Black People under National Socialism

1936 — 1945

Germany

Activism & Resistance Discrimination & Inequity

During the colonial era, many black people migrate to Germany from its former colonies. In 1933 their papers are revoked and replaced with so-called foreigner passports, effectively rendering impossible the search for work, the receipt of state welfare, and travel abroad. Many experience this indignity as a psychological trauma, as their sense of national and cultural belonging is systematically denied them.

The situation of black people and black Germans under the National Socialist regime took on a different form from that of Jews, Sinti and Roma (see also:Jews under National Socialism, 1933-1945; and Roma and Sinti under National Socialism, 1933-1945). The reason for this was Hitler’s keen interest in the reclamation of former German colonies. This geopolitical goal, along with the the initial interest in maintaining good relations with other colonial powers such as France or Great Britain, allowed numerous black people to survive the years of Nazi rule. Many strategically took up position in the entertainment industry, such as cinema or cabaret, where they mostly played roles that fed into preconceived notions of “exoticism” and “race”.

Nonetheless, targeted acts of racist violence were carried out against black people, especially against the children of white women and black soldiers who had taken part in the French occupation of the Rhineland. Even during the occupation, racist protests against the presence of black soldiers in the Rhineland were a part of public and political discourse in Germany (see also:Occupation the Rhineland, 1919). In National Socialist rhetoric, the children of these soldiers were considered especially “dangerous” for the “German race” and the “white race”. In 1933, Wolfgang Abel, a student of the then prominent “racial researcher” Eugen Fischer, carried out “racial-hygiene” studies on these children. The goal was to study alleged “racial characteristics” on the basis of measurements and photographs, as was also done to Jews during this period. This not only entailed a pathologization of the black body, which was understood to be inferior to the white, but also served the long-standing goal to render black people and people of color infertile in order to “maintain the purity” of the “German race”.

This idea was already formulated at the beginning of the 1930s. Hermann Göring, a leading figure in the NSDAP, nonetheless rejected a law for “racial sterilization” fearing international repercussions. Instead, beginning in 1937, black people, including many minors, were subject to illegal forced sterilization in local hospitals without anesthesia. These procedures were overseen and decided upon in individual cases by the “special commission III” of the Gestapo, which was formed especially for this purpose. Alongside these acts of state violence, black people experienced regular everyday discrimination in Nazi Germany, in seeking employment, for example, or in availing themselves of schools, kindergartens and other public facilities and provisions.