Racism in Germany

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Racism in German history inextricably is linked to the Herero and Namaqua genocide in colonial times, and to the Holocaust, a program of systematic state-sponsored murder during the Nazi regime. According to reports by the European Commission, milder forms of racism still are present in parts of the German society.

19th and early 20th century[edit]

Herero people chained up in 1904

When Germany struggled to become a belated colonial power in the 19th century, several atrocities were committed, most notably the Herero and Namaqua Genocide in what is now Namibia. The German authorities forced the survivors of the genocide into concentration camps.

Many white Germans were afraid of miscegenation as it would "taint" the purity of German blood. Many multiracial children were sterilized and taken from their mothers to become wards of the state. There was a big push to get these multiracial German children adopted by Black Americans because they were seen as having no place in Germany. A great deal of racial propaganda arose regarding the conception of this children. Although there was only one confirmed case, it was said that the white mothers of these children were raped by Black French and American soldiers.

Eugen Fischer, a German professor of medicine, anthropology and eugenics conducted "medical experiments on race” in these camps, including sterilization, injection of smallpox, typhus as well as tuberculosis. He advocated genocide of alleged "inferior races" stating that "whoever thinks thoroughly the notion of race, can not arrive at a different conclusion".[1]

The Herero genocide has commanded the attention of historians who study complex issues of continuity between this event and the Nazi Holocaust.[2] According to Clarence Lusane, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the American University School of International Service, Fischer's experiments can be seen as testing ground for later medical procedures used during Nazi Holocaust.[1]

Against Polish population[edit]

The policies against the Polish population in Germany were largely concentrated in territories conquered from Poland during the Partitions of Poland, but also in Silesia, Pomerania and Masuria. They were motivated by racism.[citation needed]

The Holocaust[edit]

Main article: Holocaust

After the Nazis came to power in 1933, racism became part of official state ideology.[3] In the 1930s and 1940s, Nazi Germany's military conquest of Europe in the Second World War was followed by countless acts of racially motivated murder and genocide.

The expression Holocaust in broad definition refers to an industrially run programme of state-sponsored murder by Nazi Germany, a genocide of different groups and a murdering of individuals, who the German authorities in this time defined as belonging to an "inferior race" or as "life unworthy of life" or as disturbing their politics. The affected cultures use their own expressions as: The Shoah (Hebrew: השואה, HaShoah, "catastrophe"; Yiddish: חורבן, Churben or Hurban,[4] in the Jewish context, the Porajmos [ˌpɔʁmɔs] (also Porrajmos or Pharrajimos, literally "devouring" or "destruction" in some dialects of the Romani language) used by Gypsies, or the Polish word "Zagłada" (literally meaning "annihilation", or "extinction") often used by Poles as a synonym of the word Holocaust.[5]

The Holocaust had been one of the outbreaks of antisemitism, a term coined in the late 19th century in Germany as a more scientific-sounding term for Judenhass ("Jew-hatred"). Scientific theories on antisemitism are divided on to what degree it can be subsumed under racism or rather has other causes and mechanisms.

Incidents in reunified Germany[edit]

More than 130 people were killed in racist street violence in Germany, in the years between 1990 and 2010, according to the German newspaper Die Zeit.[6] Only some of the most publicly noted cases are listed below. In particular, after German reunification in the 1990s a wave of racist street violence claimed numerous lives, with notable incidents including the arson attack of Mölln and the Riot of Rostock-Lichtenhagen in 1992, the Solingen arson attack of 1993, and the attack on Noël Martin in 1996.

Eighty Nazi skinheads went on the rampage, attacking Turkish and African immigrant workers in the German city of Magdeburg on May 12, 1994. Far from stopping the attack, at one point police joined in, holding down the victims while their attackers beat them.[7]

In 2006, a black German citizen of Ethiopian descent named as Ermyas M., an engineer was beaten into a coma by two unknown assailants who called him "nigger" in an unprovoked attack that has reawakened concern about racist violence in eastern Germany.[8] He was waiting for a tram in Potsdam, near Berlin, when two people approached him shouting "nigger". When he objected, they attacked him with a bottle and beat him to the ground.[9]

Also in 2006, German-Turkish politician Giyasettin Sayan, a member of Berlin's regional assembly, was attacked by two men who called him a "dirty foreigner". Sayan, who represents the Left party, suffered head injuries and bruising after his attackers struck him with a bottle in a street in his Lichtenberg ward in the East of the city.[10]

