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How Did Black Germans Fare Under The Nazi Regime?

How Did Black Germans Fare Under The Nazi Regime?

The list of people subjected to oppression by the Nazis is long, and the consequences of being on that list were brutal.

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We all know about the horrendous treatment of Jewish people in Germany under the Third Reich, and many will also be aware of the horrors suffered by LGBT and Romani people as well, but few know about the suffering of black people in Nazi Germany.

There were not many black people in Germany in the 1930s. Even now, in modern multicultural Germany, people of Black African descent make up just one percent of the population, according to World Atlas, and outside of big cities like Berlin, Munich and Hamburg, there are almost no black people at all.

During the Nazi period, it is thought that there were just a few thousand Afro-Germans living in the country, most notably the children of French African soldiers who had been stationed with the occupying forces along the Rhine river in the west of Germany.

Black prisoners of war from French Africa, captured in 1940. Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild (Wikimedia Commons)
Black prisoners of war from French Africa, captured in 1940. Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild (Wikimedia Commons)

These children were among the first to be persecuted by the Nazi regime. Known by the racist name 'Rhineland Bastards', they were subjected to forced sterilisation, including on children as young as 11.

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The Nazi laws of race classed black people as inferior, on a similar level to Jews and Romani people, so when the Nuremberg eugenics laws came into place, Afro-Germans were similarly affected. They were discriminated against at every level, from employment to housing to education.

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Hans Massaquoi was one such Afro-German, born in Hamburg in 1926, the son of a Liberian father and a white German mother. His autobiography, Destined to Witness, is one of the leading primary sources on black German experiences during the Nazi period.

It tells of his attempts to join the Hitler Youth - like many children in Germany at the time, he was seduced by the organisation's propaganda, but found himself rejected because of his race.

Nazi propaganda photo - the caption states:
Nazi propaganda photo - the caption states:

"When I came to school one beautiful summer morning in 1934, our third grade teacher informed the class that the principal had given instructions for all the students and teachers to gather at the schoolyard," he wrote in his autobiography.

"Right there, dressed in the brown Nazi uniform I used to wear for special occasions, the principal announced that 'the most splendorous moment of our young lives' was about to come, that destiny had chosen us to be among the fortunate ones who would contemplate 'our beloved Führer' with their own eyes.

"That was a privilege, he assured us, that our yet to be born children, and our children's children, would envy in times to come. I was eight by then, and I didn't notice that, from the almost 600 kids gathered in that schoolyard, I was the only one Herr Wriede was not talking to."

On finishing school, Massaquoi was barred from having a relationship with a white woman and regularly racially abused on the street, though he managed to avoid the fate of many victims of the Nazis and was not sent to the concentration camps.

"I survived because of a loophole in racial laws. We weren't such a significant number so as to be noticed by the Nazis," he wrote.

In total, it is thought that just 20 black people spent time in the concentration camps and only one of them directly on account of their race. Many, however, were arrested because of their skin colour and accused of criminality, while others were kept incarcerated by police because they were black.

Featured Image Credit: Bundesarchiv (Wikimedia Commons)

Topics: Racism, World News, History, World War Two

Mike Wood

Mike Meehall Wood is a freelance journalist and translator. He writes for LADbible, VICE and countless sports publications, focusing on rugby league, football and boxing. He is a graduate of Leeds University and maintains a fizzy pop obsession. Contact Mike at [email protected]