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Black people too were victims of Hitler’s Nazi Holocaust

JEWISH people are rightly remembered as the group that Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party most savagely persecuted during the World War Two Holocaust. But black Germans were also victims. When Hitler was the ruler of Germany from 1933 to 1945, many Germans of African descent were rounded up by the Gestapo (the German ‘secret police’) and made to “disappear.”

In 1937 all local authorities in Germany were asked to submit lists of children of African descent. These children were taken from their homes or schools without the consent of their parents and sterilised. At least four hundred mixed-race children were forcibly sterilised in the Rhineland area alone by the end of 1937.

Paul Leroy Robeson (above) was an American bass baritone concert artist and stage and film actor who became famous both for his cultural accomplishments and for his political activism. Educated at Rutgers College and Columbia University, he was also a star athlete in his youth. He also studied Swahili and linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London in 1934. Robeson’s father William, was of Igbo (Nigerian) origin and was born into slavery, William escaped from a plantation in his teens and eventually became the minister of Princeton's Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church in 1881. TOP: FORGOTTEN HISTORY: A black German prisoner with a fellow inmate in Dachau concentration camp

Paul Leroy Robeson (above) was an American bassa baritone concert artist and stage and film actor who became famous both for his cultural accomplishments and for his political activism. Educated at Rutgers College and Columbia University, he was also a star athlete in his youth. He also studied Swahili and linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London in 1934. Robeson’s father William, was of Igbo (Nigerian) origin and was born into slavery, William escaped from a plantation in his teens and eventually became the minister of Princeton’s Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church in 1881. TOP: FORGOTTEN HISTORY: A black German prisoner with a fellow inmate in Dachau concentration camp

However it has been estimated that there were between 20,000 to 25,000 black people living in Germany when Hitler came to power. The latest Holocaust Memorial Day, held on Friday January 27, was primarily set up to remember the six million Jewish men, women and children who had been murdered by Hitler’s Nazi regime in the 1930s and throughout the Second World War.

Some were Africans who had travelled from the German colonies. Others were French African troops who had settled in Germany after the First World War. Then there those who came from different parts of the world and were working or studying in Germany, often as entertainers and musicians. Many of them would have been persecuted, sterilised, brutalized, and murdered during the Nazi regime.

While a great deal of information has been documented and made public about Jewish victims, the Nazi’s persecution and killing of other groups is still to be fully researched and documented. It is not known how many people of African descent in Germany and occupied Europe died at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust. No accurate records exist and so it is impossible to determine how many black citizens were persecuted by the Nazis.

Some black Germans avoided imprisonment by working as extras in Nazi propaganda films. Between 1933 and 1945 nearly one hundred films were made by order of the Propaganda Ministry. Some of them were set in colonial Africa.

June 20, 2016: R.I.P Sam King MBE. Wonderful man. Southwark mourns - but Southwark is proud. He educated Londoners with Caribbean food, Caribbean culture, Caribbean music. London is a better place, Britain is a better place thanks to him and his family. Like so many Black people, he supported British war effort by joining the Royal Air Force in 1944. After the war he said; given the choice, he would rather live under British colonial rule and fight for Jamaica’s independence than live under Hitler. “I don’t think the British Empire was perfect, but it was better than Nazi Germany,” he said

June 20, 2016: R.I.P Sam King MBE. Wonderful man. Southwark mourns – but Southwark is proud. He educated Londoners with Caribbean food, Caribbean culture, Caribbean music. London is a better place, Britain is a better place thanks to him and his family. Like so many Black people, he supported British war effort by joining the Royal Air Force in 1944. After the war he said; given the choice, he would rather live under British colonial rule and fight for Jamaica’s independence than live under Hitler. “I don’t think the British Empire was perfect, but it was better than Nazi Germany,” he said

When they went into production the demand for Germany’s African citizens and their mixed-race children to work as extras helped most of them avoid internment in Nazi death camps. After America entered the war on 7 December 1941, African American GIs who were captured and made prisoners of war found that they could also avoid internment by working as film extras.

African American jazz musicians who failed to escape the Nazi invasion and occupation of Europe, were also imprisoned. Before he came to power Hitler had spoken favourably of the world famous actor and singer Paul Robeson, but he was also reported as saying: “Negroes must be definitely third-class people…a hopeless lot. I don’t hate them. I pity the poor devils.”

In 1934 a group of German stormtroopers expressed hatred and contempt for Robeson when he was forced to spend a day in Berlin on his way to Moscow. In 1930, on his previous visit to Germany, the Nazis were in a minority, and Hitler was regarded as a fanatic who was not taken seriously. Robeson acknowledged that a lot had happened in the four years he had been away. In 1934 Robeson likened Berlin to America’s Southern states.

Many Black people, including Canadians [this is an all-Black battalion in 1916 straight after World War I) have long demonstrated loyalty to king and country (British Empire) by volunteering for military service. During the American Revolution (1775–83), the British Crown encouraged enslaved people to desert their American masters and join the British lines. Eager to escape the shackles of enslavement, thousands heeded the call and worked as labourers for the British, while others worked in combat units

Many Black people, including Canadians [this is an all-Black battalion in 1916 straight after World War I) have long demonstrated loyalty to king and country (British Empire) by volunteering for military service. During the American Revolution (1775–83), the British Crown encouraged enslaved people to desert their American masters and join the British lines. Eager to escape the shackles of enslavement, thousands heeded the call and worked as labourers for the British, while others worked in combat units

The stormtroopers gathered menacingly on the train station platform. Robeson and his friends were waiting for Robeson’s wife Essie to join them. He said: “This is like Mississippi. It is how a lynching begins. If either of us moves, or shows fear, they’ll go further. We must keep our heads.”

Robeson and his companions made a fortunate escape when their train arrived, but he had been preparing for the worst, and fully expected a violent confrontation with the stormtroopers.

During the Second World War black British citizens, and those who lived in the colonies in Africa and the Caribbean, were fully aware of what their fate would have been if Hitler had invaded Britain.

That is why so many of them supported the British war effort by joining the British army, navy and Royal Air Force, or working in munitions factories. In 1944 a young Jamaican called Sam King seized the opportunity to join the Royal Air Force.

King, who became the first black mayor of Southwark in south London, later reflected that, after the war, given the choice, he would rather live under British colonial rule and fight for Jamaica’s independence than live under Hitler. “I don’t think the British Empire was perfect, but it was better than Nazi Germany,” he said.

-Excerpts from book by STEPHEN BOURNE who specializes in black British histories since 1991. He has written over 15 books, including the award-winning Black Poppies: Britain’s Black Community and the Great War. His latest book, Evelyn Dove: Britain’s Black Cabaret Queen (Jacaranda Books, £12.99) is out now.

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