In August 2007, a mob consisting of about 50 Germans attacked 8 Indian street vendors during a town festival in the town of Muegeln near Leipzig.[11][12] The victims found shelter in a pizzeria owned by Kulvir Singh, one of those being chased, but the mob broke through the doors and destroyed Singh's car. All eight were injured and it took 70 police to quell the violence[13]

In 2009, the murder of Marwa El-Sherbini caused considerable public reaction in Germany and other countries. Al-Sherbini, a 32-year-old Egyptian national, was stabbed to death in a Dresden courtroom on July 1, 2009 by Alex Wiens, an ethnic German immigrant from Russia. She had been in court to testify against Wiens who had before racially insulted her for wearing a headscarf. Her husband, Egyptian academic Elwy Ali Okaz, was critically wounded in the attack when he tried to take on Wiens, being stabbed by him and shot by court security who thought he was the attacker.

There is evidence that, in 2015, Professor Annette Beck-Sickinger at the University of Leipzig in Germany rejected Indian candidates on the basis of racism and stereotyping. The incidents were so severe - amid shock that they were perpetrated by an apparently 'educated' woman - that Germany's ambassador to India wrote a strongly-worded letter condemning the professor, stating: "Your oversimplifying and discriminating generalization is an offense ... to millions of law-abiding, tolerant, open-minded and hard-working Indians," he wrote. "Lets be clear: India is not a country of rapists."[14] [15][16]

As the election for the Landtag in March 2016 has shown, more and more Germans are supporting the AFD party. The "Alternative Für Deutschland", which means alternative for Germany. It is seen as a right wing party. One of its aims is to reject refugees with Muslim background and proclaiming that "Islam does not belong to Germany", despite the fact, that there are many guest-workers and their families living in Germany, who came during the 60´s from Turkey in order to help German companies, that were looking for workers those days.

One of its chairman, Mrs. Frauke Petry was even promoting the use of weapons in order to stop refugees from crossing the boarder to Germany.

General reports[edit]

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) noted in 2001, in its second report on the situation of the approximately 9% non- citizen population after German reunification:

(…) that, in spite of the considerable number of non-citizens who have been living in Germany for a long time or even from birth, there was a reluctance by Germany to consider itself as a country of immigration.” Persons of immigrant origin, including those who are second or third generation born in Germany, tended to remain 'foreigners' in German statistics and public discourse.[17]

Civil rights activist Ika Hügel-Marshall has complained that she and others found it difficult to be regarded as German due to their ethnic background. She co-founded the Afro-Deutsch movement in the 1980s to raise awareness of Germans with African ancestry. The movement was designed "to resist marginalization and discrimination, to gain social acceptance, and to construct a cultural identity for themselves."[18]

According to the United Nations, people with a migrant background also "are under-represented in important institutions, including the political system, the police and the courts".[19]

Public debate[edit]

Critics say that a lingering xenophobia in parts of German society is being ignored. A representative from the country's Jewish Council argued that Germany is lacking a coordinated "nationwide action plan" when it comes to right-wing extremism.[20] The German government was quick to condemn attacks, fearing that the developments could tarnish the country’s image.

A former government spokesman Uwe-Karsten Heye said that dark-skinned visitors to Germany should consider avoiding the eastern part of the country where racism runs high. "There are small and medium-sized towns in Brandenburg, as well as elsewhere, which I would advise a visitor of another skin color to avoid going to.[21] It is also reported that German police 'routinely ignore racist attacks'.[22] SPD politician Sebastian Edathy said "People with dark skin have a much higher risk of being a victim of an attack in eastern Germany than in western Germany." He also accused municipalities in the east of not investing enough in the prevention of right-wing extremism."[23]

Undercover journalist Günter Wallraff traveled across Germany for more than a year wearing a dark-haired curly wig and his white skin painted black, in a documentary film titled Black on White.[24] He said that "I hadn't known what we would discover, and had thought maybe the story will be, what a tolerant and accepting country we have become, unfortunately I was wrong."[24][25]

Racist organizations in Germany[edit]

Despite widespread rejection of Nazi Germany in modern Germany there have been Neo-Nazi activities and organizations in post-war Germany. These groups at times face legal issues. Hence Volkssozialistische Bewegung Deutschlands/Partei der Arbeit, Action Front of National Socialists/National Activists, Free German Workers' Party, and the Nationalist Front were all banned. The National Democratic Party of Germany has been accused of Neo-Nazi or Neo-Fascist leanings [26][27][28][29] but historian Walter Laqueur writes that it cannot be classified that way.[30]


