Magazine article New African

'Black Germans Do Not Exist'. (Cover Story)

Magazine article New African

'Black Germans Do Not Exist'. (Cover Story)

Article excerpt

Conventional history says the African presence in Germany goes back only a few decades. But that is not what the African-American historian, Paulette Reed Anderson, has just discovered. Her new work, Rewriting The Footnotes - Berlin and The African Diaspora, published in March, has proved conclusively that Africans have been living in Berlin since the mid-1880s, and in fact, 2,000 of them were killed in the Nazi concentration camps.

"To this day, German historiography has taken insufficient notice of them; people of African descent or Black Germans. This is the case although they have a history dating back more than one hundred years in our country," says the German Commissioner for Foreigners' Affairs, Barbara John, in the introduction to Paulette Reed-Anderson's Rewriting The Footnotes -- Berlin and The African Diaspora.

"In contrast to popular opinion," Barbara continues, "African immigrants did not first come to us in recent decades; the roots of Black Berliners go back much further and are closely connected to the history of the slave trade and colonial history, but also to the history of liberation and human rights movements.

"And so it is that the largely ignored subject of the Black victims of National Socialism [Nazism], has only been reappraised in the last few years. Like the Jewish Germans or German Gypsies and Romany, Black Germans were also robbed of their human dignity during the period of the Nazi tyranny, deprived of their German nationality; many were deported and murdered in concentration camps."

When Hitler came to power in 1933, Germany had a sizable black population. By the time he was defeated in 1945, only a few scores remained -- 2,000 of them had indeed been killed in the Nazi concentration camps with the Jews and others.

The offspring of the Black Germans were even sterilised under the "Nuernberger Laws" (or Citizenship Laws) of September 1935 passed to "protect German blood and German honour". Under these laws, marriages between Aryans and non-Aryans were banned, and black Germans and their spouses lost their German citizenship and the right to claim state support such as unemployment benefits.

The sterilisation was to prevent the Black Germans from having children with "Aryan" Germans. Such a child was considered "impure" or not German enough.

Thanks to Paulette Reed-Anderson, this despicable history of German mistreatment of its black population is now coming out. And Paulette deserves every bit of the encomiums that Barbara John pours on her in the introduction to Rewriting The Footnotes.

Barbara tells how Paulette "searched for and found material in libraries, archives and institutes for this publication. She has brought together information stretching back over more than a century on the traces of the African Diaspora, people from Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and the United States who lived in Berlin and have left their imprint on the history of the city. They include internationally renowned personalities, artists, musicians and scientists."

"The lack of recognition of their written cultural heritage," Paulette writes herself, "has had adverse effects on the place of [people] of African descent in German society and the development of [their] cultural identity. No basis for an inter-cultural discussion about the written contribution of [Black Germans] has been established, because the prevailing impression is that people of African descent have no written tradition in the German language and thus have achieved nothing that is noteworthy."

But Paulette has discovered a good volume of work by Africans in Germany dating as far back as the imperial and colonial periods (1871-1914). The writers include Anton Wilhelm Amo, from Axim, Ghana; Amur bin Nasur bin Amur Ilomeiri, a Tanzanian; Mary Church Terrell, an African-American; Paul Mpundo Njassam Akwa, Adolf Ngoso Din, Martin Dibobe (all Cameroonians); and letters by Mdachi bin Scharifu, a Tanzanian, and Thomas Manga Awka, a Gameroonian. …

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