The Nazis and the Black Holocaust
When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1932, the racist policies of the Nazis impacted other groups besides the Jews. The Nazis' racial purity laws also targeted gypsies (Roma), homosexuals, the mentally challenged, and blacks. Precisely how many Afro-Germans died in Nazi concentration camps is not known, but estimates put the figure at between 25,000 and 50,000. The relatively low numbers of blacks in Germany, their wide dispersal across the country, and the fact that the Nazis concentrated on the Jews were some factors that made it possible for many Afro-Germans to survive the war. One such survivor, who now lives in the U.S., published a book about his experiences as a black child growing up in Nazi Germany.
Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi, the retired managing editor of Ebony magazine, was born in Hamburg to a Liberian father and a German mother in 1926. In his book, Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany, Massaquoi describes with stunning frankness how as a young boy he so badly wanted to fit into the Nazi culture that he had a babysitter sew a swastika on his sweater. He wore it to school only once before his mother removed it and tried to explain to him why he could not join the Hitler Youth. The German title of his book, Neger, Neger, Schornsteinfeger ("Negro, Negro, chimneysweep"), reflects one of the many taunts he heard as a young boy.
When the war came to Germany, Hans-Jürgen had more than the Nazis to worry about. Heavy Allied bombing forced him and his German mother Bertha Baetz to flee Hamburg. He attributes his survival to good luck and the help of his mother and German friends. In 1947 he went to Liberia before immigrating to the United States and joining the army as a paratrooper and later studying journalism at the University of Illinois. That led to his career at Ebony.
In Germany Massaquoi had avoided the tragic fate of many blacks during the Nazi era, but it was usually more difficult for adult blacks. The luckier ones were forcibly sterilized but allowed to live. Others were sent to concentration camps. Some Allied prisoners of war, including black French colonial soldiers and African Americans, were interned in Stalag-III-A at Luckenwalde near Berlin. In the summer of 1940 about 4,000 black POWs were sent to Luckenwalde. In 1941 300 of them were forced to act as extras in the German film Germanin (1943). Other black POWs also appeared in Quax in Afrika (1943, with Heinz Rühmann).
Speaking of movies, Neger, Neger, Schornsteinfeger, a German TV movie based on Massaquoi's book, is scheduled to air on German TV in fall 2006. Actress and producer Whoopi Goldberg, who owns the English-language rights to his book, has been trying to get Massaquoi's story made into a major motion picture for at least eight years, so far without success.
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