Monday, February 27, 2006

The Holocaust and Black Germans

My grandfather had a remarkable memory...He could recall things with such vividness and clarity that it seemed that the events happened just yesterday when in actuality they were 60 plus years ago yesterday!!! The comic panels above actually describes a true story concerning my grandfather's first encounters with the German concentration camps known in many circles as the Nazi Death Camps...At first my grandfather expressed to me that when he and his colleagues first heard rumors about these death camps that were supposedly efficient and prolific in their extermination of human life, they really didn't think anything about them...They thought of the death camps more as rumors and exaggerations than solid fact...When he encountered the camps for the first time he learned that fact can profoundly be more detrimental, sinister and tragic than fiction...My grandfather saw the lowest depths of inhumanity, human suffering and misery all in his first glaze upon a concentration camp...It was basically hell on earth...He recalled the emaciated dead, dying and the living dead, the people who were so traumatized and shell shocked by their experiences that their pscyhe basically transformed their entire existence into a zombie like state and trance...He told me of the human ovens, the dead stacked up like piles of wood, the gas shower stalls, all the things that people normally talk about when they talk about the Holocaust...He and several of his colleagues were assigned to find two S.S. officers who disgusted themselves as Holocaust victims and were hiding in one of the concentration camps...My grandfather relayed to me the fact that he felt that the assignment was relatively easy considering that one, the real Holocaust victims were more than eager in pointing out the culprits (for obvious reasons) and two, the S.S. officers look too healthy and well fed meaning that they sorely stood out among the rail thin malnourished souls who they themselves ill-fed and mistreated...The only abuse the S.S. officers suffered was the consumption of three square meals a day.

Many people often just associate the Holocaust with the genocide of Europe's Jews...Although the Nazis killed an estimated 6 million Jews, the Nazis also killed an estimated 6 million more people of different nationalities and creeds including homosexuals,Gypsies, mentally and physically handicapped individuals, Jehovah witnesses, and yes Black Germans!!! The following is a review of a documentary about Black Germany's experiences in the Holocaust and WW2...The review offers some excellent points on the subject and I am sure that the documentary is even more insightful.The ‘Black’ Experience in the Holocaust

1. ... the horrific experiences of Black people in Nazi Germany are virtually ignored. These experiences are brought to light in a documentary film entitled Hitler's Forgotten Victims (Afro-Wisdom Productions). The film uses interviews with survivors and their families as well as archival material to document the Black German Holocaust experience; it also explores the history of German racism, suggests links between German colonialism and Nazi policy, and examines the treatment of Black prisoners-of-war.

2. Hitler's Forgotten Victims reveals that sterilization programs for Blacks had been instigated by Germany's most senior Nazi geneticist, Doctor Eugen Fischer ...

3. This film shows that Nazi obsession with racial purity and eugenics was provoked and intensified in 1918, following Germany's defeat in the First World War. ...

4. Hitler's Forgotten Victims shows that ... 400 mixed-race children were forcibly sterilized in the Rhineland area alone by the end of 1937, while 400 others just disappeared into Hitler's concentration camps.

6. While many Blacks may have considered themselves lucky to escape Nazi persecution, even via forced sterilization, Hitler's Forgotten Victims recalls that early on, Hitler had announced plans for more complete eradication of unwanted populations. In a speech in Bresau in 1932, for instance, he had ordered all Africans, Jews, and other non-Aryans to leave Germany or go into concentration camps. According to this documentary, however, the majority of Blacks in Germany could not heed Hitler's warning as they were German citizens with German passports and had no where else to go. A fair number escaped to France, but many attempted to return to the former German colonies that had been taken over by the League of Nations in 1920. The British colonial authorities then administering the newly named South-West Africa, however, would not allow Black Germans refugee status on the grounds that they had fought for Germany in the First World War.

7. My only criticism of Hitler's Forgotten Victims is that it does not give enough insight into the lives of Black Germans who resisted Nazi Germany, such as Black activist Lari Gilges, who founded the Northwest Rann--an organisation of entertainers that fought the Nazis in his home town of Dusseldorf--and who was murdered by the SS in 1933, the year Hitler came to power. The film does, however, attend to the way various parts of the entertainment industry, such as film studios and touring ethnic shows like the Hillerkus Afrikaschau circuses, provided at least temporary refuges from Nazi persecution.

