Persecution of black people in Nazi Germany

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While black people in Nazi Germany were never subject to mass extermination as in the cases of Jews, Romani, and Slavs,[1] they were still considered by the Nazis to be an inferior race and along with Romani people were subject to the Nuremberg Laws under a supplementary decree.

German citizens[edit]


Even before World War II, Germany struggled with the idea of African mixed race German citizens. While interracial marriage was legal under German law at the time, beginning in 1890, some colonial officials started refusing to register them, using eugenics arguments about the inferiority of mixed-race children to support their decision.[2] By 1912, this had become official policy in many German colonies, and a debate in the Reichstag over the legality of the interracial marriage bans ensued. A major concern brought up in debate was that mixed-race children born in such marriages would have German citizenship, and could therefore return to Germany with the same rights to vote, serve in the military, and could also hold public office as full-blooded ethnic Germans.[3]

After World War I, French occupation forces in the Rhineland included African colonial troops, some of whom fathered children with German women. Newspaper campaigns against the use of these troops focused on these children, dubbed "Rhineland bastards," often with lurid stories of uncivilized African soldiers raping innocent German women, the so-called "Black Horror on the Rhine." In the Rhineland itself, local opinion of the troops was very different, and the soldiers were described as "courteous and often popular," possibly because French colonial soldiers harbored less ill-will towards Germans than war-weary ethnic French occupiers.[4] While subsequent discussions of Afro-German children revolved around these "Rhineland Bastards," in fact, only 400–600 children were born to such unions,[5] compared to a total black population of 20,000–25,000 in Germany at the time.[6]

Young Rhinelander who was classified as a bastard and hereditarily unfit under the Nazi regime

In Mein Kampf, Hitler described children resulting from marriages to African occupation soldiers as a contamination of the white race "by Negro blood on the Rhine in the heart of Europe."[7] He thought that "Jews were responsible for bringing Negroes into the Rhineland, with the ultimate idea of bastardizing the white race which they hate and thus lowering its cultural and political level so that the Jew might dominate."[8] He also implied that this was a plot on the part of the French, since the population of France was being increasingly "negrified".[9]

Rhineland sterilization program[edit]

Under eugenics laws during the Third Reich, race alone was not sufficient criteria for forced sterilization, but anyone could request sterilization for themselves or a minor under their care.[10] The cohort of mixed-race children born during occupation were approaching adulthood when, in 1937, with Hitler's approval, a special Gestapo commission was created and charged with "the discrete sterilization of the Rhineland bastards."[11] It is unclear how much these minors were told about the procedures, or how many parents only consented under pressure from the Gestapo.[12] An estimated 500 children were sterilized under this program, including girls as young as 11.[13]

Soldiers of the Nazi Free Arabian Legion in Greece, September 1943.
Black prisoners of war from French Africa, captured in 1940

Civilian life[edit]

Beyond the compulsory sterilization program in the Rhineland, there was no coherent Nazi policy towards African Germans.[14] In one instance, when local officials petitioned for guidance on how to handle an Afro-German who could not find employment because he was a repeat criminal offender, they were told the population was too small to warrant the formulation of any official policy and to settle the case as they saw fit.[15] Due to the rhetoric at the time, Black Germans experienced discrimination in employment, welfare, and housing, and were also barred from pursuing a higher education;[16] they were socially isolated and forbidden to have sexual relations and marriages with Aryans by the racial laws.[17][18] Black people were placed at the bottom of the racial scale of non-Aryans along with Jews, Slavs, and Romani/Roma people.[19] Some of the black people managed to work as actors in films about the African colonies. Others were hired for the German Africa Show, a human zoo touring between 1937 and 1940.[20]

In the armed forces[edit]

A number of black people served in the Wehrmacht. The number of Afro-Germans was low, but there were some instances where black people were enlisted within Nazi organizations such as the Hitler Youth and later the Wehrmacht.[21] In addition, there was an influx of foreign volunteers during the African campaign, which led to the existence of a number of black people in the Wehrmacht in such units as the Free Arabian Legion.

Non-German prisoners of war[edit]

The French Army made extensive use of black soldiers during the Battle of France in May–June 1940 and 120,000 became prisoners of war. Although the majority came from France's North African colonies, there were also large numbers from French West Africa and Madagascar. While no orders were issued in regards to black prisoners of war, some German commanders undertook to separate black people from captured French units for summary execution.[22] There are also documented cases of captured African American soldiers in the United States Army suffering the same fate.[23]

In the absence of any official policy, the treatment of black prisoners of war varied widely, and most captured black soldiers were taken prisoner rather than executed.[24] However, violence against black prisoners of war was also never prosecuted by Nazi authorities.[25] In prisoner of war camps, black soldiers were kept segregated from white and generally experienced worse conditions than their white comrades. Their conditions deteriorated further in the last days of the war.[23] Roughly half of the French colonial prisoners of war did not survive captivity.[26] Groups such as North Africans were sometimes treated as black, sometimes as white.[27]



  1. ^ "Blacks during the Holocaust". Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  2. ^ Campt 2004, p. 43.
  3. ^ Campt 2004, p. 50.
  4. ^ Burleigh & Wippermann 1993, p. 128.
  5. ^ Campt 2004, p. 21.
  6. ^ Chimbelu 2010.
  7. ^ Mein Kampf, volume 1, chapter XIII.
  8. ^ Mein Kampf, volume 1, chapter XI.
  9. ^ Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Vol. II, chapter XIII
  10. ^ Lusane 2003, p. 127.
  11. ^ Lusane 2003, p. 128.
  12. ^ Evans 2005, p. 527.
  13. ^ Evans 2005, p. 528.
  14. ^ Campt 2004, p. 64.
  15. ^ Kesting 2002, pp. 360–1.
  16. ^ Kesting 2002, p. 360.
  17. ^ "THE NUREMBERG RACE LAWS". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  18. ^ S. H. Milton (2001). ""Gypsies" as social outsiders in Nazi Germany". In Robert Gellately and Nathan Stoltzfus (ed.). Social Outsiders in Nazi Germany. Princeton University Press. pp. 216, 231. ISBN 9780691086842.
  19. ^ Simone Gigliotti, Berel Lang. The Holocaust: a reader. Malden, Massachusetts, USA; Oxford, England, UK; Carlton, Victoria, Australia: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Pp. 14.
  20. ^ Aitken, Robbie (30 June 2017). "The German Africa Show (1934-1940)". Black Central Europe. Retrieved 11 December 2020.
  21. ^ Lusane 2003, pp. 111–114.
  22. ^ Scheck 2006, p. 6.
  23. ^ a b Killingray 1996, p. 197.
  24. ^ Scheck 2006, p. 118.
  25. ^ Scheck 2006, p. 7.
  26. ^ Killingray 1996, p. 181.
  27. ^ Scheck 2006, p. 9.


Further reading

External links[edit]