Liberty and Justice for All? German Women and African American Men during Germany’s Hunger Years

Friday, January 5, 2018: 10:30 AM
Maryland Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Anne Brixius, University of Illinois at Chicago
On May 7, 1945 Germany was a messy place. When Nazi-Germans surrendered unconditionally to the allied forces, the United States alone had gathered 1.6 million soldiers in an area smaller than New York State, an estimated 10 percent of who were African American. All in all, 7 million Germans had died during the war. With 3.5 million soldiers dead and another 11.7 million German men incarcerated as prisoners of war, German women who had been more or less fending for themselves since 1936, had become the numerical majority among the remaining liberated Germans. During the years until the German currency reform in 1948 and beyond, those women were hungry, cold and exhausted.

This paper focuses on the centrality of those German women to re-making the social landscape in both occupied Germany and eventually the United States. It examines the relationships of German women and African American GIs in particular to demonstrate how they promoted these women’s continued social liberation from the influences of male as well as other female Germans within their communities. 20th century female gender roles in Germany had been expanding, especially in cosmopolitan Berlin, since at least the Weimar Republic.

I find that those German women who were in regular contact with American GIs in the American occupation zone were the Germans on the front lines of the American democratization project that the American occupation zone was supposed to become. To Americans at the time democracy was compatible with racism against and segregation of African-Americans. This, German women could deduce from their observations of White GIs’ racial prejudice against their Black compatriots. However, through their bi-racial relationships, they learned that western democracy did not necessarily have to exclude groups on the basis of race or gender differences.

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