Growing up Black in Nazi Germany - Esther Anumu Fordham
Interview of Esther Anumu Fordham (1925-2019).
The most striking part of this story is her description of daily life during the Third Reich and then during the war in Europe (1939-1945). Her account reminds me of the way my own grandmother talks about her family's time during the war, although my grandmother lived in Paris, France while Esther lived in Hamburg, Germany.
It wasn't fun, but for many people, the early years of the war were still some kind of normal. What i mean is that movies don't tell these stories because there aren't enough guns and explosions in them. The stories of everyday life.
As the war drags on, things get progressively worse and cities in Germany get destroyed, homes are obliterated, and people take the road to find food and shelter. But even then, Esther's family is taken in by families in Bavaria, and people try to work together despite the circumstances.
Equally striking is that Esther's experience of racism becomes much more vivid once she marries an American and moves to the US in 1947. It's extraordinary that a black person who grew up in Nazi Germany felt like she was treated worse in the United States, where black people are treated as subhuman by default, just like jews and slavs were treated as subhuman in Nazi Germany.
Don't get me wrong, no Nazi would ever have accepted black people as equal to them, because discrimination was at the center of Nazi ideology - an obsessive amount of time spent trying to "classify"... everything and determine who is "better".
But still, for her to say "I never felt comfortable in this country" (talking about the US)... should really makes us pause as Americans.
Watching this interview makes you think a lot about the way small cultural differences degenerate into enormous worldwide problems and conflicts, even though the vast majority of humans isn't extreme in the way they see life, with people mostly trying to get by and make the most of things.
Esther Fordham was a Black woman who, born October 9, 1925 in Hamburg, Germany, came of age during the Nazi era. In this December, 1995 conversation with artist Frank Fitzgerald, Esther discusses her youth, schooling and the reaction of classmates and adult Germans to her specialness. As world conditions darken and war grows to become the norm, she finds discrimination, fear, sorrow and horror, but also generosity and hope.
After the bombings cease, amid the rubble Esther meets and marries an American soldier. Giving birth in an Army hospital, she wonders why she has a whole maternity ward to herself. Later, living in America, she slowly learns about prejudice, segregation and lynchings.
Throughout all, Esther Anumu Fordham strives to see "people as human beings" and succeeds.
In 1997, after having raised a family and worked 20+ years for an airline, Esther retired and returned to Germany. She lived to be 94 years old.
Family photographs courtesy of Esther Fordham and Dominique Seidler Warias.