Posted by: Trina | November 13, 2008

A Stranger in His Own Land?

In the wake of the election of Barack Obama as 44th President of the United States, there has again been talk in Germany (as there has been throughout the rest of Europe= about the political role of people who came to this country as – or are the descendants of – immigrants. For example, on Facebook the page “Yes, We Cem” was created in support of Turkish-German politician Cem Özdemir’s historical bid for the position of head of major German political party, Bündnis 90/Green Party.

Once again, however, one aspect of the discussion seems to be (conveniently?) skipped over: What about the dark-skinned children of German parents? In other words, people who were in many cases not only born here, but also have 1/2 Germany ancestry.

Because Germany does not document its citizens according to race, there are no dependable numbers concerning the exact size of the so-called black or Afro-German population. Though they were born with the very same rights their blond, blue eyed compatriots enjoy, they are often still not viewed or treated as ‘real’ Germans and face the same kind of discrimination Southern European immigrants – or the families of former ‘guest workers – do.

Many erroneously believe that the first Afro-Germans were the children of American G.I.’s stationed in Germany after the 2nd World War or Africans come to study at German universities. Many don’t know the story of the so-called ‘Rhineland Bastards‘, for example; i.e. the children of German women and black colonial troups who were a part of the French army occupying the Rhineland following the end of the 1st World War. Even fewer know anything about the children of Africans from Germany’s former colonies, who came to Germany, married Germans, and attempted to make a life for themselves and their families here.

Many people from both of these groups were forced to flee the country during the Nazi regime. Many who didn’t were forcibly sterilized to prevent them from further ‘tainting’ Aryan blood. Many were also imprisoned in concentration camps, where some dies, though others lived to share their tale of ‘the other Germans’ with  younger generations.

One such person is Theodor Wonja Michael.

Theodor Wonja Michael was born in Berlin in 1925. Their Cameroonian father, Theophilus Wonja Michael arrived in Berlin in 1894 and had four children with his German wife Martha Wegner. In early 1943, Michael was marched with other Afro-Germans into a forced-labor camp near Berlin.He was there until the camp was liberated by Russian soldiers in June 1945.” His three siblings fled to France after “Negroids” were declared “undesirable” in 1936, but Michael chose to remain apparently, out of sheer stubbornness. He worked as a bellhop at Berlin’s Hotel Excelsior (before being kicked out by a Nazi guest).The Nazis cast him in a tiny but very visible role in Germany’s first color film released in 1943. “Muenchhausen”- which showed him cooling dignitaries with a feathered fan. Later he learned that the movie had been commissioned by propaganda Goebbels and would be used against blacks. “In many ways, being a curiosity is just as bad as being a target. I happen to be black, but I am German, and I insist on the recognition,” says Michael. Theodoro survived the Nazi terror and is still alive. Many other Germans –Cameroonians like Martin Dibobe, Erika N’gando were deported and murdered in concentration camps.



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