Many of the relatively small number of Black people who lived in Germany under the Nazi regime were persecuted, alienated and murdered during this period.
Following World War One and the Treaty of Versailles (1919), the victorious Allies occupied the Rhineland in western Germany. The use of French colonial troops in these occupation forces, some of whom were Black, exacerbated racism in Germany. Racist propaganda against Black soldiers depicted them as rapists of German women and carriers of venereal and other diseases. The Nazis, at the time a small political movement, viewed them as a threat to the purity of the Germanic race. In Mein Kampf, Hitler charged that ‘the Jews had brought the Negroes into the Rhineland with the clear aim of ruining the hated white race by the necessarily-resulting bastardisation’. Nazi propaganda posters, showing friendship across racial groups, referred to ‘a loss of racial pride.’
In the 1920s, around 24,000 Black people were living in Germany. African-German mixed race children were economically and socially marginalised in German society, and not allowed to attend university. Racial discrimination prohibited them from seeking most jobs, including service in the military.
When the Nazis came to power, one of the first directives was aimed at these mixed-race children. Underlining Hitler’s obsession with racial purity, by 1937, every identified mixed-race child in the Rhineland had been forcibly sterilised, in order to prevent further ‘race polluting’, as Hitler termed it.
Hans Hauck, a Black survivor of Nazi racial policies and a victim of the mandatory sterilisation programme, explained in the film Hitler’s Forgotten Victims that, when he was forced to undergo sterilisation as a teenager, he was given no anaesthetic. Once he received his sterilisation certificate, he was ‘free to go’, as long as he agreed to have no sexual relations with Germans.
Many Black people found that under the Nazis they no longer had jobs and that they were excluded from many aspects of life.
European and American Black people were interned in the Nazi concentration camp system. Lionel Romney, a sailor in the U.S. Merchant Marine, was imprisoned in the Mauthausen concentration camp. Jean Marcel Nicolas, a Haitian national, was incarcerated in the Buchenwald and Dora-Mittelbau concentration camps in Germany. Jean Voste, an African Belgian, was incarcerated in the Dachau concentration camp. Bayume Mohamed Hussein from Tanganyika (today Tanzania) died in the Sachsenhausen camp, near Berlin.
Black prisoners of war faced illegal incarceration and mistreatment at the hands of the Nazis, who did not uphold the regulations imposed by the Geneva Convention (International agreement on the conduct of war and the treatment of wounded and captured soldiers). Lieutenant Darwin Nicholas, an African American pilot, was incarcerated in a Gestapo prison in Butzbach. Black soldiers of the American, French, and British Armies were worked to death on construction projects or died as a result of mistreatment in concentration or prisoner-of-war camps. Others were never even incarcerated, but were instead immediately killed by the SS or Gestapo.
As the war progressed and Allied Prisoners of War were taken, the Nazi regime separated Black prisoners from White ones (though it should be recognised that Black American soldiers served in segregated units from their White peers). Once taken prisoner by Hitler’s troops, Black prisoners received harsher treatment and less food than White POWs and whilst most White POWs were imprisoned many of the Black soldiers either worked until they died or were executed.