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The Holocaust History Project.
The Holocaust History Project.

Black Victims


I am a black-british postgradute student living in London. I know from research into the black European experience, that there were many black people here just before WW2. I am wondering what happened to them under the Third Reich. Could you possibly enlighten me? I would particularly appreciate any book or internet site references which you think may be of use. I am really pleased that you are so determined to educate future generations about the Holocaust, it is a lesson that we all, from whichever race we originate, must never forget or allow to be denied or trvialised by those who have much to learn about the sanctity of life

Harry W. Mazal OBE answers:

I am one of the volunteers in the Holocaust History who responds to questions from our readers. It is possible that you will receive other answers from my colleagues.

There are a number of references to the treatment of blacks by the Nazis both in their own publications as well as those written by observers. The most recent book to come into my hands is:

The African-German Experience: Critical Essays
Carol Aisha Blackshire-Belay
c. 1996, Praeger Publishers (Westport CT)
ISBN 0-275-95079-4

Chapter 5 is an essay by Susan Semples, "African Germans in the Third Reich." You can obtain considerable information about the subject not only from her text, but from a vast bibliography that she cites at the end of the chapter. The first paragraph reads:

While the racial policies of the Third Reich toward the Jews is well-documented, the fate of the African or biracial Germans living in Germany during the Third Reich has not generated much attention. The one notable exception is Reiner Pommerin's seminal study, Sterilisierung der Rheinlandbastarde. Das Schicksal einer farbigen deutschen Minderheit 1918-1937 (1979) which examines the public and political reaction to these children and documents their forced sterilization during the Third Reich. More recently in The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945, Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wipperman (1991)also briefly discuss the persecution of the Rhineland African-Germans during this period.

She goes on to say (excerpted):

[...]The biracial Rhineland Germans fathered by black (or mixed black) French Colonial occupation troops after World War I constituted the largest group of African Germans. It is commonly accepted that the Rhineland African-Germans roughly numbered between five hundred and eight hundred. No exact figures exist for other African Germans who were scattered throughout the Reich. A conservative estimate would be that the combined total for all African Germans was about a thousand.

A very brief description of the plight of black people in Germany can be found in:

The Other Victims: First Person Stories of Non-Jews Persecuted by the Nazis
Ina R. Friedman
c. 1990, Houghton Mifflin (Boston)
ISBN 0-395-50212-8

The brief chapter on blacks (pp. 91-93) is chilling. It starts with an odious comment by Adolf Hitler:

The mulatto children came about through rape or the white mother was a whore.In both cases, there is not the slightest moral duty regarding these offspring of a foreign race.

Three brief paragraphs from this chapter:

Though black entertainers were popular in Germany before Hitler came to power, they were boycotted when the Nazis took over. A book entitled Degenerate Music: An Accounting was published in 1938. The cover shows a black musician with a Jewish star on his lapel. Hitler's hatred of blacks extended to black athletes. When Jesse Owens, the American track star, won three gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Hitler refused to be present when the medals were awarded.

Though there were relatively few blacks in Germany, Hitler discriminated between black and white prisoners of war. Black soldiers captured during World War II were separated from their units and shot.

Historians are just beginning to examine the Nazi files on blacks. Much of the information has yet to be obtained and made available to the public. To date, the few existent publications are available only in German.

There are a number of books on German racial theories that paint a cruel picture of minorities in that country during the Third Reich. These include Jews, blacks and Gypsies -- though not the Japanese who were 'honorary Aryans.' One example of the many in my library is:

Lehrbuch der Rassenkunde_
(Study Book of Racial Science)
Otto Steche
c. 1933, Quelle & Mayer
I hope that this information will be useful in your research.

Yours sincerely,

Harry W. Mazal OBE


Is there any evidence that Africans were thrown into lagers by the Germans during the Nazi period?

Andrew Mathis responds:

I am one of the volunteers who answers questions submitted to the Holocaust History Project.

Yes, there is much evidence in support of the encampment and other mistreatment of people of African origin under the Third Reich.

Nazi Germany's "problem" with Africans stemmed from the use by the French army during World War I of African soldiers from its colonies. These soldiers stayed in Europe, some occupied Germany and took up residence there, and some fathered mixed-race children with German women. Hitler stated in 1932, before his election, that if he took power, black residents of Germany would either be deported or put in concentration camps.

