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  • Noirs dans les camps Nazis
  • Stephen Feinstein
Serge Bilé . Noirs dans les camps Nazis. Monaco: Le Serpent à Plumes (Éditions du Rocher), 2005. Pp. 158. 15.90 euros.

Among the many groups that have become the subject of Nazi racial policy, those usually at the center of discussion are Jews, the Roma and Sinti/Gypsies, and those with handicaps and genetic diseases, who were subject to German sterilization laws and later mass murder in hospitals under a program called "T-4." There is also recognition of a group of Afro-Germans who gained the negative designation of "Rhineland Bastards," bi-racial births that occurred during the post World Wart I twelve-year French occupation of the Rhineland. Those "mixed-race" Germans were sterilized after the Nazis came to power and many died in concentration camps.

This is one of the few accounts of the fate of Blacks not only in Germany proper but also in the pre-World War I colonies. The only other book that has engaged the subject is by Hans J. Massaquoi, Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany, a memoir about growing up in Hamburg as an Afro-German in the Nazi era. However, Bilé, a journalist for RFO, creates a very readable account that joins together pieces of the German experience in Africa and with Africans. Using interviews with Black survivors, Bilé has created an engaging text, although one that is thin on analysis.

Germany's first bad experiences came with its African colonies, principally German Southwest Africa (Namibia), German East Africa, Togo, and Cameroon. Namibia was the site of the first documented genocide of the twentieth century when General von Trotha ordered the extermination of the native Herero and Nama peoples after a failed uprising. This is a genocide which the Federal Republic of Germany recognized in 2006 and is the subject of much scholarly interest.

However, Bilé's analysis reveals other aspects of the many problems that developed in the German colonial experience because of a parallel development of race theory. This ideology of racial purity for whites created considerable opposition by colonial officials and even missionaries about mixed marriages and mixed-race births. Although Germany lost all of its colonies by the terms of the Versailles Treaty, the rise of race theory and eugenics ultimately created what German doctors feared would be a public health menace.

When Hitler came to power, all mixed marriages between "Aryans" and other races were forbidden and existing marriages annulled. As with the case of Jewish persecution, Black Germans were excluded from schools and youth movements. Forced sterilization of mixed-race blacks intensified under Sonderkommando 3 in 1937. When World War II started, the incarceration processes affected non-German Blacks, such as the American musician Arthur Briggs, interned after the occupation of France at Saint Denis, The presence of Black American GIs in allied armies scared the Nazis so much that the rules of the Geneva Convention were violated by a long list of summary executions. However, there were some exceptions. Josef Nassy, a Black artist born in Surinam and a naturalized American, was detained in the camp at Laufen, was not persecuted, and was allowed to paint. Nassy and all of his art survived, now in the collection of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Bilé's book is filled with countless stories of Blacks, especially with a French colonial nationality connection, who wound up in concentration camps, often to live to tell the tale. One wishes these accounts might be longer because of the countries of origin of some of these victims: Haiti, Martinique, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, and Congo. Within this strange world of camps, Bilé has two interesting stories, one of Blanchette, the only black woman deported to Ravensbrück, and Hugo, a Black Kapo in Auschwitz. Bilé ends his account on a high note, with the stories of American Black GI's who were involved in the liberation of some concentration camps but also fought in a segregated army. [End Page 105]

As a quick introduction to the subject of the treatment and status of Blacks within the German and Nazi experiences generally, especially World War II, Bilé provides...


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