8. Interestingly, by 1940 these operations were taken over by the SS, who considered them racially unacceptable and converted them to serve their own racist propaganda purposes. For instance, Propaganda minister Josef Goebbels realized that in order to spread the Nazi Gospel of white Aryan supremacy, he needed to exploit the most popular entertainment medium of the time--German feature films. Propaganda pictures such as Kongo Express, Quax in Africa, and Auntie Wanda from Uganda were made to present Germany as an enlightened, benevolent colonial power. Thus, even under Nazi control, the film industry provided a certain amount of protection for Black Germans. As Black actor Werner Egoimue explains, "We had an agent then, who had all the addresses of Black people in Berlin. The Reich's Chamber of Commerce was in touch with him, and when they were casting a film, it was fun--inside the studio. Outside the door you could be arrested. But inside you were as safe as in a bank."

9. Hitler's Forgotten Victims also presents the experience of Black POWs. The Nazis segregated Black prisoners from the rest of the camp population for extra special treatment of the fatal kind. Often, in what was a breach of the Geneva Convention, Black prisoners were denied food and assigned highly dangerous jobs. Footage never aired before shows Black soldiers and civilians scavenging for scraps of food in garbage heaps at the Hemer POW camp near Dortmund in Northwest Germany. No one knows how many Black people died in the camps at the hands of the SS guards, producer Moise Shewa says, because Jews were demarcated as Jews, but Black people were demarcated by nationality.

10. Although there does not seem to be a huge amount of documented evidence concerning the Black experience in German concentration camps, the film does provide compelling glimpses of how the Nazis treated their Black victims. It presents visual testimony, such as the art of Black American painter Joseph Nassy, who was working as a sound engineer in Brussels before his arrest by the Gestapo, which portrays the harsh realities of concentration camp life. It also presents oral testimony, such as that from Johnny William. Born to an African mother and a white French father, William was arrested by the Gestapo and deported to the Neugengamme concentration camp near Hamburg. "There were 5 or 6 of us," he explains. "As soon as we arrived at Neugengamme, we were immediately separated from the white deportees by the SS. They considered us to be sub-human beings like animals, chimpanzees."

11. Hitler's Forgotten Victims also recalls the impact made by Black inmates on other inmates. A case in point is Johnny Voste, the Belgian Resistance fighter who was arrested in 1942 for sabotage in the tow of Malignes, near Antwerp, and was deported to Dachau. The film's interview with Wily Sel reveals that "Johnny got the possibility to organise boxes of vitamins and gave them to all his friends and buddies he had there. The survivors will say he saved our lives at that moment because it is true. The main technique to survive in the concentration camps was to like to live, not to die, to say 'No, you can't have my life: I will fight for it.'"

12. Without doubt, Hitler's Forgotten Victims is a documentary that should not be forgotten. It makes clear that the 'special treatment' of Blacks should be acknowledged as an important part of the Holocaust. Sadly, the Nazi victimization of Blacks has remained unacknowledged by every German government since 1939. One simple reason for this convenient amnesia is that--...--there is relatively little shocking celluloid evidence showing specifically how Blacks were with. The film corrects this historical gap by relying mainly on survivor and family narratives.

13. The 'lack' of evidence heretofore may explain why German authorities have consistently refused to meet compensation claims launched by Black survivors, their relatives, and victim's families. Further, most German Black people were stripped of their nationality to the Nazis, making it extremely difficult for them to claim reparations as citizens of the German state. As German MP Bernd Reuter stated, "After the war it was difficult to come up with proof that one was stateless but had been German." One hopes this film will help force the German Government to acknowledge the Black experience at the hands of the Nazis and to compensate Black Germans. One also hopes that the distribution and viewing of this film will make people everywhere realize the hydra-headed nature of the Nazi racist imaginary and its atrocious practices.
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UK Title: Hitler's Forgotten Victims. Screened on England's Channel Four, October 2, 1997.
USA Title: Black Survivors of the Holocaust. To be screened on the Family Channel
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1 comment:

Callie Herd said...

Ronnie you did a great and wonderful job with your dedication to your grandfathter. He would be honored. I thank God that you are using your talent in a very instrumental way. Your words will one day touch millions and millions of individuals. To provide information that is so valuable is a awesome task.
As the saying goes:
To much is given, much is expected.
You are a testimony to those words. Continue to press on. :) :D
Love your Mother.
Callie Herd
08/23/2005 17:31