January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day as designated by the United Nations General Assembly. That day was chosen for symbolic reasons: it's the day that the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated.
In an essay in The Conversation, a historian argues that by choosing that day, the Holocaust becomes shorthand for Nazi mass murder of European Jews and ignores other groups that were victimized, especially black Germans who were killed under Hitler's rule.
"All those voices need to be heard," Eve Rosenhaft, a Professor of German Historical Studies at University of Liverpool, writes, "not only for the sake of the survivors, but because we need to see how varied the expressions of Nazi racism were if we are to understand the lessons of the Holocaust for today."
Rosenhaft recaps the short history of blacks living in Germany after emigrating from Germany's African colonies and slowly integrating into society before becoming subject to the same Nuremberg Laws that Jews were subject to (citizenship revoked, not allowed to marry "people of German blood," etc.) and officially declared "stateless negroes" while black children were excluded from public school. The mistreatment did not extend to mass internment in concentration or labor camps (though there are some examples), but was more along the lines of a series of actions designed to run the black community out of Germany altogether.
The Nazi's concern with "race pollution" led to biracial families being pressured to break up or even forcibly separated; black partners were even sterilized after being rounded up by the Gestapo.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has many stories about the black German experience between 1933 and 1945, and it's all very harrowing. Take for example, Hilarius (Lari) Gilges, a dancer murdered by the SS in 1933. After the war, his wife received restitution from the new German government. Many did not even receive that token consideration.
In closing her essay, Rosenhaft argues that the persecution of black Germans has echoes in German attitudes toward refugees today. While there are many who welcome the diaspora in the spirit of humanitarianism, there is a menacing undercurrent to the dissent:
Germans who fear immigration are not alone in Europe. But their anxieties draw on a vision that has remained very powerful in German society since 1945: the idea that however deserving they are, people who are not white cannot be German.
The Holocaust was an unparalleled human rights atrocity and—surely—by expanding our understanding of the many different groups who were targeted we can create an even greater bulwark against history repeating itself.
The entire essay is worth a read.
David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org