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“I like this goddamn country, you know that? …It is the first place I was ever treated like a goddamn man.”

William Gardner Smith about the experience of black GIs in Germany, from The Last of the Conquerors (1948)



New Documentary:
"Ein Hauch von Freiheit" (Breath of Freedom)
December 16, 10:05pm CET on Arte
> more


"Breath of Freedom: Black Soldiers and the Battle for Civil Rights" (narrated by Cuba Gooding, Jr.)
Premiers February 17, 8pm ET/PT on Smithsonian Channel
> more


"Freed's enduring photos of march part of exhibit"
> more


Article by
Sophie Lorenz:
„Heldin des anderen Amerikas“
Die DDR-Solidaritätsbewegung
für Angela Davis, 1970–1973.
> more

New Film:
"The West Point -
Vassar College Initiative"
> more

A Breath of Freedom
By Maria Höhn &
Martin Klimke
Palgrave Macmillan October 2010
> more



Discrimination in Germany

The documents and images below illustrate that although African American GIs predominantly perceived postwar Germany as a "breath of freedom" (Colin Powell) due to the absence of any institutionalized forms of Jim Crow racism, the country was by no means free from racial discrimination against Blacks.

1. Photo by Benno Wundshammer

This photo accompanied the scandalous reporting on the so-called "Negerbars" in Kaiserslautern in the 1950s. The observer calls the
women who associated with black soldiers "cheap barflies"
(lotterige Barschönheiten) and decribed their black boyfriends
as "excited Negroes" with faces like "shiny, contorted masks" and
"catlike movements," who were conducting a "hunt for white women."
(Benno Wundshammer. Deutsche Chronik 1954).









    2. Cartoon by Oliver Harrington

    Caption: "Achtung! Attention Off Limits to Black Troops. "…When
    I told the colonel about it, he just grinned. Said I shouldn’t
    be spreadin’ Russian Propaganda."
    The cartoon conveys that neither Germans nor white Americans wanted
    black soldiers in "their" spaces. The reference to "Russian propaganda"
    is suggestive of how the struggle for racial equality was at the time  
    denigrated as a communist plot. 
    (Library of Congress, postwar)






3. Cartoon and German poem "Der Kohlenkeller"

This cartoon and the German poem that accompanies it reveals what most Germans and most white Americans assumed about the going-ons in the so-called "Negerbars" in Baumholder. Significantly, this cartoon expresses established German racist stereotypes by linking Blackness and Jewishness. (From Pipifax. Der Fröhliche Westrich, Baumholder 1959).

Der Kohlenkeller

Hast Du viel Dollar, Mark und Heller
Und ist Dein Leben Dir nicht lieb,
Dann geh' nur in den "Kohlenkeller",
Denn dort ist immer "Mords"-Betrieb.

Die Mädchen wedeln mit den Hüften,
Die Männer wedeln mit dem Colt,
Die Stühle fliegen in den Lüften,
Und das Lokal ist reich an Gold.

Es wird gestochen und geschlagen,
Und ist das Maß mal wieder voll,
Kommt die M.P. mit vielen Wagen,
Und sie erfüllt ihr Prügel-Soll.

Doch liebst Du Ruhe in den Nächten,
Dann mach Dich auf und ziehe fort;
Mit des Geschickes "dunklen" Mächten
Ringst Du umsonst an diesem Ort!


4. Cartoon "Goldener Westen"

"Battle of the Amizonen (women who date GIs): The existential struggle is tough."

In this cartoon three women are competing for the black soldier. The woman being attacked yells that she is married to the Captain, while the one on the left insists that she should be granted a half hour with him (insinuating that the other women is a prostitute and not his wife), and the third one threatening to rip off her clothes.

This cartoon references a song popular during the Weimar Republic, thus reminding older Germans of the French colonial soldiers from North Africa who were stationed in this area in the 1920s. The song was adapted to account for the new soldiers of color: "Barbara, Barbara, you need not travel to Africa, because you can get a small Negro child right here on the Rhine."





5. Cartoon "Goldener Westen"

This cartoon depicts how much the city of Kaiserslautern has changed due to the influx of American troops in 1950. The author points out in a text that accompanies the cartoon that among women, "Black is the color of choice; favored by old and young Amizonen" (women who date Americans).
White American: Usually out and about in small or large groups. His cap is pushed back into his neck, pulled into his face, or tucked under his epaulettes. Loud, clowning around, he chews gum and smokes incessantly. Battle cry: "Hallo Fräulein!" (Weisser Ami: Sowohl einzeln als auch in kleinen und grossen Trupps anzutreffen. Mütze trägt er im Genick, in der Stirn oder unter der Schulterklappe. Lärmt, treibt Spässe, kaut Gummi und raucht Unmengen von Zigaretten. Schlachruf: "Hallo Fräulein!")

Black American: Not as carefree as his white "brother." Does, however, loosen up under the influence of alcohol. Loves children, mostly seen with white girlfriend and her extended family. Cap always pulled into his eyes. (Schwarzer Ami: Nicht so unbekümmert wie sein weißer "Bruder". Geht aber unter Alkoholeinfluss "aus sich heraus". Kinderlieb, tritt meist mit weißer Freundin und deren Familienanhang auf. Mütze sitzt ausnahmslos tief über den Augen.)

WACs: Always "cold as ice" but refreshing and stimulating. They share many similarities with another American product, Coca Cola (Weibliche Soldaten: "Immer eiskalt" aber erfrischend und anregend. Sie sind einem anderen Erzeugnis Amerikas nicht unähnlich, dem Coca Cola.)

Source: The cartoons 4 and 5 are taken from Die Rheinpfalz, "In Deutschland’s Goldenem Westen," July 2, 1952.

Further Reading

- Behrends, Jan, Thomas Lindenberger, and Patrice Poutrus: Fremde und Fremd-Sein in der DDR (Berlin: Metropol, 2003).

- Brauerhoch, Annette: “Fräuleins” und GIs: Geschichte und Filmgeschichte (Frankfurt: Stroemfeld, 2006).

- Chin, Rita , Heide Fehrenbach, Geoff Eley, and Atina Grossmann, eds.: After the Nazi Racial State: Difference and Democracy in Germany and Europe (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009).

- Fehrenbach, Heide: Race after Hitler: Black Occupation Children in Postwar Germany and America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005).

- Höhn, Maria: GIs and Fräuleins: The German-American Encounter in 1950s West Germany (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).

- Martin, Peter: Schwarze Teufel, edle Mohren: Afrikaner in Geschichte und Bewusstsein der Deutschen (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 2001).

- Schroer, Timothy: Recasting Race after World War II: Germans and African Americans in American-Occupied Germany (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2007).

- Snow, Noah: Deutschland Schwarz Weiss: Der alltägliche Rassismus (Munich: Bertelsmann, 2008).

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