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The Role of Race in the Third Reich: A Look at Negrophobia in Nazi Propaganda

Deborah Anna Brown





Race has been defined and categorized many ways in many different settings. Each of these follows a long tradition and a long history that is both chronologically and geographically specific. In terms of the German construction of race, much work has been done concerning racial constructions of the "German" race and the "Jewish" race. Far less work has focused on the construction of the complex category of "other." More specifically, a smaller population of Blacks in Germany have been left out of the purview of general scholarship. This project hopes to contribute to this neglected area of research.

Research on the topics of Blacks and the construction of race in Germany are scattered around different disciplines. Among the works by historians, some are memoirs, some are biographies, some are colloquial, and some are very broad historical narratives. Memoirs and biographies are a useful starting point to reveal that there were Blacks in Germany, not only during Germany’s small colonial period, but also during Germany’s longer history, including the Third Reich. Much work on the role of race during the Third Reich has focused on the Germans themselves and their notions of race in terms of Jewish identity, with smaller studies on populations like the Sinti and Roma. Studies that discuss the question of “Blackness” in Germany typically deal with the scientific aspects of eugenics or other scientific categorization of “Black.” Less work has been done of the racial construction of “Black” in Germany, and none have written specifically about the topic of “anti-Blackness” in National Socialist propaganda.

I propose to study the role of race, more specifically “Negrophobia,” in Nazi propaganda from 1933 to 1945. The hope of this project is to broaden our scope of inquiry concerning National Socialism. For the purpose of this study, anti-blackness will follow Clarence Lusane’s definition of “Negrophobia” (Hitler’s Black Victims) that moves away from the convoluted term “non-Aryan.” The term “non-Aryan” or “other” includes a variety of groups and a multitude of racial constructs. By looking at the construction of race in the Third Reich beyond German, Jewish, and “other” in Nazi propaganda, the historian is left to question the deeper ideological connections between the role of “Blackness” and “Jewishness” in the German construction of self-identity.

This research will be performed in UCLA’s own research libraries. Within the collection is Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer, one of the most influential propaganda newspapers from the Third Reich, and the Völkischer Beobachter, the Nazi party paper edited by Adolf Hitler himself. Both periodicals will be the main focus of this project due to their influence and popularity during National Socialism. In addition, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has a large collection of Entartete Kunst that will also augment my inquiry by comparing periodical research with a look into broader visual culture. All of this work will be interspersed with (and balanced by) selected secondary material that deals with “Black” German history and historiography, the history of National Socialist propaganda and National Socialism, and race theory in Germany.

To guide me in this research Professor Saul Friedländer has shown interest in the project and will be my faculty mentor. I plan to work closely with Professor Saul Friedländer for both this and my greater research. I am currently a graduate student in the Department of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. I hold a Master’s degree in History from Brown University, and I did my Bachelor’s degree in History and African/African American Studies at Stanford University.

This project will be a more theoretical beginning to my larger research interests. My dissertation will look at Blacks in Germany from the Weimar period through National Socialism to around 1955. My future research plans will focus on the theoretical constructions of race and citizenship in Germany, while also looking at demographics and social landscape for Blacks in Germany. Beyond my dissertation, I am also interested in comparative historical work that looks at the Black experience in Germany, France, and Great Britain as compared to other ethnic minorities. I am particularly connected to this work as my mother is German and married an African American soldier. The project is both very present but also very necessary. Many of us have no idea about the larger history and connectedness of Blacks to Germany, and Blacks to Europe. I look forward to your response and hope that you will invite me to take part in the Interdisciplinary Conference on Black European Studies in November.

  1. 1. What is the future of Black European History?

  2. 2. Is there any previous theoretical framework for this history? If so,
    will it deal with comparative history?

  3. 3. How do we begin to quantify the Black presence in Europe? I am
    interested in questions concerning demographics, citizenship, and
    constructions of identity (both self identity and majority-constructed
    identity).

  4. 4. How are we as historians to deal with the constructions of Blackness
    within the European context?

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