Academic journal article Human Rights & Human Welfare

Germany, Afterwards

Academic journal article Human Rights & Human Welfare

Germany, Afterwards

Article excerpt

Race after Hitler: Black Occupation Children in Postwar Germany and America. By Heide Fehrenbach. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005.

The Holocaust and Catholic Conscience: Cardinal Aloisius Muench and the Guilt Question in Germany. By Suzanne Brown-Fleming. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006.

A Woman in Berlin. By Anonymous. New York: Henry Holt, 2000.

Johanna Krause, Twice Persecuted: Surviving in Nazi Germany and Communist East Germany. By Carolyn Gammon and Christiane Hemker. Waterloo, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2007.


Do human rights scholars need to learn more about the minutiae of the Nazi period, or the immediate post-war period? One wonders whether there is any benefit, other than one of historical interest, to learning about the way African-American soldiers and their children with white German women were treated under the American occupation of Germany. Similarly, one might wonder whether the study of continued German and American Catholic anti-Semitism after 1945 can be of any benefit, when the largest question concerning Jews in the 21st century is the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Moreover, in an age when mass rape in warfare is common, it may be mere prurience to read about mass rapes of German women by Russian soldiers. And since the fall of the Berlin Wall, do we need to know that East German Communists were often as corrupt as their Nazi predecessors?

Perhaps some lessons can be learned, and some parallels drawn between the years in Germany just after Nazism, and the world we live in today. On the other hand, although it may be the case that those who do not know their history are condemned to repeat it, the converse is not true. Those who do know their history often repeat it nonetheless. No one can answer the question of whether the study of historical evils can help avert further crimes, least of all this author. Nevertheless, it is useful to learn how Germans and others dealt with their Nazi past; such knowledge might at least assist those who now study post-conflict resolution.

The four books under review provide disparate perspectives on the German experience under post-war occupation, and how it affected-or did not-their collective move to understand and condemn their Nazi past. Some Germans responsible for the care of children of African-American soldiers used this opportunity to show that they were not racist. Yet at the same time, many German Christians in the American zone of occupation still could not come to terms with the fact that some of their fellow-countrymen had participated in heinous crimes. In the East, the memory of Nazism was suppressed, as an aberration with which the new German Communist regime had no need to come to terms. Yet without coming to terms with the past, old Nazis could live as new Communists. And without facing the particular situation of women in warfare, the women who were raped by Russian soldiers in Berlin had to wait for decades until their story was told. Perhaps this history provides some clues about the nature of good and evil in our own times, about what makes good people commit evil acts, and about how such acts can be prevented. (1)

This review focuses on four figures, discussed in the four books listed above. Each represents a different aspect of post-WWII German life.

Elfie Fiegert

Elfie Fiergert was an Afro-German child, the daughter of an African-American soldier and a white German mother. At the age of five in 1951, she was chosen to star in a film, Toxi, about a mixed-race German girl: the film was meant to be a lesson on how Germans should adapt to these new strangers in their midst. In the film, a white German family debates what to do about this child, who is not a biological member of the family but a potential adoptee. While some members of the family have racist reactions against her, eventually the benevolent paterfamilias decides that she should become a member of the family. …

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