Tuesday, November 30, 2004


From review of Hitler's Black Victims: The Historical Experience of Afro-Germans, European Blacks, Africans and African Americans in the Nazi Era by Clarence Lusane:
Lusane investigates Nazi policy towards blacks, the Nazi sterilization program directed at blacks, black captives of the Nazis, Nazi propaganda against blacks, the Nazi response to jazz, their reaction to black athletes, and blacks in the resistance movement. Several recurring themes inform these chapters. First, Lusane stresses the Nazis' differential treatment of differently situated black groups and individuals. Though many blacks tried to leave and some Africans and other expatriates succeeded, the Nazis confiscated Afro-Germans' passports, and the British prevented natives of Southwest Africa from returning because they had fought with Germany in World War I. However, blacks in Germany were never targeted for elimination or even systematic harassment. In general, Africans were better treated than Afro-Germans, since the Nazis foresaw they would need African assistance should Germany regain its colonies. The Nazis also employed Afro-Germans in the German film industry to portray Africans in colonial propaganda films made mostly between 1938 and 1943. Lusane can document the presence of blacks (imprisoned for other reasons) in concentration and labor camps as well as black GIs in POW camps. Otherwise, Afro-Germans were mobilized for the war effort like the rest of the German population. Some even belonged to the Hitler Youth and served in the German army--but were also compulsorily sterilized. Lusane declares, "the preference to address the problem by sterilization of some would be as coherent as the Nazi policies ever got regarding Afro-Germans and Africans" (p. 99). Since Nazi sterilization law, promulgated in 1934, did not allow sterilization based solely on race, the Nazis undertook the sterilizations in secret. At least 385 Rhineland children were sterilized between 1935 and 1937, a gradual strategy that, Lusane argues, nonetheless "sought to erase any future blackness on German soil" (p. 142).

[...] Hitler's failure to shake hands with victorious African American athletes, including Jesse Owens, in the 1936 Olympics was cited by the U.S. press as evidence of racial views that Americans should oppose (though, as the black press pointed out, the black athletes confronted similar racist views in the United States). Though, because they considered it both Jewish _and_ black, the Nazis opposed and prohibited jazz on principle, its popularity compelled various Nazi concessions, including unsuccessful attempts to create more acceptable German jazz and "swinging" German radio music. German swing movements and jazz clubs constituted a form of cultural, though rarely political, resistance to the Nazis. Lusane can also document that jazz was performed at Auschwitz, Flossenburg, and Theresienstadt as well as at some POW camps. Lusane has perused many black U.S. newspapers of the period and reveals the black press's attentiveness to developments in Germany, its concern about the rise of National Socialism, and its condemnation of Hitler's policies towards Jews and blacks.

Finally, Lusane seems committed to saving little-known figures of the black diaspora from historical oblivion by recounting their individual encounters with National Socialism. These figures range from Hans Massaquoi, son of the Liberian ambassador to Germany who survived the Nazi era to become an _Ebony_ editor, to the "enigmatic" (p. 122) Lonnie Lawrence Dennis, mixed-race U.S. writer, diplomat, and businessman, who seems to have admired Hitler, embraced anti-Semitism, and advocated for fascism. William Marcus Baarn, a black nightclub singer from Dutch Guinea, even served as a Nazi spy. Some blacks, like the composer Elmer Spyglass in Frankfurt (perhaps protected by his African American affiliation), lived comfortably in Germany throughout the Nazi period. Other blacks in Germany opposed the Nazis. Joseph Bile of Cameroon published a letter in a black U.S. newspaper pleading for black U.S. solidarity with blacks in Germany. Hilarius Gilgus was an Afro-German labor organizer and an early Nazi victim, killed by the SS in Düsseldorf at the age of twenty-four. Mohamed Husen from German East Africa served with the Germans in World War I, appeared in numerous colonial films, but was eventually convicted of _Rassenschande_ and sent to Sachsenhausen, where he died in 1943. Jean Johnny Voste from the Belgian Congo was active in the Belgian resistance movement and survived Dachau. Joseph Nassy from Surinam, a black Jew, was captured in Belgium and sent to an internment camp in Bavaria where he could teach art and also produce sketches, drawings, and paintings now in the holdings of the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Johnny Williams, son of an Alsatian father and a mother from the Ivory Coast, discovered his "splendid voice" (p. 165) in the Neuengamme camp and went on to a successful singing career after the war. Johnny Nicholas, originally from Haiti, was captured as an Allied spy in France and sent to various camps, where he survived by working as a doctor. Lusane regrets he has little information about black women but does try to reconstruct the story of the jazz trumpeter Valaida Snow, who may have been interned in a Nazi camp in Denmark. It is not exactly clear what can be concluded from these disparate experiences, but Lusane has certainly successfully documented a black presence in Germany and Europe during the Nazi era and pointed the way towards many potentially fruitful research areas.

Gravity's Rainbow, p. 62:
We want to talk some more about Boston today, Slothrop. You recall that last time we were talking about the Negroes, in Roxbury. Now we know it's not all that comfortable for you, but do try, won't you.