February is Black History Month: During this month, initiatives and institutions dedicate themselves to aspects of Black history, using both analogue and digital formats. For several years, this has also been happening more and more on social media platforms. In February 2021, we will be telling biographies of Black prisoners of Neuengamme concentration camp on our social media platforms.
During Black History Month, the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial dedicates its Twitter and Instagram accounts to some of the biographies of the eight Black prisoners of Neuengamme Concentration Camp who are known by name. What connected them was that they were all political prisoners, primarily because they were in the resistance against the Nazis in German-occupied France and the Netherlands.
Even if they were not deported to Neuengamme primarily for racist motives, the living conditions of Black prisoners in Neuengamme Concentration Camp and its satellite camps were marked by racism and Nazi "racial" ideology. To date, there is no evidence that Black people living in Germany were imprisoned in the Neuengamme concentration camp. In the case of Black prisoners from Germany, racism probably played a far greater role as a reason for imprisonment. In most cases, Black persons living in Germany were officially persecuted for other reasons, such as being "asocial" or "political" during the Nazi era and were therefore imprisoned in concentration camps.
Many of the Black prisoners of Neuengamme concentration camp were not only active in the resistance against the National Socialists* in Europe but were also anti-colonial resistance fighters. Anton de Kom, who was a central player in the Surinamese independence movement against the colonial power of the Netherlands from the 1920s onwards, is known worldwide. Less well known are the biographies of Akli Banoun from Algeria or Isidore Alpha from Martinique, who fought for the independence of their countries of origin from France and were then active in the French Resistance against the Germans after the war began.
Knowledge about the biographies of the Black prisoners of the Neuengamme concentration camp also varies. For example, there is a photograph from the Neuengamme Concentration Camp archives of a Black prisoner in the SS camp whose identity remains unknown to this day, while in the case of the Senegalese prisoner Sidi Camara, only his prisoner file and what fellow prisoner Dominique Mendy reported about him are known.
Dominique Mendy's documented recollections of his encounters with Sidi Camara also testify to a solidarity between the two Senegalese prisoners. Dominique Mendy recalled in an interview, "And when we saw each other, we talked about Senegal. We spoke in Wolof. We liked that. That did us good [...]. I remember Sidi Camara kept telling me, 'Munel! Munel! Stand still! Sooner or later this will end. God is great! God is great!'". Sidi Camara died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in late April or early May 1945.
The history of Black prisoners in Neuengamme and other concentration camps remains poorly researched. Rosa Fava made an early contribution to the reappraisal with her article on Black prisoners in Neuengamme concentration camp in the 12th issue of "Contributions to the History of National Socialist Persecution in Northern Germany."
For some years now, Dr. Susann Lewerenz, a staff member at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial, has also been researching the interconnections between colonial and racist thought and action under National Socialism. Central to this are biographies of Black people and People of Color during the Nazi era.
Lecture by Dr. Susann Lewerenz: “Black People in National Socialism: Persecution - Self-Assertion - Resistance.” (German language)
A look at the exhibition “Colonial and Racist Thought and Trade in National Socialism” (German language)
Article by Antonia Wegener