First memorial to black victims of Nazi genocide
Michael Leidig in Vienna
Sunday September 16, 2007
In the vast, agonising mosaic of the Holocaust, Mahjub bin Adam Mohamed was simply one more piece, one of millions of the Nazis' victims lost to obscurity without a funeral or a grave.
Now bin Adam is to make history in Germany by becoming the first black person to be given a memorial in his adopted country as an individual victim of the genocide of the Third Reich. A Stolperstein - a bronze 'stumbling block' - will be erected on the ground outside the house in Berlin where he lived.
The memorial will be placed so that pedestrians have to step around it, and its aim is to stop future generations from thinking of the Holocaust in terms of anonymous, faceless numbers. Until now the markers have been almost exclusively established at Jewish homes, but bin Adam's Stolperstein will serve as a reminder of other minorities, the black people, the disabled, homosexuals, gypsies, communists, political dissenters and Jehovah's Witnesses, who were also murdered under Hitler's regime.
The Stolperstein is a project conceived by Cologne-based artist Gunter Demnig. He plans to create a total of 12,000 markers outside houses, giving the name of the person or persons who lived there and the date on which they were taken to a concentration camp. Munich is the only city to have so far refused to have the markers, saying that they would encourage anti-Semitism.
Bin Adam, who was born in Tanzania, joined the then colonial German East Africa services when he was 10 years old and served with the army. He emigrated to Berlin in 1929, where he immediately got into trouble with the authorities by walking into the Foreign Ministry and demanding his outstanding service pay.
Although his request was refused, he decided to stay, working as a waiter in hotels and taking small parts in films. He had roles in more than 20 movies with stars such as Zarah Leander, Hans Albers and Willy Birgel, even after the war broke out. He also taught Swahili at the Oriental Workshop.
He married a German woman, Maria Schwander, and they had three children - Adam, Annemarie and Bodo - but his family struggled to make ends meet because of his excesses, which included numerous affairs that resulted in several illegitimate children. He was still in dispute with the authorities over money for his time in the armed forces when he was arrested in 1941, charged with the crime of 'miscegenation' - racial intermarriage - and taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he died in November 1944.
The plaque, which will stand outside his former home on Brunnenstrasse in Berlin's Mitte district, comes with the release of a book about him, Truthful Till Death, by Marianne Bechhaus-Gerst. The book focuses attention on the persecution of black people under the Third Reich, which included forced sterilisation and, ultimately, extermination.
By the start of the 20th century, Germany had extensive colonies in Africa and it is often claimed that German doctors carried out genetic experiments on East Africans. After the First World War, France occupied the German Rhineland, deploying colonial African soldiers as the occupying force. The result was hundreds of children born to German women by African soldiers who then became a target for Hitler. In Mein Kampf, he referred to them as 'Rhineland Bastards'.
By 1937, every identified mixed-race child in the Rhineland had been forcibly sterilised, often without anaesthetic. By the outbreak of war most black people had fled. The few who remained were exterminated.