Racism in German Children’s books

Here’s a vague translation about an article in GrossRaum Zeitung, a left newspaper in Nuremberg, about racism in children’s books. The author is Gertrud Selzer, who is contactable via 3.Welt Saar, an organisation focussing on Third World Countries.

Tel. 0049- 6872-993056,
3.Welt Saar,
Weiskirchener Str.24,
66679 Losheim,

She starts of with Pippi Longstocking, who seems quite revolutionary, but her father is the “white” king of the natives who are happily ruled by him, the natives are black and have a childish behaviour, are drumming all the times and wear skirts of bast fibres and big earrings.

Famous is also the child rhyme about the ten small Negroes, which seems at first sight a rhyme to learn counting and is only on a detailed view revealing its message, that people from Africa would have to be taught order and discipline. The origins of the songs, which German text got published in 1884 ( the same year in which the Congo conference decided on the table in Berlin how to divide Africa in colonies). Illustrations of the song show humans, who look like children with exaggerated bulging lips and bast skirts.

The first travellers told about the “wilds” to be beautiful, but also quite different humans. This evaluation changed with the start of the age of colonisation, with a racist justification for the economic exploitation.
For example Africans got shown in menages and zoos together with African animals, e.g. during the Expo in Brussels in 1897, 40 000 black humans from Congo were presented as an attraction.
This is also mentioned in children’s literature, e.g. in the picture book of Gertrud Caspari: “Auf dem Lande” (in the country) without any reference to Africa, it shows a blackamoor “Negro boy in Turkish cloths” at a funfair.
Often travel reports were full of adventures, and the winners and the heroes were all German.
Economic interests were mentioned clearly, e.g. in Richard Roths book:
“Stanleys Reisen durch den dunklen Weltteil”. (Stanley’s travel through the dark part of the world).

In this book it says: “to find new ways for trade, and to profit from taking civilised behaviour and education further, and to win more ground for Christianity. “ The book tells about Henry Morton Sansibar who crossed Africa from 1874- 1877 for Belgium. His describes: “native savages who go to war without any reasons and rob the caravan.” Who did not submit themselves voluntarily were described as ugly thieves with being cunning and insidiousness, so it would justify the destruction of their villages. Everyone who resisted was declared to be a cannibal. Also a double function was introduced: showing the missionary work and simultaneously educate for Mission.

With the “Herero- War” in 1904/05 also the children’s literature entered a new phase. The intended German war of destruction and extermination became subject of adventure books. The vocabulary changed, and blacks became murderers and black devils, who appeared anonymously and in masses to attack white settlers. Far from reality the Germans became victims who had to defend themselves. Africa was mentioned in the settler books as the country of big adventures and freedom, also and in particular for women with the aim to recruit girls for the colonisation.
After the first World War the books advertised to regain the lost colonies. German terror in Africa was thereby glorified. E.g. the children’s book “Heia safari” by General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck ( one of the butchers in the Herero War) was available in all school libraries.
It was reprinted nine times till 1954, and he is still a famous and honorary citizen in his hometown Saarlouis.

The colonial revisionary movement of the National Socialist period created a market in which over and over again the same colonial stories got reprinted.

Children’s books in the GDR and in the FGR:
In the GDR much faster children’s books gave black persons individualistic faces and they are subjects of social fights in the background are state conflicts or historic events: e.g. the fight of the Kikuyu in Kenya or the fight against apartheid. Examples are Ludwig Renns “Nobi” or Goetz Richter’s “Savvy Triologie”. They both stand for a new type of adventure literature with heroes from Africa itself. Numerous stories and fairytales of African artists were published as well.

In the FGR still in the 70s, the expedition reports were reprinted over and over again. Often, exotic native animals were taking the main role, as if there were not any humans. And still, there were lots of blackamoors around.
Examples are Ilse Friedrich (1953) in “Maedchen mit Tropenhelm” (girl with a pith-helmet) she still talks about “German-East-Africa”. The heroes in her books are always white. Even 1972 there was a new reprint of “Julia from Africa” by Lothar Reppert-Rauten, who describes a white girl on a farm in South-Africa without mentioning the system of apartheid at all.
Only at the end of the seventies, start of the eighties, children’s books about Africa which included a more detailed picture appeared.

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