the capitalistic system down to its foundations, which was responsible for the enslavement and colonialism. But after his death Germany did, what it did best since colonialism and still does best until today: It burned his works and made Black German work, history and people invisible.

Before World War I Germany committed the first genocide in the twentieth century by killing between ten thousands if not hundred thousands of the people of the Herero and Nama tribes in Namibia. Briefly summarized, millions of Africans died of the direct or indirect influence of German colonialism. Germans often try to claim, that their ruling was not that bad because they themselves “only” shot hundreds of thousands out of a few millions of Africans, while the British and the French killed dozens of millions. But the German invaders manifested the already existing hierarchy between the Tutsi and the Hutu – a hierarchy, that already existed before, but never had this incredible tension and hate in it until both people experienced the German oppression. The genocide of the Tutsi was, if you ask me, an aftershock, which would have never been possible without the huge trauma of colonialism. But all of this happened in Africa, not in Germany and therefore it was much easier for Germans at home to deny their history.

During World War I Black French soldiers were stationed in Europe and had children with white German women. These kids were the so-called “Rheinland bastards”. The Rheinland was the German region, where these kids were born. But Germany eradicated this evidence of Black people and Black history too according to its race theories and because they believed their white race would not be upgraded but made more impure through the existence of mixed race children. Most of these children were sterilized by force when they were still young and/or were killed as adults during the Nazi regime. There is a wonderful project from Mokoari street productions where they’re shooting a film right now about these children. The film itself is called “Rheinland” and is made by predominantly Black filmmakers! So even today we ourselves are still the ones who have to arduously uncover our own history.

During the Nazi time many Black people in Germany were killed or imprisoned in the concentration camps. Only a few people like Gert Schramm (judge), Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi (later and in the magazine “Ebony” in the U.S. ) or Theodor Wonja Michael (actor) survived the horror and later wrote books about their lives in Nazi Germany. Germany mentions Jews, Sinti, Roma and homosexuals as victims of their crimes – but until today it never mentions Black people. We were invisible then and are kept invisible until today.

During the 80’s tiny groups of Black people all over Germany started to form and organize. I can only assume that the U.S. civil rights movements had also activated Black people in Germany. During this time Audre Lorde came to Berlin and spoke with Black German women. She gave us THE initiating kick and is also the reason the core of the small Black German movement always consists and consisted of feminist, academic and modern thinking Black women and not patriarch Black men. Through Lorde’s encouragement and influence two young Black German women Katharina Oguntoye and May Ayim wrote one of the first and most important Black literary milestones in Black German history – the book “Showing our colors: Afro-German women speak out (1986)”.

Also at this time the “ISD – Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland” (Initiative of Black people in Germany) was founded, which by the way celebrate its 30th birthday this year! The organization “Adefra” (Black women in Germany) was also founded at this time. These initiatives did and still do until today again and again continue the work of making us visible and giving us a voice. A project, which incorporates this idea really well is the exhibition “Homestory Deutschland”. It was launched 10 years ago and still travels through the world and shows beautiful portraits of Black people in Germany who have lived and/or still live in Germany together with short and wonderfully biographies.

So when I speak of Black people making themselves visible, many people am I speaking of? We don’t know, since Germany still doesn’t talk about race, but it is estimated we’re roughly about 1 Million out of around 83 million people living in Germany. I think the fact that we still are so few in number adds to the fight for our rights and our recognition.

But brave as we Black people are all over the world, in the last decade we have become LOOOUUDEEER! Which is a wonderful thing.

In my next blog I will try describe the everyday racism one faces as a Black person in Germany and will try to describe common states of minds of Black people in Germany. I will also articulate a little bit more from my neurodiverse perspective. Thanks for reading this post and I would love to welcome you on my next one.

By Noah Hofmann


Melody LaVerne Bettencourt / Zwiegespräche Vernissage

Bild 7Melody LaVerne Bettencourt



Freitag 06.02. 2015 19:00 Uhr
bis zum 08.03.2015




Choriner Straße 10 ∙ 10119 Berlin
fon 030 – 280 61 85 ∙ fax 030 – 280 45 723

„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.

What Murder Looks Like From A Distance

From the Black M.A.R.S. Project by James Young

What Murder Looks Like From A Distance

I had just woken up. The sun was shining through the cactus-coated windows just above my makeshift bed, a fold-out couch. It was another beautiful late summer day in Berlin. After picking up my cell phone, I started scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed to catch a glimpse of what was going on back in the United States. Perhaps it’s become a compulsion by now or at least, a meager attempt to maintain some connection to the country I’ve called home for the past 22 years. The article title my finger finally descended on escapes me now, but its content was all too familiar: another unarmed Black body murdered by the police. His name was Michael Brown.

Since I started learning about the history of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “The Other America,” I’ve never stopped feeling rage or some emotionally caustic concoction of anger, hopelessness, and desperate ambition to do something…anything, that might lessen centuries of pain inscribed in our collective memory. August 9th, 2014 was no different.

But let’s return to the beginning first. Why Germany? Last March, the Thomas J. Watson Foundation selected me as a 2014-15 Watson Fellow. The opportunity affords a fortunate cohort of students (approximately 40 each year) from the United States a stipend for one year to fund independent travel and pursuit of a creative research project. I chose to focus my project on art, activism, and Black masculinity in the African Diaspora. Without doubt, its scope is broad. However, it’s allowed me to connect with a wide range of Black artists and performers who are similarly trying to figure out a number of questions that interest me: How can art be used as a tool of resistance? What kind of art should we create to deal with the present spiritual, social, political, and economic turmoil we face? And how can we construct representations of ourselves that challenge and defy marginalizing narratives? So after researching the history of Black folks in Germany and considering the parallels between the treatment of African people there and the United States, I marked the country as the first stop on my year long journey.

