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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Finding Freedom in Postwar Europe

Less then a month before my father, Les Green, died in August 2000, he started talking about his childhood. It seems that his grandmother had a boarding house. He advised that there was a father and child there and that they only ate if they had something to put in the pot. He advised that he always had food and never went hungry. He said that when he was in Belgium, serving post-World War II, he was at a woman's home who reminded him of the days with his grandmother and always ate well there.

After he died, of course we went through his materials. One of the things he held onto was an article from a September 16, 1946 issue of Newsweek, Racial: Maedchen and Negro, about black soldiers in post-WW II Germany. The Newsweek piece was initiated by a much longer piece in the October 1946 Ebony.

The thrust, particularly of the Ebony piece, was that the black soldier felt freer in Berlin, capital of the formerly Nazi nation, than he did in Birmingham or on Broadway.

A July 2009 article in Stars & Stripes confirms this: "In the words of retired Gen. Colin Powell, postwar Germany was 'a breath of freedom' for black soldiers, especially those out of the South: '[They could] go where they wanted, eat where they wanted, and date, whom they wanted, just like other people.'"

There is a great website, the Civil Rights Struggle, African-American GIs and Germany, which contains some original research on this topic. The NAACP presented its Julius E. Williams Distinguished Community Service Award for 2009 to Maria Höhn (Vassar College) and Martin Klimke (German Historical Institute, Washington, DC / Heidelberg Center for American Studies, University of Heidelberg) for the project.

But, of course, this doesn't address why my father held onto that article for 54 years. Was he merely interested in the topic? Did he know someone who was pictured? Was HE one of the people in the pictures? There is a guy who remind my sisters and me of my dad. While my father said he was in Belgium, his records show that he was in the European theater from February to November 1946, so perhaps he was in Germany as well. Ms. Höhn, who I have e-mailed, confirms that there were black soldiers in both countries.

I may never know why Leslie H. "Bing" Green held onto that article for so many years.

ROG

2 comments:

Jedediah said...

Hans Massaquoi mentions in his book Growing up Black in Nazi Germany that he was faced with some hostility directly after the war when people mistook him for a GI, but he also says that he tried to behave and look as American as possible in the post-war years because that went down well with the Germans (including the black market dealers).

Janie said...

What a disgrace that any American soldier was discriminated against at home and actually treated better abroad.
We have a sad racial history.
Would be interesting to know if your dad was actually in the photo!