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Misfits in Society: Black Occupation Children in Postwar Germany

Book Essay on: Heide Fehrenbach, Race After Hitler: Black Occupation Children in Postwar Germany and America
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 263 pages. UCSB: HQ777.9.F44 2005

by Allison Capozzoli
December 5, 2008

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Germany, 1945-present
UC Santa Barbara, Fall 2008

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
Plagiarism Warning & Links
Amazon.com page

About Allison Capozzoli

I am a third year history major with an English minor. When I was in high school I was fortunate enough to have a European History teacher who shared his passion for German history with his students. Since then I have been extremely interested in German history both before and after the rise of Adolf Hitler. I chose to write about Fehrenbach's book because occupation children were an aspect of German history that I had never studied before. I was fascinated by the unequal treatment of these children, especially in a country that was trying to overcome its Nazi influences after World War II.

Abstract (back to top)

Fehrenbach's book describes the treatment of black occupation children in Germany after the conclusion of World War II. In spite of the Allied attempt to eradicate traces of Nazi ideology in Germany, these children faced prejudice and discrimination on a daily basis. As a result many children were sent away to separate schools and institutions, or they were put up for adoption by their birth mothers who often had difficulty coping with the taunts and humiliation that they faced from members of German society. Fehrenbach argues that these children were treated poorly because of both American and German views regarding race. While American occupiers were meant to set an example for Germans, it was impossible to ignore their practices of segregated military units and Jim Crow Laws at home. In following the American model, many Germans viewed these black occupation children as somehow subhuman. These children were treated as outsiders and unwanted misfits in spite of the often-consensual relationships that their mothers had with black occupation soldiers after the war.

Essay (back to top)

Occupation children were a new phenomenon that stemmed from an Allied victory over Germany in World War Two. These children were the offspring of German women and Allied soldiers who were sent from America, France, England and the Soviet Union to occupy Germany as part of post-war agreements. Among the thousands of children who were the product of these relationships, there were a substantial number of children who were the result of sexual relations between German women and African American soldiers. In Race After Hitler: Black Occupation Children in Postwar Germany and America, author Heide Fehrenbach argues that the poor treatment of black occupation children stemmed from racial views held by both Americans and Germans before and after World War II. She explores the negative influence of American racial ideology and practices including segregated military units and Jim Crow Laws on occupied Germans who were already tainted by Nazi ideology. In spite of laws imposed on Germans after World War II to decrease racial discrimination, black occupation children were still treated as outsiders and unwanted misfits who hindered the development of Germany by polluting the gene pool and using up extra resources by many of their fellow German citizens. However, these popular sentiments largely ignored factors that motivated some German women to enter relationships with black occupation soldiers, such as love and material gains that would prove that these children were not necessarily unwanted.

Before studying the occupation children, it is important to study the practice of occupation that began in the mid 1940s. Once the world was aware of the devastating policies and actions of Adolf Hitler, and World War II had come to an end, Allied forces embarked on a policy of occupation in Germany to demilitarize, denazify, and democratize the country (Fulbrook, page 108). In spite of Germany’s grim economy and destroyed environment in the cities and in rural areas, the Soviets took control of the eastern section of the country, while the remaining Allies including the Americans, French, and British split control of the western section of Germany. For the study of black occupation children, it is necessary to concentrate only on the western side of Germany, as this was where the black Allied soldiers were stationed. In the west, the soldiers were stationed in German communities in an attempt to restore order and create a constant reminder of Germany’s defeat in the Second World War. Surprisingly in most areas the Allied soldiers, especially American soldiers, were treated with respect and later welcomed by the German inhabitants who were “struck by the American soldiers’ affluence, generosity, and access to consumer goods, which far exceeded not only the miserable material circumstances of early postwar Germans, but also the more meager resources of the other Allied soldiers as well” (Fehrenbach, page 29). The exchange of goods and close living proximities led to relationships between Allied soldiers, including black soldiers, and German civilians that ranged from friendships to sexual relationships.

Running parallel with the practice of American occupation in Germany was the practice of legal racism in the American military in terms of the treatment of African American troops that reflected attitudes at home in the United States. “As is well known, the United States conquered and occupied National Socialist Germany with an army in which troop units, training, work assignments, housing, recreational, and other facilities, and even religious worship, were segregated by race” (Fehrenbach, page 18). While these African American troops were required to risk their lives and their safety like their white comrades, they were not treated with the same respect because of the color of their skin. An example of this preferential treatment for whites could be seen with the treatment of German POWs who often received increased freedoms, accessibility and privileges during their incarceration in comparison to the benefits given to their African American captors. Although in 1948 President Harry Truman began efforts to integrate the United States military, in practice segregation and discrimination against black troops lasted well into the 1950s (Fehrenbach, page 19).

