#BlackLivesMatter: Afro-Germans facing the Shoah

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What happened in the United States with George Floyd can be explained with history: the history of exploitation, of social differences, of inequity, of discrimination. As it happened with different historical events, the Third Reich -and the history of Holocaust- teach us something valuable.

First, we have to speak about scientific racism. This pseudo science, with more than three hundred years, was developed as a public policy during Nazism. This way of thinking -we can find even in the Roman Empire- was catalyzed when biological theories were applied to anthropology.  

This mixture of ignorance and emerging sciences was the breeding ground of something unthinkable. Starting with theories that affirmed Adam and Eve’s skin color –Boyle-  to the division of people in groups depending, also, on their skin color –Cuvier- all of them have had a constant: transforming discrimination into a (pseudo) scientific speech.

Some years later, based on “On the Origin of Species” from Darwin, some theorists used his thoughts –natural selection- to reinforce the idea of racial supremacy and the necessity of eliminate “inferiors”, affirming miscegenation will bring racial collapse –Gobineau-.

This was not independent from the United States, where some theorists affirmed that Afro-American people intention of liberate themselves from slavery was a illness, because Afro-American “natural” condition was that. Other emblematic example was Oto Benga, a Congolese pygmy that was sent to the US for the St. Louis’s World’s Fair, incarcerated with orangutans at the Bronx Zoo and exhibited. More than a century has passed, but few structural things have changed.

Germany was also part of this movement. Rassenchade was a public policy and the “race improvement” for “lives worth of life” contrasted with Afro descendants, Jews, persons with disabilities, homosexuals, among other diverse minorities.

However, 1884 could probably be one of the most important years related to the history of Afro-germans racism. During Berlin Conference, European countries divided their African colonies and Germany “got” Togoland, Cameroon, Tanganyika and –a part of what today is- Namibia. In the territory Germans started killing and raping local people. This produced an obvious consequence: in 1903 Nama people upraised. Herero people followed them. The result? They killed a minor number of oppressors. Germans were surprised by the attack,  but later on 14.000 soldiers arrived to the territory. The rest of the story is imaginable: from an estimated population of 130.000 people –Herero and natives- after the German attack, less than 15.000 remained. They were also expulsed from their territory and if one Herero was found automatic extermination was the consequence. That is the origin of Konzentrationslager, the infamous German word we are used on Holocaust studies. Shark Island Camp was an example of it.    

When WWI finished, Versailles Treaty established French occupation in the Rhineland. In 1919 French army arrived with more than 40.000 soldiers, most of them Senegalese. The union of German women and French soldiers implied the birth of those the Nazi Regime called “The Rhineland bastards”, named by Hitler in Mein Kampf –the only time he mentioned Afro-German people- as the result of Jewish actions. Finally, in 1937 The Fuhrer created the Sonderkomission n° 3, lead by Dr. Fischer, who sterilized more than 500 people… “The bastards”.

Approximately, 20.000 people were Afro-germans. Even when –before the Third Reich- in 1912 interracial marriages were banned. Hitler’s policy was erratic: he allowed some Afro-germans to join the Hitler Youth and, at the same time, they got the equivalent status of Jewish after Nuremberg Laws. Finally, in 1942, some sources affirmed that Himmler ordered a census to determine the number of African-germans. His goal? Extermination. Anyway, it’s not proven.

At this point, we asked ourselves: What does the Shoah teaches us about #BlackLivesMatter?

It teaches us a lot. It teaches that systemic and structural exclusion has consequences. It teaches us that the effect of ideologies like white supremacy sustain centuries of inequity, solidifying the self-perception of victims. It teaches us that cooperation bonds are fundamental on democratic societies in order to understand reciprocity and equity.

The role of minorities is crucial to establish a democratic society and the gradual elimination of structural discrimination and inequity is something that concerns all of us.

Social media could be the ideal place to spread hate and discrimination, but also can be the place for making visible these historical fights.

In conclusion, we are speaking about equity, about democracy. We are speaking about institutional violence and its historical allowance. Numbers speaks themselves: In the last 30 years, incarcerated population in the US increased more than 300% -US has more than 20% of the prisoners worldwide-, but the most terrible thing is a population that represent just a little more than 10% of the country also represents a third of incarcerated people. This is call discriminative overrepresentation.

In this case, Holocaust teaches us two very important things: the effect of structural inequity and the value of historical background. On one hand, the Herero extermination could be a signal, an announcement of German acts against minorities before the Shoah. On the other hand it teaches us the importance of equity, of democratic societies and the role of cooperative bonds.

When #BlackPeopleMatters because we understand their importance, their social role and the necessity of equal treatment, that will be the time when we, finally, understand the terrible consequences that minorities indifference can produce. Herero extermination and Shoah are a proof of it.

About the Author
Tomas is a lawyer specialized in constitutional law and a professor specialized in human rights and Holocaust studies. He is a member of the Jewish Diplomatic Corps (World Jewish Congress) and Nuevas Generaciones (Latin American Jewish Congress).
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