Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Black History Month in Germany at The Atlantic Review

Running late, backlogged on blog posts for the Black History in Europe Project, steeped in European Renaissance and Medieval History. I feel like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. We are having lots of fun (and success thanks to our readers) with the search for black and African history in the context of European history and literature.

I’ve just followed a tip from Michael Fisher about black Roman Legions in Switzerland during the 3rd Century A.D. Damn! You’re kidding? I have to check this out with the Pope for accuracy. Dialing 1- 800 CHECK-W-ST-PETER. Ring…ring…ring…ring. Click.

“Hello? Hello? Connect me with the Pope, please. He’s not in? O.K. then put me in touch with the Vatican’s Head Librarian. This is important and it’s a long distance call.”

In case my readers or new visitors haven’t read it yet, BHM-E team member Jörg has published his first article on the history of Africans and black people in Germany. Jörg’s post at the Atlantic Review is focused on 20th Century history up to the present and contains information about several notable personalities i.e. Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi (Afro-German survivor of the Third Reich and a former editor at Ebony magazine in the U.S.A.), Cherno Jobatey (Afro-German co-anchor of Germany’s most popular TV morning news program), and several more figures. The debate (see the comments section of Jörg’s post) is quite lively and a number of readers have contributed even more information on black historical figures and related events in German History. Here is an excerpt from the Atlantic Review article “Black History Month in Germany”:

African-German Filmmakers Hope to Open-Up 'New Perspectives,'" writes David Gordon Smith in Spiegel International about a special series at the Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale):

The African-German community has a long history, but the sizeable minority is often overlooked in a country where being German is often considered to mean being white. Now a group of black German filmmakers is trying to change that.

The series features six short films that aim to represent the breadth of black filmmaking in Germany -- from Yohannes' coming-of-age story, to "You Are Welcome!," a documentary featuring interviews with German visitors to Ghana, to "Diver" a cartoon about a German superhero. However Yohannes emphasizes that black German filmmakers see themselves as complementing the mainstream. "We are not trying to segregate or differentiate ourselves," she says. "Rather, we're coming together in order to become visible."

They have a hard task ahead of them. Black Germans, who generally refer to themselves as Afrodeutsche or African-Germans, have to constantly fight to be accepted as German -- for many people within and outside Germany, being German is synonymous with being white.

It's not known exactly how many African-Germans live in Germany -- one legacy of the Holocaust is that census data in the country does not include ethnicity or religion -- but estimates range from 100,000 to 500,000. Many African-Germans are the offspring of Africans who came to Germany to work or study and married white Germans. A significant number grew up in East Germany, which had links to then-communist countries such as Mozambique. There is also a growing number of German citizens who immigrated as adults from sub-Saharan Africa.

The article continues to discuss stereotypical roles in German films and points out "There is no Denzel here" and that "black filmmakers in Germany have a lot of catching up to do compared with the United States, where the Black Filmmaker Foundation is an integral part of the filmmaking scene."

The "New Perspectives" series at the Berlinale is organized by the association Schwarze Filmschaffende in Deutschland (SFD) ("Black Artists in German Film")."New Perspectives" also features the documentary, "And We Were Germans," about one of the best-known African-Germans, Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi, who grew up in Germany during the Third Reich. His memoir "Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany" was a bestseller in Germany and was made into a TV movie, as the above Spiegel article points out.

The British Black Information Link describes Black Germans as "Hitler’s invisible victims:

"Their story is largely untold, their battle for compensation mostly fruitless. Thousands of African descent perished in Nazis concentration camps, the New Nation reports today. Many survivors have since died of old age, their place in history forgotten. This reporter spoke exclusively to two Afro-Germans, both in their 80s, who revealed their extraordinary story of living under an ever-present fear of death.”

Read more over at the Atlantic Review – Black History Month in Germany

Note: One important fact that the Spiegel International article fails to point out about SFD – Schwarze Filmschaffende in Deutschland is that this professional film & TV association’s founding members and staff is comprised entirely of African-German women. 100% Schwarze Frauen Power in the 21st Century. Bravo!

Coming up next at Jewels in the Jungle:
An African-German educator speaks out on history education in the Federal Republic of Germany. Don’t miss it. The article will be published in both German and English.

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