Colonial Rule in Berlin and Ihnestrasse 22, Dahlem

The Otto Suhr Institute of Freie Universität, “which is housed in the building of the former Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics, erected a plaque next to its entrance in 1988 in memory of the shameful role played by this institute under National Socialism.”

“In the 1930s, its founding director, Eugen Fischer, was already making it clear that his establishment was “utterly and entirely at the disposal of the current State for its requirements.” The institute’s staff worked accordingly, serving the purposes of Nazi racial and population policy as experts, assessors and consultants. Otmar von Verschuer, appointed director in 1942, benefited in his research on twins from the activities of his pupil Josef Mengele, who, as a doctor at Auschwitz death camp, would have twins murdered and send their organs to Dahlem for further analysis.”

So,  just a bit of background to this building where I saw this plaque.

I was living in the AFRIKANISCHE VIERTEL.  The African Quartier,  in Wedding, Berlin.

There were no African people living in this area. Well, maybe now there are more given Germany is more open to allowing in people of various African nations, but overall I just saw white German people.  I just had a very uncomfortable feeling about this.  Something didn’t seem right.  The names of the streets, Zanzibar Street, Congo Street, Cameroon Street and then Petersalle and more.   I had no idea what they meant.  These very huge regal names?  Yes, colonists, the conquerers who exploit the people they have overpowered.

From THE GUARDIAN:  Ana Naomi de Sousa:

The history of the African Quarter goes back to the late 19th century, when the animal trader Carl Hagenbeck devised a grand plan for Berlin: a permanent zoo that would exhibit both wild animals and humans. Hagenbeck’s zoo would be a celebration of the German colonial project and its spoils, from German South-West Africa (present-day Namibia) to German East Africa (present-day Burundi, Rwanda and mainland Tanzania). It would build on the success of his “exotic peoples” exhibits (Völkerschau) all over Europe. Hagenbeck died from a snake bite in 1913, and the aftermath of the first world war thwarted his proposal for good. But by then the African Quarter had emerged as a permanent fixture of the city landscape, with its roads and squares named after African countries and German colonial heroes.

Petersalle, named after Carl Peters (1856-1918).  He was a force behind the foundation of a German colony called “German East Africa” which was part of Tanzania.  Many in the area don’t care about the history, in fact many have no idea who did what.  The fact is Carl Peters earned his reputation from torturing civilians and his incessant brutality.  But then, there is this secret.  And one feels it.  Unspoken, unmentioned.

Again from THE GUARDIAN:

Forced to give up its colonial experiment after the first world war, Germany left most of the ugly details behind – but it held, for a time, colonies in present-day Namibia, Togo, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Mozambique as well as parts of present-day Congo-Brazzaville, Central African Republic, Chad, Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon, Guinea, Ghana and Nigeria.German explorers and settlers lynched and enslaved men, raped women and girls, and starved entire peoples to death in concentration camps.

Unspoken.  Unmentioned.  Silence.  Sadly, I find this in Germany.  Even in Berlin.  A strange silence.  The German government and people have done much to speak but there still is this intense undertone of “don’t say anything”.  I know I know!  This is a huge topic, and in this blog I will mention this again and again because as a sensate, observer and a writer/artist who looks deep within the psyche of humanoids, I can only say to you this “silence” is stained on the deep collective unconscious of the people.  Das Volk.  No matter what one does.  It is simply scarred, no matter what.  And there is a responsibility to have this scar.  One can smell it.  There is a need to find some absolution and to always remain open to learning and questioning, challenging and not just accepting.  It is a society / “gesellschaft” question.  A communal responsibility.   And I know the overall German citizen does this!!  So this is not a criticism of the German people, because I too am German.  Still, this is my observation.  Many will attack me on this.  I digress.  I walked around the African Viertel a few changes were taking  place, but I just felt the undertow of being pulled under.  Keeping it “Ssssh”.


There have already been some concessions towards the renaming of the streets. In 1986 the local government took the unusual step of rededicating Petersallee while maintaining its original name. Instead of Carl Peters, it would now commemorate an anti-Nazi resistance figure , Dr Hans Peters. At the crossroads where it intersects with Afrikanische Strasse, a tiny plaque bearing the name of the new honouree was attached to the street sign. Renaming campaigners call it a cheat; they were also not content with a double-sided sign erected at the south end of the area, offering two competing versions of the neighbourhood’s history.

“On May 25, 2016 the German Parliament delegation visiting Namibia met with representatives of the Herero and Nama people, descendants of the victims of the genocide committed by the German colonial troops between 1904 and 1908, during which approximately 75,000 people were exterminated.”

