Clarence Lusane, Hitler's Black Victims: The Historical Experiences of Afro-Germans, European Blacks, Africans, and African Americans in the Nazi Era

By Konuk, Kader | German Politics and Society, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Clarence Lusane, Hitler's Black Victims: The Historical Experiences of Afro-Germans, European Blacks, Africans, and African Americans in the Nazi Era


Konuk, Kader, German Politics and Society


Clarence Lusane, Hitler's Black Victims: The Historical Experiences of Afro-Germans, European Blacks, Africans, and African Americans in the Nazi Era (New York and London: Routledge 2002)

Clarence Lusane's Hitler's Black Victims provides a long overdue historical account of the black population in Germany during the Nazi period. As a study of German racial policies and the Holocaust, Lusane's book is part of a new trend in the emerging field of African German studies, a field that was hitherto concerned primarily with questions of identity.

Scholarly interest in people of African descent in Germany began in the mid-1980s. The book Farbe bekennen: Afro-deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Geschichte (published in English as Showing Our Colors) was the first in a series of studies on African Germans that helped shape the field. Influenced by the African-American feminist activist, poet, and essayist Audre Lorde, who paid regular visits to Berlin in the 1980s, May Opitz (Ayim), Katharina Oguntoye, and Dagmar Schultz edited this collection of interviews, essays, and articles, in which they tried to find a name and an identity for German women of African decent. The volume had a remarkable impact on the formation of an African German identity and helped launch the first nationwide organization specifically for black Germans, the Initiative Schwarze Deutsche und Schwarze in Deutschland (Initiative of Black Germans and Blacks in Germany). Since 1990, this organization has sponsored the annual Black History Month in Berlin, thereby providing a forum for articulating concerns within the community.

Afro-deutsch and Schwarze Deutsche, or Afro-German and Black-German, have since become the terms for rendering this growing community visible and have served to unite formerly scattered and isolated individuals in East and West Germany. The African German community attempts to challenge the widespread assumption that German equals being white and has in recent years produced a considerable quantity of poetry, autobiography, hip-hop music, and films that reflect this challenge to mainstream culture. While the German entertainment industry has yet to employ an African German news anchor on national television, it has in recent years shown an interest in African Germans as actors, musicians, and presenters of entertainment shows, often packaging them as "authentic exotics."

A number of scholars in Germany and the United States have embarked on an ambitious project to critically reevaluate the German history of racism since the end of the eighteenth century. So far, two main approaches have emerged: German postcolonial studies and African German history. Research on German colonialism has resulted in a substantial body of work mainly produced in the United States. The second approach, which began with Farbe bekennen in Germany, covers the history of African Germans during the twentieth century and is not directly linked to the history of the German colonies. As a result, the politically active African German community focuses mainly on issues such as forced sterilization during the Nazi period. Also of concern is the failure of the German government and the wider public to recognize the persecution of African Germans by the Nazis and acknowledge children born to white German women and black soldiers of the occupying forces during and after WWI and WWII (so-called Schwarze Schmach (black disgrace) and Besatzungskinder (children of occupation).

Against this backdrop, Clarence Lusane's book Hitler's Black Victims analyzes the racial policies confronting African Germans and other people of African descent during the Nazi period. The study encompasses the experiences of African Germans, European Blacks, Africans, and African Americans in Nazi Germany, drawing international links between these groups. The volume directs attention to a variety of topics--responses within the African American community to Hitler's rise to power, observations by African American visitors to Germany, and African American athletes in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

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