Callaloo 26.2 (2003) 383-400
[Access article in PDF]
Black German Children
A Photography Portfolio
MUNICH, April 1949—This was the last city I visited on an eye-opening and emotional trip through post-WWII Germany and Austria. After the war, the Allies divided Germany into three zones—British, Russian and American. The American sector included West Berlin, Frankfurt and Bavaria. I flew with the airlift from Frankfurt to West Berlin over the Russian sector, which encircled and made an island of Berlin. I crossed into East Berlin on the UBahn and was quickly warned to exit. I drove from Frankfurt through Nuremberg to Munich, toward the ugly presence of Dachau concentration camp. I visited the Hofbräuhaus, the massive, yeasty, noisy beer hall where Hitler began his putsch and organized his party. Munich lay in the shadow of Berchtesgaden, where Hitler had lived and died.
This trip was filled with intrigue and sadness and raw memories of the six million Jews and gypsies, homosexuals, and non-aryans who had perished in concentration camps in the holocaust. One of my brothers was in the U.S. Army medical corps that fought in Europe and was one of the troops that liberated Dachau. I was tracing his footsteps through the aftermath of Hitler's plan to build the master race, through a Germany digging itself out of defeat and destruction.
I was standing outside the Hofbräuhaus, watching the passing scene, when a little boy walked by. About four years old, he was dressed in lederhosen and was speaking German to his blonde, blue-eyed mother. They made a typical picture, just a mother and child out for a stroll. But this picture was startlingly different. This little boy was black.
For years the image of that child haunted me. What would happen to him growing up in a country that had tried to exterminate all non-aryans? What future would he have? What kind of friends, education, professional possibilities, work would be available to him? What would his life be? For years I asked friends who'd visited Germany, colleagues, and Germans what they knew about these post-war babies. No one could tell me anything—in fact they were surprised to know that such a child existed. Twenty-eight years later, I returned to Germany to find out for myself.
MUNICH, April 1977—I went back to Munich to find that little boy, or at least to find his story. My search began in the files of the Munich Abendzeitung, the evening newspaper. Numerous articles dating back to 1946 concerned the occupation children, born during the occupation of Germany. Then, in the mid-1950s, the articles stopped. They were a closed subject in the Munich press. [End Page 383]
From the Bureau of Statistical Affairs, I learned that there were 150,000 illegitimate babies with American GI fathers born in Germany in the 1940s and 1950s, 9000 of whom were black. In 1956 17,500 occupation children were born in the Bavarian part of the American zone, and 1700 of these children had black fathers. In my research at the Abendzeitung, I learned that 900 fathers had declared themselves fully responsible for the support of their children, and that a great percentage of these fathers who had come forward were black.
I also learned the various names for these black children: bezatsungskinder [occupation child], mischling [child of mixed blood], negerkind [literally, nigger child]. Another slang name was toxi, the name of a child in a film about a little girl who became famous as a black Shirley Temple. She acted her life story—a fatherless child whose GI father realizes he has a daughter and returns to Germany to find her. When Toxi grows up, she marries an African and moves to Africa; but the marriage doesn't work out, and she returns to Germany to hold a menial job.
It seemed that the children generally had been accepted and loved. In 1958 a UNESCO study concluded that there were no major prejudices against black children in Germany. And the adult children I met...