Once the Nazi regime took power, sterilization was often performed on these children in the name of the preservation of "racial purity." When the Rhineland was remilitarized by the Nazis (its first violation of the Treaty of Versailles), the black population residing there was attacked directly and forcibly sterilized.

As for African-American prisoners of war, they were segregated in POW camps and offered less in terms of provisions, food, etc. Of course, they were already segregated in the American armed forces, but their treatment worsened once taken prisoners. Ironically, black units of the U.S. Armed Forces liberated several concentration camps in Germany.

The final issue is North Africans during the war. The Nazis sought to eliminate the Sephardic Jews living in North African colonies of France, but there is little evidence that deportation of these Jews ever took place. In fact, the wartime Sultan of Morocco, Muhammad V, took measures specifically to protect his Jewish population, which was among the largest in North Africa. Most Sephardic victims of the Holocaust hailed from Southern Europe (Italy and Greece, for instance).

For more information, you will want to find the film Hitler's Forgotten Victims, directed by David Okuefuna and Moise Shewa. It aired originally on Channel Four in England, so you may want to contact them to obtain a copy.

Andrew E. Mathis, Ph.D.


I have a quick question to settle a dispute between a friend and myself. She is from Jamaica, where her husband was the mayor and is pretty savvy about politics. I on the other hand was born and raised in the US, my backgraound is Germand, English and Irish, and know just about enough to carry a conversation.

She indicated to me that there were several million blacks held in the Holocaust, maybe even more so than the Jewish culture. And that American history neglects to inform us of th! is important fact. Is this true?

Fragano Ledgister responds:

Hello, Stephanie, I'm one of the volunteers who answers questions at the Holocaust History project. You may also receive answers from other volunteers.

It is true that Nazi ideology demonised black people. Hitler in Mein Kampf described blacks as 'culture destroyers' (in contrast to Aryan 'culture creators', and Asian 'culture preservers'. When the Nazis came to power they sought to uproot cultural elements of black origin (such as jazz music) that had penetrated German society.

They also sought to get rid of black people.

There were four categories of black people who were affected by the Nazis in Germany and in German-occupied Europe during World War II. They were

(1) Persons who had come to Germany from Germany's African colonies before World War I. That is persons from Cameroon (Kamerun), Namibia (South-West Africa), and Tanganyika (now the greater part of Tanzania). These included members of the Herero people of Namibia who had been the victims of the first genocide of the twentieth century, in which about 80 percent of the Hereros died, directed against them by the German colonial authorities in 1904. Germany has consistently refused to apologise for this crime against humanity.

(2) The so-called 'Rhine bastards', children born to German women and French West African (mostly Senegalese) occupation troops in the 1920s. The Nazis considered such biracial children visible and embarrassing emblems of what they called 'racial shame'.

(3) A small number of black people from various parts of the world who settled in Germany in the 1920s, mostly entertainers.

(4) Black colonial subjects and citizens of countries occupied by Germany or at war with Germany. When the Germans occupied France, the Netherlands, and Belgium they found in those countries a number of African and Caribbean colonial subjects who were black. During the course of the war, they interned black civilian seamen from British and American ships, and black soldiers, sailors, and airmen from British, American, and French forces at war with them.

Members of categories 1, 2, and 3 were directly subject to German racial laws. This included being sent to concentration camps, and sometimes death camps. Most of the members of categories 1 and 2 were sterilised (that is they were forcibly castrated or spayed). However, some of them survived by working as film actors for the German Ministry of Propaganda (which made films about the former German colonies in Africa, and used black actors to portray native Africans), and others managed to keep jobs in factories.. One such survivor recorded the surprise of the Soviet troops who liberated him at finding a black man in Germany.

The numbers, however, were by no means as large as your friend has suggested. Most estimates of categories 1 and 2 are in the mid-twenty thousands, and the total number in categories 1-3 was probably no more than 30,000.

Category 4 was much larger, but little seems to have been done to them unless they were caught acting against German interests, as happened to the Surinamese national hero Anton de Kom, who was active in the Dutch resistance and died in the Mauthausen concentration camp in 1944 (it is a truly shameful matter that his contribution to Dutch resistance to German occupation was not acknowledged by the government of the Netherlands until the 1980s, though when his homeland of Surinam became independent the university there was named in his honour). African-American French Resistance officer, Josephine Baker, on the other hand, survived the war unharmed, and it is greatly to the credit of the French Republic that when she died in the 1970s she received a state funeral.

Prisoners of war and interns seem, in the main, to have been treated correctly.

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