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How Swahili teacher who couldn’t zip up died at a German concentration camp

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A German magazine has profiled a Kiswahili teacher from East Africa who was one of the few black people to serve the Germans during the Nazi era.

Mahjub bin Adam Mohamed had multiple extra-marital relationships with German women. At some point, he became a father twice within six weeks. One of the children was from his wife, and another from a woman he had an affair with.

The law at that time (1940s) prohibited sexual relations and marriage between Germans and non-Germans. Especially blacks and Jews. When Mohamed was caught, he was accused of racial defilement, or “Rassenschande” in German.

Mohamed black in Nazi Germany
Mahjub bin Adam Mohamed was one of the few blacks to serve in Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. PHOTOS/DW

He was sent to a concentration camp north of Berlin  in 1941, and died there three years later. 

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A Black in Germany During Hitler?

So, how did a black man from East Africa find himself teaching Kiswahili in Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany?

According to DW News, Mohamed was born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1904. His Sudanese father was a soldier in the German colonial army. When the First World War broke out in 1914, Mohamed, then 10, joined his father to work as a child soldier. He was a “signal giver”, says DW.  

Germany lost the war but Mohamed, who had by the end of the war started working for German companies, decided to stay on in the country.

In 1933, he married a German woman and settled in Berlin. It was shortly before Hitler’s Nazi regime took power. Mohamed did several jobs, including working as a Swahili teacher at the Friedrich Wilhelm University.

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“He also had roles in various films, including two major German colonial propaganda movies: Die Reiter von Deutsch-Ostafrika (The Riders of German East Africa) in 1934 and Carl Peters in 1941,” notes DW.

To ensure his survival and that of his family during the Nazi era, he also became involved in the neo-colonial movement supporting Germany to regain its lost colonies. 

Mohamed even tried to volunteer in the German army when the Second World War broke out in 1939, but without success.

Racism Lingers

At the last address where Mohamed stayed before his arrest Brunnenstrasse 193 in Berlin), there is a commemorative brass plate marking him as a victim of the Nazis. It was installed in 2007.

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At some point this plate was stolen in a racist act. A new one was installed this year.

Mahjub’s story is contained in the book Treu bis in den Tod: Von Deutsch-Ostafrika nach Sachsenhausen – Eine Lebensgeschichte (2007) by Prof. Marianne Bechhaus-Gerst, who teaches African Studies at the University of Cologne.

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