The black experience in postwar Germany
University of Connecticut
Honors Scholar Program
Jamie Christopher Morris
This paper endeavors to find the extent of anti-black racism in various sectors of German society following World War Two through an examination of primary sources and secondary scholarship. While some Germans, often women, tolerated and even loved African-American soldiers, many German men actively sought to keep black GIs out of their communities, encouraged by white GIs. Afro-German children were viewed as a huge and shameful problem to be dealt with en masse by the government. The development of German anti-black racism is interesting to track how the German people shifted from Nazi attitudes towards Americanized ones.
In the late 1940s a young and frightened German girl believed that the African-American soldiers marching through her town had tails hidden in their trousers, a rumor that had been told to her by a passing white soldier. A decade later that girl was dating one of those same black GIs, and had in fact approached him first to get his attention. She may have been recalling the fact that it was the black soldiers who had treated her the best as a child, giving her gifts and making sure she was clean, or she may have simply desired an American boyfriend in the hopes that he would lavish her with his comparatively rich lifestyle. The girl’s attitude reflects that of many Germans towards blacks in the late 1940s and 1950s. Public opinion of black soldiers grew locally in the towns that hosted them, driven in no small part by their generosity and kindness compared to that of white GIs, but their exotic appearance and unique American outlook also attracted attention and praise.
Of course there was also some strong resistance to the stationing of black American soldiers in occupied Germany. Vestiges of the National Socialist ideology of racial purity remained in many Germans’ thoughts, if not always in their speech and actions, as well as the traditional prejudice against anything different from themselves that clung still to most Europeans. But because of the intense Nazi focus on race and cleansing, and the uncovering of the Nazi atrocities, Germany was forced into a unique position of having to prove its mended ways; as historian Heide Fehrenbach notes, “The postwar logic of race that emerged in Germany was beholden to an internationally enforced injunction that Germans differentiate their polity and policies from the Nazi predecessor.” Thus over the 1950s the language of “race” all but disappeared in Germany, although prejudices were often just as strong as previously. These hatreds, however, were turned towards the new and highly visible group of racial “others”: blacks.3 Germans maintained a unique outlook towards this new racial group, convincing themselves that they were not racist but proving hostile towards blacks and those who associated with them. An overwhelmingly conservative system of values warred with the Germans’ vehement denial of the feelings of the past to create a uniquely hostile yet also inviting environment for African-Americans…
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