There is a deeper movement developing.  As Black Lives Matter organizes in the States, so the same evolves here. Step by step, you feel the awareness and people opening up to taking some sort of responsibility. And more and more dialogue, especially about reparations.

But this post is about the “Rhineland Bastards” and the Freie University.  So please forgive me, but I think so much is connected to this post:  the area used to live in, the names of the streets and the recent plea and demand of the “descendants of the victims of German genocide 1904-1908” to the German parliament.  I just felt that so many young people come to Berlin to study at  the Freie University.  I have a powerful feeling that the majority don’t know the history of the building on Ihnestrasse 22 nor anything I mention in this post.  I had no idea.  That is why I wanted to dig deeper.

I personally knew a bit about Mengele and this Kaiser Whilhelm Institute and the NS regime collaborating with science and doctors and using slave labor as “human material” to experiment with.  The foundations of the building and the inner workings were utterly horrific.  But another layer was exposed and this is my post.

When I visited the campus, I was drawn to a building of the former Kaiser Whilhelm Institute and a sign that I found.  It is now called OTTO SUHR INSTITUTE, but the plaque I find quite strange considering what went on here.

The plaque commemorates the function and significant of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut fur Anthropologie, Human Heredity and Eugenics during National Socialism.  The Institute did research on the differences between human races.

I had known about Otmar Von Verschuer and his work with Mengele.  But I never knew about this little publicized story on the “Rhineland Bastards”.  It is a precursor to what was to come.  But I consider myself an informed student of all things but I never knew about this part of German history and I am sure there is a reason for it.

On July 14th 1933, the NS Regime enacted a law providing a basis for forced sterilization of handicapped, Gypsies and African-Germans.

First, I never knew that in MEIN KAMPF, Hitler had wrote he would eliminate all children born of African-German descent, “The mulatto children came through rape or the white mother was a whore.”

In 1937, local authorities in Germany were to submit a list of all children of African descent.  These children were taken out of homes, schools with no consent or permission and put before a commission called Commission Number 3 in order to decide “who was of Black descent”.  The child was taken to a hospital and sterilized.  400 children were medically sterilized without the parents’ knowledge.

Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany by Hans Massaquo
Copyright February 1, 2001

This is basic information from the internet about the “Institute” and its history:

“The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics was founded in 1927 in Berlin, Germany.  The Rockefeller Foundation supported both the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Psychiatry and the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics.  The Rockefeller Foundation partially funded the actual building of the Institute and helped keep the Institute afloat during the Depression.

In its early years, and during the Nazi era, it was strongly associated with theories of Nazi eugenics and racial hygiene advocated by its leading theorists Fritz Lenz, (first director) Eugen Fischer, and by its second director Otmar von Verschuer.  Under Fischer, the sterilization of so-called Rhineland Bastards was undertaken.  During World War II, the Institute regularly received human body parts, including eyes and skulls, from Nazi party member Karin Magnussen who studied eye colors, and Dr. Josef Mengele (at Auschwitz) to use in studies intended to prove Nazi racial theories and justify race-related social polices. After the German capitulation in May 1945, most of the thousands of files and lab material of the Institute were moved to an unknown location or destroyed and never obtained by the Allies to use as evidence in war crimes trials and to prove or dis-prove the Nazi racial ideology which had motivated mass genocide in Europe.  Some of the staff of the Institute were able to escape trial.

In 1908 Eugen Fischer conducted field research in German Southwest Africa (now Namibia).  He studied the Basters, offspring of German or Boer men who had fathered children by the native women (Hottentots) in that area.  His study concluded with a call to prevent a “mixed race” by the prohibition of “mixed marriage” such as those he had studied. It included unethical medical practices on the Herero and Namaqua people.  He argued that while the existing Mischling descendants of the mixed marriages might be useful for Germany, he recommended that they should not continue to reproduce.  His recommendations were followed and by 1912 interracial marriage was prohibited throughout the German colonies.  As a precursor to his experiments on Jews in Nazi Germany, he collected bones and skulls for his studies, in part from medical experimentation on African prisoners of war in Namibia during the Herero and Namaqua Genocide.

His ideas expressed in this work, related to maintaining the purity of races, influenced future German legislation on race, including the Nuremberg laws.”

I found an organization called Berlin Post Colonial.  They focus on the German colonial past, especially the “race research” done in Dahlem, Berlin.  So, have a listen to Volker Strahle who is a historian and studied and wrote his thesis on this era and what was going on.  In the last five year, more dialogue and debate has occurred regarding a critique of Fischer’s actions.  But still I sense this history is truly hidden away.  Why do I say this?