In the midst of the American discrimination against blacks in the military, Germans also had negative reactions regarding the presence of black Allied forces that were “shaped by long-held anti-Black stereotype, as well as more recent wartime propaganda disseminated by the Nazi Regime” (Fehrenbach, page 32). German men, who had been indoctrinated with Hitler’s ideas of Aryan superiority, were especially resentful of the black occupation soldiers. For them, relationships between German women and black men served as proof of the demasculization that had occurred to men in Germany during the war. Themes of missing husbands and fatherless households during the war had played an important role in German culture, as millions of people were impacted by the costs of war. At the same time without their male counterparts women were given increased freedoms during the war as they were forced to take on additional responsibilities to compensate for the absence of men. These freedoms extended to sexual freedoms as seen with choices of black sexual partners. German men were incensed to return from war, defeated, only to find their sexual status in jeopardy as a result of occupation soldiers, made up of African Americans (Fehrenbach, page 48).

In spite of these sentiments, many German women found companionship in these black troops who were viewed as polite, accommodating and generous in spite of their dark physical appearance. In a study of 552 women, social workers found that 56% engaged in relations with black occupation troops because of material benefits, 27% for love, and 17% were motivated by sexual curiosity or the desire to keep up with their friends who were also fraternizing with black soldiers (Fehrenbach, page 65). To associate with these men meant for German women to put up with name-calling, judgment and sometimes, physical violence from their fellow citizens. In spite of this treatment, after four years of military occupation between 1945 and 1949, at least 94,000 occupation children were born including at least three thousand black occupation children (Fehrenbach, page 2). In a study of 600 mothers of black occupation children, 80% of the pregnancies resulted from a relationship lasting several months to several years rather than a one-night-stand - proof that many of these women shared intimate feelings with their black partners in spite of their racial differences and cultural biases (Fehrenbach, page 67).

Once these children were born, both the child and its mother faced added challenges including discrimination by Allied authorities:

Ultimately all occupation children - including those of color - were grudgingly extended German citizenship, but only after Allied Military Government officials made it clear that they would neither entertain paternity suits nor readily grant citizenship to their troops’ illegitimate offspring abroad (Race after Hitler, page 66).

The United States made it particularly difficult for black soldiers to marry their German lovers. Until 1946 there was an outright ban on marriage between German women and occupation soldiers, and after black soldiers were forced to adhere to complex procedures to apply for permission to marry. Because of racial biases and other difficulties, many of these requests were denied, therefore forbidding black soldiers to marry their often-pregnant German girlfriends. At the same time, until the mid 1950s laws forbade German women to file paternity or child support suits against the American fathers of their children (Fehrenbach, pages 68-69).

Meanwhile, mothers faced scrutiny from the general public in every aspect of their child’s upbringing. Already they were viewed as having loose morals for having sexual relations with black soldiers, but every one of their child’s actions served as a direct reflection on the mother’s abilities and competence. For this reason, many women opted give their children up for adoption or to send their children away to special institutions or schools designed specifically for black occupation children, to separate them from the rest of society and theoretically protect them from an unforgiving society. In Invisible Woman, Ika Hugel-Marshall describes her own experiences growing up black in Germany, as she was forced to leave her white family to live in an institution and attend a special school. Here she suffers from both physical and emotional abuse stemming from the prejudices of the nuns who are her caretakers on top of the abandonment that she feels in being separated from her mother. In school she faces discrimination because of the color of her skin and is denied the same opportunities as her white classmates, which impacts her social development as well as her self-esteem. While not all children were abused like Ika was, her case was sadly not unique as statistics showed that from the early 1950s almost 10% of black occupation children lived in institutions rather than with biological or foster families (Fehrenbach, page 136).

The plight of black occupation children was made public in the popular Toxi movie that played in Germany starting in the 1950s. “It was the first feature-length film to explore the subject of black occupation children in postwar Germany” (Fehrenbach, page 108). This film, along with other media outlets, made the public aware of the depressing existences of occupation children and in turn motivated many people in the United States to adopt these children. African Americans especially, came out in large numbers to adopt these children as many were motivated by notions of racial identity and responsibility especially after the start of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States (Fehrenbach, page 133). The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was very influential in helping African American families adopt black occupation children from Germany in the 1960s. In light of the lack of international laws to regulate inter-country adoptions, private companies and individuals were forced to make decisions regarding the placement of occupation children. American adoptive parents were preferable because they were willing to take the black children that most Germans would not adopt, and took away cost burdens from Germans (Fehrenbach, page 153). Hundreds of children were able to move to the United States (and Denmark) to live with adoptive families to escape the discrimination that they faced in Germany.

