AS DEBATES over Germany's Third World immigration policies continue and as Bonn grapples with a disturbing rise in neo-Nazism, historians continue to learn more about the Nazi era. It did not, scholars now know, stop with the Holocaust -- the murder of millions of Jews in the name of ethnic purity. The Hitler regime made a similar attempt to wipe out people of color.
Although the number was relatively small, the effort was nevertheless systematic and widespread, ranging from the forced encampment and disappearance of hundreds of mixed-race children in the Rhineland to medical abuse committed in the German colonies in Africa. These victims remain uncounted by history.
"There was a direct connection between the colonial racist practices in Imperial Germany and the Nazis' ideology and practices," said Annegret Ehmann, deputy director and director of education at the Wannsee Villa Memorial and Museum in Berlin.
In 1924, black soldiers from France's African colonies were among the troops occupying the German Rhineland. The major political parties at that time issued a plea to the government that stated: "For German women and children, men and boys, these primitives are a ghastly danger. Their honor, life and limb, purity and innocence are being destroyed." The statement also accused black troops of attacking and killing German women who resisted their sexual advances. A newspaper asked: "Are we to tolerate silently the fact that, in the future, the light-hearted songs of white, attractive, well-built, intellectually superior and lively healthy Germans are to be replaced by the croaking noise of gray-colored, syphilitic mulattoes?"
The Africans fathered some 800 children, who were referred to as "Rhineland Bastards" or "Rhineland Mischlingers" (blood mixing with "alien races"). The children were automatically registered with authorities at birth; as the Nazis came to power in the 1930s and passed the infamous Nuremburg laws on racial purity, neither they nor their parents were permitted to forget their ancestry.
In 1937, the Rhineland children had approached child-bearing age, and a plan to stop them from producing offspring was swiftly implemented by the Gestapo and the Ministry of the Interior. Initially, the children were to be deported to Africa with the assistance of the Catholic Church. When that plan was dropped (organizers believed the move would draw worldwide criticism), the children were forciblytaken to hospitals where they were examined and, in some cases, sterilized. They were later sent to the University Clinic in Bonn and the Evangelical Hospital in Cologne-Sulz.
But in later years, no trace of the 800 children could be found. In 1978, in the course of research involving victims of the Holocaust, it was speculated that most if not all died in the camps under the Nazis euthanasia program. Under the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, the euthanasia program was designed to exterminate individuals who were considered genetically inferior.
Such beliefs, of course, were not unique to Germany.
"That work that was done under the Weimar Republic represented the type of work that was going on in genetics at the time, not just by the Germans but by other European countries and North American countries," said Marc Micozzi, director of the National Museum of Health and Medicine at Walter Reed, in an interview. "That was considered part of eugenics at the time. There were many forced sterilizations going on in the South in this country of blacks and poor individuals. It was done and brought about much the same way it was done in Germany."
Between 1905 and 1912, it was forbidden for German males to marry colored women in the African colonies. Still, regardless of the law, the colonies had a sizable population of mixed progeny, and today signs of the German population can still be seen in Namibia and Togo through the lighter-skinned residents. When mixed-race children were born inside Germany, special problems were created for the government.
Ehmann, of the Wannsee museum, has access to East Germany's archives that describe in vivid detail the military, missionary and scientific campaigns that were conducted in the African colonies. She has written how special requests were made by German scientists for black bodies to be used for research. Unblemished African corpses were also in demand in most of Europe for museum display.
It was not uncommon for German anthropologists to maintain private collections of African skeletons. Sometimes, they collaborated with German soldiers, whose show of force would cause inhabitants to abandon their villages. The anthropologists would enter sacred burial grounds and ransack the graves. Relics and skeletons were taken to Europe for sale and research.
Concentration camps located in the Southwest colonies of Africa were primarily populated by tribesmen who resisted the German occupation. The camps had a 45 percent mortality rate, according to Ehmann. In 1907, the Hereros of the African colony rebelled; when the battle was over, the Hereros were herded into the desert and surrounded by German encampments. Orders were given not to allow food or water to enter the camp. When the siege ended, only 18,000 of the 80,000 Hereros remained.
"German policy in the colony stated that blacks had no right to live and that, in the end, African culture was doomed," said Ehmann in an interview. "Blacks had no useful purpose. And the missionaries agreed with this ideology."
At the start of World War I, Germany could no longer afford its African colonies. The racial hygienists, anthropologists and other scientists turned their murderous research inward. Those once responsible for committing atrocities in the German colonies were now in charge of governmental health agencies and research institutes.
The worth of blacks had been unquestionably defined through years of scientific research. If it meant the advancement of the "superior German" race, any harm that befell the Negro in the name of science and the state was justified.
Medical journals not only took note of the physiological differences between the Negro and the European, but talked about the offensive smell of the Negro, "even when he is clean," or so said Robert N. Proctor's book, "Racial Hygiene."
In 1923, Fritz Lenz was named Germany's first professor of racial hygiene at the University of Munich. Lenz, writes Proctor, concluded that "the Negro is not particularly intelligent in the proper sense of the term, and above all he is devoid of the power of mental creation, is poor in imagination, so that he has not developed any original art and has no elaborate folk myths. He is, however, clever with his hands and is endowed with considerable technical adroitness, so that he can easily be trained in the manual crafts."
Lenz also wrote that the intelligence of the Negro was appreciably enhanced when he mixed with white blood. He said that blacks, much like women, are at an intellectual low during childhood because they suffer from developmental retardation.
"The scientists and anthropologists who did the research on the skulls and their so-called racial characteristics in the Southwest African colonies became leading anthropologists and geneticists during the Third Reich," said Christian Pross, a physician and medical historian in Berlin.
Pross is the founder of an exhibition that is touring internationally, "The Value of the Human Being, Medicine in Germany 1918-1945." The exhibit, now in Germany, was on display a little more than a year ago at the National Museum of Health and Medicine. It is scheduled to return to Washington this year through a joint effort of the museum and the Goethe Institute.
"When you've grown up in Germany during the postwar period, as a child and adolescent and as a university student, you come across this heritage everywhere," said Pross. "My teachers in school, my professors in medical school, they were all in some way involved in these crimes. As a young person you started asking questions and wanting to know the truth. You don't want to grow up with all these blank spots about the past of your nation."
Len Cooper is a Washington writer and researcher.