The plaque is quite feeble if you ask me.  You really don’t get the impact of what went on in the building.  As Mr. Strahle stated in his papers, “Ihnestrasse 22 was a Think Tank for National Socialist Race Politics.  Here they would strategize on the destruction of the “racial minorities’”.  They made these decisions on forced sterilization, etc here and this is where it was discussed and debated and decided.”  One does not get a sense of just how horrific the ideas and the way of thinking was, the experiments and this legacy of torture.  What I take from the plaque is there was day to day research, testing and experimenting.  No big deal!  That plaque is shocking in its banality and its meekness.  But I respect the strength and endurance it took, just to get this plaque put up!

As Strahle spoke, “In the 50s and 60s Germans continued to defend colonial rule”.

When I read Mr. Strahle’s paper, I was again shocked as he mentions, “In 1937 in total 385 black children were forcibly sterilized”.  (I found other sources as stated above that say 400).  This part of National Socialism is hardly mentioned and I guess they had their hands full as to what came next which was just as diabolical and hard to fathom.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler described children resulting from marriages to African occupation soldiers as a contamination of the white race “by Negro blood on the Rhine in the heart of Europe.”  He thought that “Jews were responsible for bringing Negroes into the Rhineland, with the ultimate idea of bastardizing the white race which they hate and thus lowering its cultural and political level so that the Jew might dominate.”  He also implied that this was a plot on the part of the French, since the population of France was being increasingly “negrified”.

“However, most of the tiny non-white population in Germany at that time were children of German settlers and missionaries in the former German colonies in Africa and Melanesia, who had married local women or had children with them out of wedlock.  With the loss of the German colonial empire after World War I, some of these colonists returned to Germany with their mixed-race families.  While the black population of Germany at the time of the Third Reich was small at 20–25,000 in a population of over 65 million, the Nazis decided to take action against those in the Rhineland.  They despised black culture, which they considered inferior, and even sought to prohibit “traditionally black” musical genres like jazz as being “corrupt negro music”. No official laws were enacted against the black population, or against the children of mixed parentage, since they were the offspring of marriages and informal unions from before the Nuremberg laws of September 1935 which prohibited miscegenation.  The law also deprived persons of mixed parentage their freedom to marry at all, or at least the spouse of their choice by banning future sexual relations and mixed marriages between Aryans and others. Instead, a group named “Commission Number 3” was created to resolve the problem of the “Rhineland Bastards” with the aim of preventing their further procreation in German society.  Organized under Dr. Eugen Fischer of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics, it was decided that the children would be sterilized under the 1933 Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring.

According to Susan Samples, the Nazis went to great lengths to conceal their sterilization and abortion program.

Here are some more interviews about the plaque and an
excellent website for more information:

Again, I have to say this, but just as having been a researcher here in Berlin, spending a lot of time in archives, there is a lot of silence.  I know I’m not supposed to say this, and some researchers would disagree with me.  I am just mentioning my own personal experience.  There are so many issues, that still take time to come out to the massive public, not the minor public, but “headline news”.   When I speak to friends about “euthenasia” and non Jewish, mostly German so called disabled/problem children and adults, many find this shocking.  But yes, the NS regime made sure to cleanse Germany of all that was not clean, pure and perfect.  My posts on Ernst Lossa in a few weeks will provide more information on this topic, and the various killing stations that were found all over Germany, hidden under the German word “Heil Station”/Healing Station, which were usually old world 1800s sanitariums for health and healing and well being.  The Nazi doctors prepared these places to take in the disabled and distressed and charted out a plan of silent destruction be it slow starvation or a quick injection to put these “poor souls” out of their misery.  I will be writing more on this topic.

Sure, the professional academic and researcher all know these facts.  But to the common Joe in the street, there is a bit of “oh, do we have to talk about this again?”  As I say, still so much after 70 plus years, still so much unspoken and even maybe “passed by” because it is “old news” and maybe just way too much for the public to comprehend, take in and process.  I am not sure.  I get much support in the archives, and super grateful by various employees in these archives who are very passionate about sharing information and helping as much as they can.  But I still get from time to time a strange sense.  “Sorry, we don’t have those documents.”  (Which could be absolutely legitimate!!)   Or I just get someone in the archive putting up alot of obstacles towards me.  These could be very subtle.  Mostly I get “Sorry, because of DATEN SCHUTZ” i.e. privacy laws for personal data of citizens in Germany.  It still feels like a required silence.

Please listen to Mr. Volker Straele, who wrote:  Rassenforschung in Dahlem and took the time out to speak with me.  Appreciation and respect Herr Straele!

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