The more articles I read about Michael Brown that late August morning, the deeper I felt moved to write something…anything that might lessen centuries of pain inscribed in our collective memory. Poetry has always been my outlet since the age of 12 when I first scribbled the contents of my heart onto a pad of notebook paper in sixth grade. August 9th 2014 was no different.

The Ballad of Michael Brown

When scorching hot suns
bake Black flesh of our sons
on asphalt pavements

When jack-boot thugs
called local police
play toy soldiers with
peaceful protestors

When white governors
tuck us in for curfew and
Black presidents say
time will heal our wounds

we are angry
we are sick and tired of being sick and tired
we are impatient…
dying to survive.

Yet our wearied footsteps
march in ancestral shoes
still seeking paths
leading to justice.

Since that day, I’ve spent time in England, France, and currently, write this piece from Brazil. In the circles I’ve found myself in—from the vaguely conscious to Pan-African folks who champion all Black everything—people know what’s going on in the United States. I think it’s important to repeat that. People around the world feel our pain. There have been solidarity protests in major cities of each European country I visited—Berlin, London, and Paris. And the relationship between Black folks and the police never fails to spring up as a topic of conversation. It’s also common to hear romanticized aspirations to visit the USA because they’ve seen so much of the sunny side. It leads one to consider what visions of our country are broadcasted. For as bright as things may be for some, the lives of far too many are still shaded by injustice. But there are only so many conversations about home one can have with folks from another country, of another culture and history before recognizing that the sense of urgency I feel watching what’s happened these past months is not, and perhaps cannot, be shared to the same extent.

When Thanksgiving arrived back in the United States, I found myself protesting on the streets of Saint-Denis in Northern Paris. Our cause was a different one. Outrage has been sparked across the African Diaspora by white South African artist Brett Bailey’s ‘artistic’ production, Exhibit B. If you don’t know, I suggest checking out any number of articles about his controversial artistic commentary on the 19th and 20th century histories of placing African people in human zoos…by placing African people in human zoos in the 21st. The protestors numbered upwards of 200. The assault-rifle armed police presence was significant as well. But I was excited to take part in resistance efforts despite my limited background in French after reading about the success of protests in London. So as we chanted on the streets outside Théâtre Gérard-Phillipe, it was humbling to stand in solidarity with sisters and brothers of the diaspora. Yet I also felt a growing sense of homesickness at the same time. For at that moment, folks in Ferguson, Missouri and at least 90 other cities across the United States were rising up, speaking out, organizing, and protesting against police brutality.

Perhaps the real question is not what murder looks like from a distance, but how to respond effectively to it. I had the opportunity to connect with Professor Donald Muldrow Griffith in Berlin. A retired professional dancer and teacher from the USA, he has made his home in Germany for the past 35 years. Professor Griffith heads an arts and cultural organization called Fountainead Tanz Theatre that hosts an annual festival called Black International Cinema as well as a monthly public access program. I asked him about the experience of being so long removed from the United States, but still being engaged in the work he does which promotes the sharing of African American history in Germany. His words resonate with me still: “Those who have escaped from the cauldron have a responsibility to those still trapped inside.”

Some days words never feel like enough. In the words of the London-based rapper, poet, and author, Akala, “Behind my painted smile and all the revolutionary noise/ is nothing but a lost little boy.” I’m still on my own journey of self-transformation—part of a greater effort to channel my abilities and privileges into something that makes a difference. Outside of financial stability, I’ve believe that the greatest blessing being a Watson Fellow have provided me are the luxuries of time and distance that so few possess. These past months have challenged me to see myself and my country through another set of eyes. And once you become aware of how the world operates, that knowledge can never be taken away from you. It is liberating and troubling at the same time. Some days words are all I have. I recently penned a poem called “Colorblinded Contradictions” to highlight the conflict between rhetoric and reality when it comes to Black folks. My conclusion:

As long as tear-eyed mothers
ride along with Black babies
in hearses
I’ll continue to cry out
for justice in all of my verses.

My friends in London inspired me to consider social transformation beyond the rhetoric during my first Kwanzaa celebration. Singer, spoken word artist and performer Oneness Sankara hosted a gathering of folks at her home on the day celebrating Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics). That evening, we came together to discuss what the day meant to each of us. It was then I realized that I was surrounded in that space by folks who have dedicated their lives to trying to create alternatives to our present situation. I was blessed to be hosted during my stay by KMT the Freedom Teacher, who transformed his home, May Project Gardens, into a model of what he refers to as “sustainable city living,” using permaculture practices to grow his own food. KMT has recently dropped his first EP, “Fear of a Green Planet,” integrating hip-hop, sustainable living, and eco-activism to encourage self-determinism.

I thought the collective the protests across the country represented the beginning of our generation’s Civil Rights Movement. As months of organizing fades from mainstream media spotlight, my hope has taken a new form. In my mind, we are called to action now more than ever. As the African proverb states, “Until lions have historians, the history of the hunt will forever glorify the hunter.” We must tell our stories. We must act with compassion, conviction, and courage. In the words of KMT the Freedom Teacher, we must begin “planting little seeds everyday” of internal transformation that will manifest outwards. So when the time to harvest comes, we’ll be “watching the world just change.”


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.