Sunday, February 3, 2019

White Supremacy

The Imperial spiked helmet in a sandy color

Last week Red Baron attended a book presentation at Freiburg’s old Ratssaal (council chamber). He was lucky getting one of the rare seats still left.

Four Musketeers Professor Bernd-Stefan Grewe, Johannes Theisen, Heiko Wegmann, and Markus Himmelsbach introduced their book Freiburg und der Kolonialismus (Freiburg and its Colonialism).

The glorious four in the order as mentioned in the text showing their book.
Red Baron is sitting in the second row undoing his red scarf. What else? (©Rita Eggenstein/BZ)
The authors have accomplished an astonishing document. If in a southern Baden city the interest or better the enthusiasm for German colonies - particularly following their loss after the First World War - was so overwhelming how was it like in other more directly affected cities near the coast?

It seems that Freiburg is the first major city where a reappraisal of Germany’s colonial past was seriously undertaken. In the course of the evening during the presentation of the four authors, I realized more and more that even today an attitude of white supremacy not only is widespread in American minds.

When I worked at CERN (European Laboratory for High-Energy Physics) I was living in a house in a Geneva suburb. One of my neighbors was a professor of economics from British Guyana holding a high position at the WHO (World Health Organization). He was married to a charming lady from Jamaica who was an English teacher at Geneva’s International School. The couple had two daughters about the same age as my children and as the four kids went to the same French college we parents rapidly became close friends.

In those days my mother took the then 12-hour train from Hamburg to Geneva to spend her summer holidays with us. She had been brought up at a Westphalian farm in a strict Catholic faith with seven brothers and one sister.

When one evening our neighbors invited us to a grill party my mother became quite nervous telling Elisabeth, "Ich kann doch einem Schwarzen keine Hand geben" (I cannot give my hand to a black person). Later she shook hand with Harvey and Jennifer when we entered their house and even enjoyed practicing her English* with our hosts.
*She had learned English only after the war with the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), "Lernt Englisch mit dem britischen Rundfunk."

While at CERN I was frequently invited by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) in Vienna to serve as an expert in radiation protection. In those working committees, we sometimes had to draft educating documents for developing countries. I still remember the outcry of the chairman when one participant on the committee talked about underdeveloped countries.

Back to the colonialism in Freiburg. The enthusiasm for Ostafrika (Tanzania), Deutsch-Südwest (Namibia), and Kamerun was strong in all social classes already before the Great War. Merchants made big profits on Kolonialwaren (colonial goods), the churches were collecting money focused on the conversion of Heidenkinder (pagan children), and even the working class although condemning the exploitation and the bad treatment of natives in Germany's colonies wanted to keep those territories by all means.

A handful of distillers, military suppliers and shipowners have the benefits
from the colonial policy, all others experience only damage.
The Social Democrats would like to reach out their hands to a colonial policy that
is pursued in a cultural sense benefitting the German people.
But we will always do all that we can to resist a colonial policy
where cruel officials torture negroes to death and
unscrupulous speculators and traders cheat the natives out of their belongings
so that the latter are driven to rebellion.
In the Weimar Republic, the Kolonialfrage was only a secondary political battleground but still. A highlight in Freiburg was the 50th anniversary of the Reichskolonialtagung (Imperial Colonial Conference) combined with a colonial exhibition in 1935. Although the then Nazi rulers celebrated the day as a national event it had been Lord Mayor Karl Bender of the Catholic Centrum Party who had paved the way for the event already in 1932.

When in 2019 I see French troops keeping order in their former African possessions should I rejoice, " Thank God that we Germans lost our colonies already in 1918?". Not really. Presently German troops are in Africa helping our friends from outre-Rhin.

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