The Difficult Identities of Post-War Black Children of GIs





For many of the now-adult children of white German women and African-American GIs, adopted by families in the United States after World War II, the search for the truth has been difficult. Online communities are helping.

Rudi Richardson knew something about what it meant to be a black man in the United States. But after being deported to Germany, the country where he was born, shortly before his 47th birthday, he had to start figuring out what it meant to be black and German -- in a land he barely remembered and whose language he didn't speak.

He started life as Udo Ackermann, born in a Bavarian women's prison in 1955. His mother, a Jewish woman named Liesolette, was serving a prison term for prostitution. His father, whom he never met, was an African-American serviceman named George. Rudi was given up for adoption.

Like thousands of other postwar children with black GI fathers and white German mothers, Richardson was raised by an African-American military family in the US. He has spent his life trying to find where he fits in.

Born in an era when Germany was still grappling with its responsibility for the Holocaust and when the US Army had a policy of not acknowledging paternity claims brought against its soldiers stationed abroad, some of these children were put up for adoption in the United States. At the time, Germany judged itself incapable of absorbing these "brown babies" -- as they have come to call themselves. In the late 1940s and 1950s, efforts were made to match them with African-American military families, many of whom were stationed around Germany at the time...

... Not all of the of children fathered by black GIs were adopted by American families. Although a 1968 study estimated that up to 7,000 black German children were adopted by Americans, many others remained in Germany with biological relatives or as wards of the state. Some of them, like writer Helga Emde and artist Ika Hugel-Marshall, went on to found the Afro-Deutsch movement in the 1980s, raising their voices in literature and the media after years of being statistically invisible and yet uncomfortably conspicious.

But for many black Germans raised in the US, it was the rise of the Internet that sparked their awakening. It connected them to information about their parents and helped them find a common identity. Web sites became a supranational meeting point, a place where black Germans could meet others who share similar experiences...


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