Overall in spite of racial biases held by both Germans and Americans, countless German women opted to engage in sexual relationships with black occupation soldiers after World War II. Whether they were motivated by material gains or love, these encounters resulted in black occupation children who were treated with disdain by their extended families and neighbors. Once these children received public attention, on the news, in literature or in popular films like Toxi, individuals from the United States worked tirelessly to adopt hundreds of these illegitimate children, to give them a better life. Nonetheless the treatment of these children proves that Hitler’s legacy was difficult to shake and even after his death, Hitler still managed to impact more innocent victims, especially in his own country of Germany.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 12/x/08)

Book Reviews

  • Mazon, Patricia. Race After Hitler: Black Occupation Children in Postwar Germany and America. American Historical Review 112.1 (Feb. 2007): 169-170. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO, UCSB. 12 Nov. 2008.
    This review discusses “brown babies,” the children of African American soldiers and German women, as described by Fehrenbach. It highlights the inequalities present in American polices regarding race that were carried across the Atlantic to Germany during the period of occupation after World War II.
  • Race After Hitler: Black Occupation Children in Postwar Germany and America. Journal of American History 93.2 (Sept. 2006): 581. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO, UCSB. 12 Nov. 2008.
    This review discusses Fehrenbach’s book in terms of the flaws in American democracy that were visible to Germans. These flaws that included Jim Crow Laws, segregated military units and other racially unequal policies, led occupied Germans to also view African Americans negatively. These negative attitudes translated into unfair and discriminatory practices towards black occupation children.
  • Robbie Aitken. Review of Fehrenbach, Heide, Race After Hitler: Black Occupation Children in Postwar Germany and America. H-German, H-Net Reviews, February, 2006. http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=11440
    This review discusses the use of archival sources in Fehrenbach’s book. She uses these sources that include the Toxi film, newspaper articles, and federal reports to support her argument that black occupation children were treated poorly because of American and German attitudes surrounding race after World War II.
  • Caitlin Rolla's UCSB Hist 133c review of Fehrenbach (2008)
  • Andrea Small's UCSB Hist 133c review of Fehrenbach (2008)

Web Sites

  • "A Chronology of African American Military Service From WWI through WWII." Integration of the Armed Forces. Redstone. 20 Nov. 2008 <http://www.redstone.army.mil/history/integrate/chron3.html>.
    This site describes the participation of African Americans in the United States military throughout the twentieth century. It also includes a timeline that highlights the role of these troops, starting with World War I and continuing through World War II.
  • Rudolph, Nancy. "Black German Children: A Photography Portfolio." Black German Children. 2003. <http://muse.jhu.edu.proxy.library.ucsb.edu:2048/journals/callaloo/v026/26.2rudolph.html>.
    This site describes a woman’s quest to find more information about black occupation children in Germany after World War II. After traveling to Germany she became very interested in these children and worked on her own to photograph and interview these individuals. She includes some of her interviews and displays the research that she has compiled.
  • "Brown Babies." Black German Cultural Society, Inc. Word Press.com. 1 July 2008 <http://blackgermans.wordpress.com/brown-babies/>.
    This site discusses “brown babies” or black occupation children, who were born after World War II. It describes the situation, which brought about these children, and then continues by describing the process of adoption in Germany. At the same time it points out the negative effects of adoption for some children.

Books and Articles

  • Hugel-Marshall, Ika, Invisible Woman: Growing Up Black in Germany (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc), 155 pages. UCSB: HQ1625.H84 A3 2001.
    This book describes the author’s personal experiences growing up black in Germany. Her father is an American soldier who had no contact with her mother after he left Germany to return to the United States. Throughout her childhood, Ika feels like an outsider as she is not able to identify with her white German family. Her peers and teachers treat her as an outsider as they cannot get past her dark complexion. This book gives a personal account of the plight of occupation children growing up in Germany after World War II.
  • Gregor, Neil, German History from the Margins (Indiana University Press), 306 pages. UCSB: DD74 .G36 2006. <http://books.google.com/books?id=ZHuSFNzBPTEC>
    This book describes the challenges that faced ethnic and religious minorities in modern German history. The Nazi legacy lived on, even after the end of World War II in terms of the treatment of blacks living in Germany. There is a chapter in this book written by Fehrenbach that describes the treatment of blacks in Germany including occupation children who came as a result of military occupation after the war.

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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 12/11/08; last updated: 12/13/08
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