Black Victims of the Nazis
Black Victims of the Nazis
Saturday, June 09, 2007
"Holocaust" is usually associated with the six million Jews slaughtered by the Nazis in Hitler's Germany. But while the Nazis were anti-Semitic, their myth of Aryan superiority extended to all racial groups outside the Teutonic. This included peoples of African origin, and the idea of the "final solution" began in Africa's German colonies in Tanganyka, Namibia, and Cameroon where multitudes were massacred because they were considered sub-human. The medical experiments attempted on live inmates in Nazi concentration camps were initiated in Africa.
Black Victims of the Nazis by Z Nia Reynolds attempts to highlight the horror of blacks caught up in the horrors of Hitler's Reich. Nazi intentions for Africa can be gleaned from the German diplomat in Italian-occupied Ethiopia who said that in a few years Addis Ababa would be like Chicago where the indigenous population had been exterminated by Europeans. In Germany itself, there were children of French occupation forces, many of them African and children of Germans who lived in the colonies.
That not all were exterminated was due to the fact that they were not as numerous as the Jews. The Nazis also feared that a "final solution" for blacks would sabotage their attempts to recover their colonies in Africa. And Germans were confused by the physical prowess of black athletes like Joe Louis and Jesse Owens. Some forget that the Nazis condemned the Jews for their alleged overdeveloped intellects and physical disabilities. Nazi propaganda showed Jews as cunning schemers, undermining true Germans who were physically superior.
The model of the Aryan was the tall, blond, blue-eyed German, the embodiment of Nietzsche's "magnificent blond brute". Unfortunately their leaders, including Hitler and Goebbels, were short, black-haired, brown-eyed and physically repulsive. The Berlin Olympics of 1936 was supposed to showcase the physical perfection of German athletes, who would demonstrate the physical inferiority of Jews and other "lesser" races. This myth was shattered by the spectacular achievements of Jesse Owens who won four gold medals in the most physically challenging contests. The same blow was struck at German prestige by Joe Louis who knocked out Max Schmelling in the first round of their second fight, which Nazis had promoted as a showpiece of Aryan power.
A nation which had built its myth of racial superiority on its physical attributes was humiliated by blacks who had been regarded as the missing link between human beings and animals. Unlike their leaders, however, German athletes admired Louis and Owens, and Schmelling became a friend and benefactor of the boxer who had crushed him after his first-time defeat of the "Brown Bomber". There were many blacks in the concentration camps and many were killed. But there were Germans associated with the African colonies who tried to show how the Reich could "civilise" these people rather than killing them.
The book cites letters and other documents of the struggle between Nazis of these two orientations who struggled to gain control of policy towards blacks. This was not unlike the United States and other slave societies where "well-behaved" blacks, the "Uncle Toms" or "House Niggers", were relatively safe to "liberals" while "rebels" felt the whip, bullet and lynch rope. While policy was ambiguous, however, racism among the German population ensured that blacks suffered in their lack of opportunities for schools, employment, health, housing and other benefits in the society.
The French, English and Americans armed millions of peoples of African origin to fight Nazism, and German propaganda made much of the fact that these people fought for the freedom of societies which lynched and humiliated them at home. But while this was true to a large extent, black experience of this fight for freedom would influence the struggles for independence and civil rights after the war. Nazism demonstrated the bankruptcy of racism which deprived the nation of the energy and intelligence of millions of its people who could have helped it triumph, if it had fought a just war.
Black Victims of the Nazis fills in the blank spaces of a history which portrays the World Wars as fights between people of European descent. Millions of Africans, Asians, and other people who fought, suffered and died are left out of the picture, though thousands of Africans among French occupation forces in the Rhineland angered the Nazis, and Hitler condemned this as a "Jewish plot" to humiliate Germans! By trying to expropriate the holocaust to exclusively Jewish suffering, right-wing Jews dishonour the suffering of their ancestors. Blacks were also victims, as this book shows. If we can accept victims of evil as heroes, the world would be a better place for all of us.
Patrick Wilmot is visiting professor at three Nigerian universities. He writes out of London.