The little-known history of forced sterilisation of black children in Nazi Germany

mixed-race child
A mixed-race child photographed in a class

Most children do not have photographic memories of incidents that happen to them when they are little. Some may have occasional flashbacks when certain incidents trigger them; others may never remember.

When your right to reproduce is stripped from you at a tender age, you are then forced to probe and further investigate what might have happened to you.

For the mixed-race children in Germany during the Nazi regime, their fate was decided for them. It began when the treaty of Versailles was signed by the Germans after their defeat in the First World War and they had to take a step back.

The French then brought in soldiers from their colonies, mainly from North and West Africa. These soldiers settled in western Germany – the Rhineland area. There were about 20,000 troops. These soldiers were to guard the area.

For the Nazis, the Aryan race (the Nordic people of Germany, England, Denmark, The Netherlands, Sweden and Norway) is pure and should not be mixed with any other race.

However, in any environment where there are people, be it from the same background or not, human connections are meant to be made. The soldiers, having settled in their new home, went on to have relations with German women. Out of these unions, they had children – mixed-race children. This would not go well with the Nazis as their fear of “racial mixing” was now inevitable.

There had to be a way to save their pure race. Medical sterilisation and forceful separation of the interracial relationships were the next plans of action. The Nazis were just not ready to take in what they described as the “Rhineland bastards”, a degrading term used to describe the offspring of the Black French and White German courtships.

There were about 600 to 800 innocent children who knew less about the plans concocted by the Germans about their future, BBC reports.

German Historian Reiner Pommerin uncovered the secret sterilisation program in his 1979 book, Sterilisierung der Rheinlandbastarde. Das Schicksal einer farbigen deutschen Minderheit 1918 – 1937. (Sterilization of the Rhineland Bastards: the fate of a colored German minority 1918 – 1937. Before this book, many people did not know about these forceful sterilisations.

In a famous 1920’s medical journal article, Dr. F. Rosenberger wrote: “…shall we stand in silence and allow it to happen that in the future the banks of the Rhine shall echo not with the songs of beautiful and intelligent white Germans, but with the croaks of stupid, clumsy-half-animal and syphilitic mulattos?”

An investigation was conducted under the instructions of the Minister of the Interior, Herman Goring, on April 14, 1933, barely nine weeks after the Nazis assumed power. The investigation was aimed at knowing the exact number of children who were mixed race in Germany.

Blacks in Nazi Germany
Blacks in Nazi Germany

According to the HuffPost, based on the minister’s instructions, the children were examined while doctors photographed and measured their bodies.

One doctor, Wolfgag Abel of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut for Antrhopologie made these observations: “that their education level was lower than that of German children of the same age. He described the children generally as uneducated, disorderly and violent. But he did not find any ‘hereditary disease’ – nor did he have a solution to the problem,” according to the historian Pommerin.

The Jews and blacks and a few other European nationalities were all victims of the Nazi’s racial cleansing. However, anytime Nazi Germany is mentioned, the Jewish Holocaust is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. On January 27 every year, there are ceremonies to remember those who perished during the Nazi regime. No human should have had to suffer the way they did, many agree.

However, there were other people who also perished under the Nazis. Some have, in recent years, got mentions during some memorial celebrations like Europe’s Sinti and Roma. The Black Germans seem to be the forgotten ones. They have not been publicly memorialised like the Jews for being victims of the Nazi regime.

That notwithstanding, the laws approved on July 14, 1933, institutionalizing eugenics and racial policy included black people or people of African descent. The laws received a lot of backlash from other nations, particularly in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

The laws were then amended specifically to replace “non-Aryan” with “Jewish” to save face with the other countries. However, their true agenda of a racial cleanse that included black people was evident in the barring of black students from swimming pools at Tübingen and the annulment of contracts with black musicians, the HuffPost reports.

In the Nazi’s defense, Hitler wrote, “There is today one state, in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception [of citizenship] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the United States.”

Thus, a secret meeting held by Commission Number 3 in March 1935 in Berlin, according to Pommerin, decided to sterilize the children after many deliberations. “…These children were taken from their homes or schools without parental permission and put before the commission. Once a child was decided to be of black descent, the child was taken immediately to a hospital and sterilized…many times without their parents’ knowledge.”

 Nazi newspaper publication
A cross-section of biracial children in a Nazi newspaper publication

Imagine how confused the children were. One by one they were sent into a room that had people from the commission impose sterilisation sentences on them. In the Fate of Mixed Blood Children in Germany by Reiner Pommerin, one gets to picture how things were done by the commission as reported by the HuffPost.

“J.F., of German nationality, born September 20, 1920, living in Mainz, is a descendant of the former colored Allied occupation forces, in this case from North Africa, and shows corresponding typical anthropological characteristics, for which reason he shall be sterilized.

C.M.B., of German nationality, born July 5, 1923, living in Koblenz, is a descendant of a member of the former Allied occupation forces, in this case an American negro, and shows corresponding typical anthropological characteristics, for which reason she shall be sterilized.

A.A. of German nationality, born March 14, 1920, living in Duisburg, is a descendant of a member of the former Allied occupation forces, in this case a negro from Madagascar, and shows corresponding typical anthropological characteristics, for which reason he shall be sterilized.”

About 400 to 600 children have been scarred for life. The findings by Pommerin was like a feather in a cup. It did not garner the attention such an act deserves. A survivor of the sterilisation in a 1997 documentary on Hitler’s Forgotten Victims, Hans Hauck, shared his ordeal. His father was an Algerian soldier and his mother, a white German.

He recounted being given a vasectomy in secret and a certification for it, that allowed him to go about his duties.  He added that he was wide awake during the procedure. He was not given anaesthesia. He was then instructed to not marry or have sex with a German and then made to sign an agreement to that.

He said to the documentary makers: “It was depressing and oppressive, I felt only half-human”. There were many like Hans who, to date, feel their lives would have been better dead than to be sterile, the BBC reports

A Black soldier in Nazi Germany
A Black soldier in Nazi Germany

The small black community were under constant pursuit; they were made stateless and suffered other persecutions under the Nazis. The blacks were harassed, publicly humiliated and left out from schools and work. Some fled to escape the sterilizations. Some families were also forcefully broken by the Nazis in a bid to break off all biracial connections that were already existing.

The pregnant German women, who were likely to deliver biracial children, were forced to abort the unborn children. There were many incarcerations and rampant killings of black people who lived in Germany. For instance, the BBC wrote about Hilarius Gilges, a mixed-race communist and anti- Nazi agitator who was kidnapped and murdered in 1933.

Nevertheless, most of the information surrounding the ill-treatment of the black community, in general, is still downplayed. That is not uncommon in today’s news. Stories surrounding ethnic minorities, especially black communities that can cause a real change in society’s way of thinking or that enhance equality are toned down or under-reported.

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