Children of the occupation in the FRG

1950

Germany

Discrimination & Inequity Families & Relationships

Between 1945 and 1955, around 68,000 so-called “children of the occupation” are born in the three western zones of occupied Germany. Of these, 5,000 are born to German mothers and African-American or Moroccan fathers, serving as members of the American or French armed forces.

After the end of the occupation, many of these soldiers returned to their home countries. This created the public impression that they did not feel responsible for the children born to them in Germany or the women with whom these children were conceived. In fact, only very few soldiers were able to bring partners and children back to the US. Many were required to apply for official permission from the US Army to marry a German woman. However, these applications were rejected virtually without exception; in accordance with the system of racial segregation and oppression dominant in the US, the Army was unwilling to tolerate marriage between black men and German women. Many new fathers were thus compelled to return to the US alone.

The fate of these children became the object of a debate on both sides of the Atlantic, in which the “brown babies” (as they were referred to in the US) were depicted as basically “foreign” to Germany. Like their fathers, they experienced everyday racism and discrimination, frequently being labelled with degrading terms taken from the animal world, such as “bastard‘ or “mongrel” (LINK, Racist protests against the occupation of the Rheinland, 1919). This brought to light the degree to which the FRG continued to define itself as a white “people’s community” that assessed membership on the basis of biological and ”racial” criteria.

Against the backdrop of massive discrimination against these children (and, by extension, their mothers), the African American journalist Mabel A. Grammer organized an adoption program that became known as the “brown baby plan”. The children were adopted by African American families in the US which had previously not enjoyed adoption rights. Yet racism and discrimination (institutionalized as “racial segregation”) were also a part of everyday life in America. Many adopted children would later report that they felt they did not belong and were determined to better understand their own histories.

Mothers who kept their children and raised them alone often returned to their parents‘ homes. This allowed them to work while the children were cared for by their grandparents. According to Angelica Fenner, only in very rare cases was discrimination on the basis of skin color present in these settings, as it was often women’s own families that had encouraged them to begin relationships with allied soldiers, in order to gain access to goods and commodities that they had been barred from obtaining in wartime.

Recently, a diverse range of publications has appeared on this topic. Most of them are autobiographies of formed children of the occupation in the FRG, including Thomas Usleber’s Die Farben unter meiner Haut (The Colors under my skin) and Ika Hügel Marshall’s Daheim unterwegs (At Home on the Move).