History Snippet: Padmore (1944) Black Cloud Over Berlin



I think I mentioned in a recent post that I scrolled through several volumes of the Negro Digest on microfiche the other day. I may also have mentioned that that technology rather frustrated me and that I therefore welcomed the distraction of any article that had even a tangential relation to arts, culture and – I realised flicking through my notes – the history of Nigeria or West Africa. One of them was George Padmore's (1944): 'Black Cloud over Berlin.' (Negro Digest. Vol. 2(12). 75-76.)[1]
Now, I sit in the cafeteria of one of Berlin's larger libraries as I write this. And, it was in this library that I scrolled through the microfiche edition of the magazine. And, it was in Potsdam and in the surrounding countryside that my father and my mother, respectively, were raised in the aftermath of the war. Therefore, there are additional, more personal reasons that I stopped at this particular article, read through it and, in the end, took some notes. - And, of course, that description of a city I love as a 'citadel of racism' stung even though, of course, it was historically correct. Nevertheless, do bear with me for a moment here, dear reader. There is a connection with African and indeed Nigerian history. Indeed, it is the very same connection that is usually marginalised in discussions of this particular chapter of German history and the ways in which we talk about it. Therefore, even though it may be only of tangential relevance to the themes of this blog, let me share some excerpts from this article with you.
'When Berlin, that citadel of racism, is finally stormed from East, West and South, Negroes from all over the world will be in on the kill. From South under the command of General Alexander in Italy will be soldiers from Southern Nigeria and the Cameroons, the former German West African colonies. From the West will march American Negro troops and famous Senegalese warriors serving with the French Army of Liberation, as well as Congolese forces from the Belgian Congo. These so-called inferior races are today helping to tear the guts out of the Herrenvolk of "super-men" of Nazi Germany. Such is the irony of history.
[…]
The West Africans have been bombed by German planes and shelled by Nazi big guns. The first party of Africans to arrive went ashore at Augusta on the east coast of Sicily. Scarcely where they on land when the air raid warning went off and German bombs began to drop. Every man had to set and dig his own slit trench at once. … Thus did West Africans get their baptism of fire in Europe. Later they had to face the enemy's concentration of fire on the beaches at Salerno.
The military spokesman stated that there are four West African medical units in Italy. Each of these units comprise eleven to seventeen trained nursing orderlies of the West African Army Medical Corps, and a similar number of pioneers of the Royal West African Frontier Force as general duty man. Each unit is attached to a British General hospital and is under the charge of a British medical officer.
The Africans assist the British military surgeons in the field operation theatre, take temperature and keep the charts, renew dressings, give medicines and help in the X-ray department at base hospitals.
[…]
Many of the Cameroon natives that come into contact with Germans speak to them in good German, a language they learned from German plantation owners in the Cameroons before the war.
Most interesting of all says the officer is the deep friendship between American Negro troops and the Africans. The West Africans get on famously with the Afro-Americans and to quote his exact words: 'They indeed find them very like themselves and invariably friendly. As almost all of the West African orderlies speak good English the Africans find no difficulty in talking to the Americans though the American accent sounds strange to them.'
"For their part the American Negroes love to tell the West Africans all about their lives in the great United States. Some have exchanged addresses and photos and promised to visit one another after the war."
Asked what Africans need most, the British military spokesman said:
"Like their English and American comrades, the West Africans never forget their homes and families. Mail and newspapers from Nigeria and the Cameroons are most eagerly welcomed"
They also delight in reading the colored American newspapers and like especially the pictures of Afro-American girls which they cut out to decorate their billets.'
P.S.: Apologies for the formatting of the quotation. I don't like the centred-style for long quotations either. I just haven't yet figured out how to get rid of it. (And, yes, before you ask: I use the 'justified' setting for these areas as well. Only, within this new blog them the 'quote' formatting seems to override it and centre the whole she-bang.)


[1] The original article was published in the Chicago Defender on 19 August 1944.


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