  1. ^ a b Olusoga, David; Erichsen, Casper W. (2010). The Kaiser’s Holocaust. Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism. London: Faber & Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-23141-6. 
  2. ^ A Historical Companion to Postcolonial Literatures - Continental Europe and its Empires, page 240 Edinburgh University Press 2009
  3. ^ Christian Geulen: Geschichte des Rassismus, C.H. Beck, München 2007, 97f
  4. ^ "Holocaust," Encyclop?dia Britannica, 2009: "the systematic state-sponsored killing of six million Jewish men, women and children, and millions of others by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II. The Nazis called this "the final solution to the Jewish question ..."
  5. ^ Niewyk, Donald L. The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust, Columbia University Press, 2000, p.45: "The Holocaust is commonly defined as the murder of more than 5,000,000 Jews by the Germans in World War II."
  6. ^ [1] Die Zeit: Rechte Gewalt
  7. ^ "New racist attacks in Germany | Green Left Weekly". Greenleft.org.au. 1994-06-01. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  8. ^ "Germany Shocked by Racist Attack: Ethopian-Born Man Beaten Into Coma". Der Spiegel. 2006-04-18. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  9. ^ "Racist Attacks Have Germany on Edge Ahead of World Cup | Germany | DW.DE | null". Dw-world.de. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  10. ^ "German-Turkish Politician Injured in Racist Attack". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  11. ^ "Racism Alive and Well: After Attack on Indians, Germany Fears For its Reputation". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  12. ^ "Mob Rule in Eastern Germany: Indians Attacked by Crowd at Street Party". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  13. ^ "'Shame, Shame, Shame!': Readers React to German Racist Attack". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  14. ^ http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-31834228
  15. ^ http://edition.cnn.com/2015/03/10/asia/india-rape-german-professor/
  16. ^ http://rt.com/news/239105-german-professor-indian-student/
  17. ^ "Third report on Germany", European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 2003, pp. 13, point 29 
  18. ^ Janson, Deborah (2005). "The Subject in Black and White: Afro-German Identity Formation in Ika Hügel-Marshall's autobiography Daheim unterwegs: Ein deutsches Leben". Women in German Yearbook. University of Nebraska Press. 21: 62–84. doi:10.1353/wgy.2005.0012. JSTOR 20688247. 
  19. ^ "UN says Germany needs to tackle racism". The Local. 1962-02-28. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  20. ^ "World Blog - Mob attack in Germany sparks outrage". Worldblog.msnbc.msn.com. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  21. ^ "Is Eastern Germany Safe for Foreigners?: Racism Warning Has German Hackles Raised". Der Spiegel. 2006-05-18. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  22. ^ de Quetteville, Harry (December 5, 2007). "German police 'routinely ignore racist attacks'". The Daily Telegraph. London. 
  23. ^ [2] Archived February 15, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  24. ^ a b "New film uncovers racism in Germany". BBC News. November 6, 2009. 
  25. ^ Pilaeczyk, Hannah (2009-10-23). "German Journalist Criticized for Film on Racism". ABC News. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  26. ^ "Neo-Nazi NPD party takes hold in municipal vote in Saxony". The Local. 9 Jun 2008. Retrieved June 10, 2009. The neo-Nazi NPD party has representatives in every county council in the eastern German state of Saxony after it increased its share of the vote in municipal elections on Sunday. 
  27. ^ "Poll shows majority of Germany believe NPD to be non-democratic and damaging to Germany's image". Der Spiegel. 22 Sep 2006. Retrieved July 21, 2009. 
  28. ^ "Neonazis in der NPD auf dem Vormarsch". Süddeutsche Zeitung. 19 May 2009. Retrieved August 23, 2009. Das neonazistische Spektrum hat seinen Einfluss innerhalb der NPD ausgebaut. 
  29. ^ Verfassungsschutzbericht 2008. Verfassungsschutz. May 2009. p. 51. Retrieved August 23, 2009. Auch 2008 ist es in der Kooperation zwischen der NPD und der Neonazi-Szene zu erheblichen Spannungen gekommen. 
  30. ^ Laqueur, Walter, Fascism: Past, Present, Future, p.110

External links[edit]

Official reports[edit]

News items[edit]