Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Blacks (Afro-Germans) in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust

The story of black people, or Afro-Germans, in Germany during the years of Hitler's reign (1933-1945) is complex and not well known. Hitler made his thoughts about black people in Germany abundantly clear in his book Mein Kampf (1923), when he wrote, "It is a scarcely conceivable fallacy of thought to believe that a Negro...will turn into a German because he learns German and is willing to speak the German language and perhaps even give his vote to a German political party." Between 20,000 and 25,000 blacks (or Afro-Germans) lived in Nazi Germany. Africans had come to Germany both before and after the First World War as students, artisans, entertainers, former soldiers, and low-level colonial officers.

The above video is an interview with an Afro-German who was imprisoned in Buchenwald. Unfortunately English subtitles are not available at this time.

There was never a systematic plan to exterminate them during the Nazi years; nonetheless they were subject to persecution, isolation, sterilization, medical experimentation, incarceration, brutality and murder. Afro-German mulatto children were marginalized in the Third Reich--isolated socially and economically--and banned from attending university. Most jobs were closed off to them due to racial discrimination.

The above is a rare documentary of black Germans who survived Nazi Germany. This video has English subtitles. It was recorded off of a TV so it is slightly distorted, but it is a fascinating document about Afro-German history.

Black French troops in the Rhineland

After World War I and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles (1919), the French occupied the Rhineland--the coal belt of Germany. Among the French troops were black French colonial soldiers. Their presence--and  propaganda about them--exacerbated anti-black sentiments in Germany. The propaganda presented black soldiers as rapists of German women and carriers of venereal and other diseases.

 Satirical anti-French medal dated 1920 that reads: "The Watch on the Rhine!! Liberty. Equality. Fraternity."


The "Rhineland Bastards"

There was intermarrying between the French black soldiers and German women. The children of these unions were called “Rhineland Bastards.” Adolf Hitler wrote of them in Mein Kampf. He charged that “the Jews had brought the Negroes into the Rhineland with the clear aim of ruining the hated white race by the necessarily-resulting bastardization.”

The "Rhineland Bastards" became an issue once Hitler took power. The leading publication that targeted Afro-Germans was the Neues Volk--with a circulation of 140,000--and an article in that publication of 1933 advocated the sterilization of the children of French black soldiers and German women. Another article in Neues Volk said, "...all inventions and discoveries were made by the white race. The black race has lived in the world as long as the white and has not yet invented or discovered anything."

Nazi propaganda: "The result! Racial pride disappears."

Nazi laws target black Germans

In the "Nuremberg Laws" of 1935 marriages between Aryans and non-Aryans were banned, and black Germans and their spouses lost German citizenship and any right to claim state support such as unemployment insurance. In 1936, the "Law on the Hitler Youth" decreed that all German youth may be members of the Hitler Youth with the exception of black children.

An article in Neues Volk stated, "...we know of approximately 600 bastards on the Rhine, tomorrow it will be more. Their sorrow will be multiplied through their children--a sorrow that can never be overcome. Let this be said to open the eyes of those in whose hands it lies to prevent this suffering from increasing." (emphasis by the author)

Bruce at the piano as a child.

Afro-German Musician Kwassi Bruce

Kwassi Bruce was born in Togo and had lived in Berlin since 1896, when his father was brought there along with around 100 other black German colonists to participate in the First German Colonial Exhibition. Kwassi became an excellent pianist and had his own orchestra in Berlin when Hitler came to power. He wrote a 10-page typed letter to the Colonial Dept. of the German Foreign Office in August of 1934 about the treatment of himself and other "Colored" Germans.

"Since the beginning of the national [Nazi] government," writes Bruce, "we Colored, insofar as we earned our own living as workers...have lost our positions and engagements....It has not been possible for us, even after presenting proof of our origins from the former German colonies, to get new employment..." Bruce explained that he was a naturalized German with a German passport, and that when Hitler took power he played with his orchestra in a "good Berlin wine restaurant....[and] My position was permanent."

Bruce continues, "...the owner of the business told me that...he would not be able to employ me further with my orchestra because we were Colored." So he left and tried to find work in vain. Even his participation in World War I as a volunteer for the Germans and two years as a POW "couldn't convince any employer to hire me."

"Black Germans do not exist"

Born in Berlin in 1916, James Wonja Michael was in Paris in 1937 when his passport had run out. So he went to the German consulate to renew it. The clerk was rude to him, asking him "What do you want?" He explained and the clerk said, "Your passport?! What--are you German?" James said yes and handed him the passport.
The clerk disappeared and returned 15 minutes later. He asked for his passport back. The clerk said, "No, we are going to keep your passport. You are no longer German. Black Germans do not exist."

Nazi propaganda about "Rhineland Bastards."

Sterilization of the "Rhineland Bastards"

By 1937, each of the identified mulatto children from the Rhineland--which numbered 400-- had been forcibly sterilized. A Black Holocaust survivor, Hans Hauck, was a victim of that "program." In the film, Hitler's Forgotten Victims, he explained that he was forced to undergo sterilization--with no anesthetic. After receiving his "certificate" he was "free to go" as long as he agreed to never have sex with any German women.

"Deutsche Afrika-Schau." Kwassi Bruce circled in blue.

The "Deutsche Afrika-Schau"

The Foreign Office, the Colonial Political section of the Nazi party, and the Propaganda Ministry teamed up to create a theatrical troupe to provide "colonists" with employment. This was the Deutsche Afrika-Schau (German African Show)--a blend of theater, colonial exhibition, and traveling circus that toured the Third Reich from the spring of 1936 until the summer of 1940.

Gerwin Strobl writes, "Its involuntary cast of 'colonial Negroes'...acted out supposed characteristic scenes of African life. The paying public encountered happy 'natives'...the cast encountered grim-faced officials, ever mindful of the 'racial peculiarities of the Negroes, especially their powerful urges and their tendency towards sexual excess.' " Closed down in 1940, the Afrika-Schau was a victim of Nazi racism--the "mere sight of Negroes" provoked hostility from the public and Nazi party officials alike. Thus from 1940 on, "Colored" performers were banned from German stages. Ironically, Afro-German performers worked "underground" in the films of Goebbels' Ministry of Propaganda.

Afro-Germans in concentration camps and death camps

Striped of citizenship and passports, black Germans had difficulty leaving Germany. Those who could did manage to flee. Some stayed because they felt that they were Germans and shouldn't be chased out of their country. Approximately 2,000 Afro-Germans perished in the concentration camps and death camps of the Third Reich. They were thrown into cattle cars and deported to the death camps. They were given the most horrible tasks--either in the crematoria or "hospitals" where medical experiments were performed on them.


Strobl, Gerwin. The swastika and the stage: German theatre and society, 1933-1945. Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Hitler's Forgotten Holocaust Victims. Black Presence.

Chimbelu, Chiponda. "The fate of blacks in Nazi Germany." Deutsche Welle. 10.01.2010

Boateng, Osei. "Black Germans do not exist." New African. May 2001.

Blacks During the Holocaust. Holocaust Encyclopedia. US Holocaust Memorial Museum.



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