Blacks under the Swastika: A Research Note

By Kestling, Robert W. | The Journal of Negro History, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

Blacks under the Swastika: A Research Note


Kestling, Robert W., The Journal of Negro History


This article highlights the establishment of a tradition of anti-black racism during the German Imperial and Weimar periods. Also it will show that the tradition was present during the Nazi period. Moreover, anti-black racism probably continued in postwar Germany. The postwar story, however, remains to be researched in detail. Furthermore, this article also serves as an educational tool to enlighten the public, including Holocaust scholars and educators, who are not aware that blacks were victimized under the Nazi regime in Europe.

Why are most people not informed about this subject? One reason probably is the lack of documentation as compared to the abundance of archival and published materials that exist about the plight of other victims of the Holocaust (1933 - 1945). Another explanation is there were relatively few black victims as compared to the millions of Jews and other minority groups who were victimized by the Nazis in Europe. Scant evidence indicates that there were an estimated 55,000 black victims and prisoners of war who were victimized by the Nazis.(1)

Hannah Arendt, a well-known chronicler and a victim of Nazi persecution, states that the seed of totalitarian terror (fascism) were contained within the policies pursued by Europeans in Africa. Her hypothesis became controversial among other historians who believed she had no proof while others either partially or fully concurred offering evidence to support their arguments. Helmut Bley, a well-known historian of SouthWest Africa and a supporter of a prototype-Nazi policy toward people of African descent, argued that pervasive racism animated the German colonial settlers to expropriate the property of some of the African tribes, exploited and enslaved black laborers, legalized a state of lawlessness and pressured the government to sanction genocide against blacks who resisted.(2) Historians like Bley have written about anti-black racism during the Imperial and Weimar periods and a few have touched upon the Nazi period, but no one has attempted to show a tradition of anti-black racism in Germany which extended from 1885 to 1945 and possibly beyond.

THE IMPERIAL AND WEIMAR TRADITION OF ANTI-BLACK RACISM

Anti-black racism was not a new phenomenon in Germany. It existed as far back as the eighteenth-century and became much more noticeable during the later part of the nineteenth-century, when the country became a player in the scramble for African territories. German missionaries, the monarchy, settlers, bureaucrats, soldiers and industrialists sanctioned premeditated genocide on some indigenous tribes of South-West Africa and ruthlessly squashed revolts by blacks in other German colonies.(3) Moreover, anti-black racism was learned by the upper and middle classes of Germany from the writings of German social-Democrats who later championed race hygiene. Furthermore, other scholars like Arthur Comte de Gobineau, who selected race as the primary moving force of world history, also were instrumental in convincing Germans that the Aryan race (Nordic Myth) was globally the superior race.(4) Germany, however, was not the only colonial power that forcibly employed forced labor and torture; permitted the continuation of the slave tradition; sanctioned genocide; and spread the morals of Christianity in African societies with the aid of a whip. Belgium, France, England, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire and Italy are also responsible for many of the political, economic and social problems experienced by Africans today. German racial prejudices were instigated, inflamed and appeared in German publications in Europe, because blacks rebelled against white authority and injustice.(5) Therefore, a tradition of anti-black racism became entrenched in European society via the colonies prior to Hitler's rise to power and the ensuing Holocaust.

Anti-black racism by the turn of the twentieth-century co-existed with a virulent pre-existing anti-Semitism among some Germans. …

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