Black Victims Of The Nazis Photography Exhibition

By Shruti Ganapathy | 07 April 2006
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photo shows black man looking straight into the camera, an ss officer walking behind him

A Black man in Nazi Germany. Courtesy of Black Stock/USHMM

During the shameful phenomenon we now call the holocaust, it is not always remembered that Hitler's acts of violence against cultural groups was not just limited to Jewish people.

Atrocities were also committed against other religious groups, homosexuals, gypsies and, perhaps less known, black people. In fact it is probably fair to say that few people today are aware that black people were living in Germany at the time of Hitler.

The Black Stock Photo Library, situated at the crossroads of St. Peter's Way and Kingsland Road in Shoreditch is lifting the lid on this little known part of the Nazi era by hosting an exhibition titled Black Victims of the Nazis.

Although such information about racism in Hitler's Germany towards black people has existed, it has never really been brought to the public eye. Many of the facts are still to be discovered.

"The exhibition is a growing one,” explains Curator Nia Reynolds. “We are still researching the subject and as more information comes to light, we shall add it to the archives and the exhibition in due course."

One of the greatest humiliations for black people living in Germany during the Third Reich was the spurious concept of Phrenology. This meant their skull measurements and eye colour were recorded to determine if they were pure-blood Aryans or not.

The ones deemed to be non-Aryans would then either be incarcerated or stripped off their German citizenship, which meant that they were stateless.

Of course there could only be one outcome. Black people or anyone of mixed race, such as those in Rhineland, who were referred to as Rhineland bastards, were mass sterilized to prevent them from contaminating the "superior Aryan race".

The exhibition begins with some pre-Nazi background on the German colonization of African territories during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

It makes for startling reading and as Reynolds explains: "The brutality that was carried under the Nazis had precedents. It all began with the German colonisation of parts of Africa where acts of genocide were committed."

Included is detail about the creation of concentration camps in the colonies, its militarisation and the genocide of the people of Herero - a territory in South Western Africa.

It was during one of these colonisation attempts that a lot of black people, mostly from present day Namibia migrated to Germany, for they felt an indoctrinated loyalty towards the Kaiser.

The exhibition also highlights the famous incident during the 1936 Olympics where the pure-blooded Aryan race was outshone by a number of American black athletes such as Jesse Owens and Joe Louis.

The stardom that Owens achieved during those Olympics was, however short-lived. Racism back in the United States compelled him to retire as a frustrated sportsperson. Owens himself was known to have commented that racing against horses and trains, as he did in his later years, made him feel like a freak.

Back in Hitler’s Germany all forms of black culture were banned. Jazz and other similar forms of entertainment were deemed "decadent and corrupt."

The wartime years are also covered here as is the fate and treatment of black prisoners of war and the exhibition has some rare images of black POWs in German captivity. But as a coda, the exhibition warns against complacency and ends with information as recent as last December on the Neo-Nazis active in Germany today.

As Reynolds points out: “The Nazis have not gone away. Their mentality still exists. If the lessons from history aren't learnt, you keep making the same mistakes again and again.”

A book with the same title, written by the curator, complements the exhibition and has a forward by Hans Massaquoi a black man who lived and survived in Hitler’s Germany and is the author of Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany.

This necessary exhibition is now available for tour, lets hope more people get to learn of this little known part of a desolate period in twentieth century history.

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