The Brown Baby Plan
February 10, 2019 4:36 AM   Subscribe

Mabel Grammer adopted twelve mixed children and found homes for 500 more after they were orphaned in post-war Germany. They were called “brown babies,” or “mischlingskinder,” a derogatory German term for mixed-race children. And sometimes they were just referred to as "mutts." They were born during the occupation years in Germany after World War II, the offspring of German women and African-American soldiers. Their fathers were usually transferred elsewhere and their mothers risked social repercussions by keeping them, so the babies were placed in orphanages.

A very belated NYT obit for Mrs. Grammer. More on their series of African-Americans whose obits were never written or published here.
posted by stillmoving (12 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I love the whole "Overlooked" concept, and really enjoyed this story.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:30 AM on February 10, 2019 [5 favorites]

There was this Deutsche Welle English documentary about the aftermath of WWI which said that there was a similarly mixed-race generation of people in Germany whose fathers were French African soldiers stationed to occupy the Rhine Valley after the war, who were sterilized by the Nazi government: “Apocalypse - Never-Ending War 1918 - 1929”. That seems to be a description of the broadcast but unfortunately my bookmarked links for watching the documentary online are dead, which is too bad because it was really fascinating.

Mrs. Grammer's efforts are really inspiring.
posted by XMLicious at 7:02 AM on February 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

The occupation of the Rhine and the resulting lack of "racial hygiene" was frequently used by Hitler as one of the justifications for starting the next war.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 8:16 AM on February 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Washington Post ran an obituary for Mrs. Grammer when she died in 2002 which had rather more details about how she worked with the birth mothers. I’m sure the WaPo will limit access to this page.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:04 PM on February 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

Now that I'm an adult and all this News is happening daily and I'm realizing more and more how when learning about history in school they try to present things that happened as being caused by the things that came before it, but my little baby-mind interpreted that as understanding history as something like an orderly unfolding of pre-ordained events; Portraited Important Heroes who were destined to do big things and therefore always knew exactly what to do, which is why they did all that stuff. But this is one of those cases that is making me realize that whole understanding I had was inaccurate, it's all just individuals making decisions moment to moment based on what they think is right, the information they had, and the energy and resources they had to work with.
posted by bleep at 12:05 PM on February 10, 2019 [9 favorites]

Would German-American babies adopted into America have been entitled to German nationality? What about their (presumably entirely American) children? I'm wondering if many of them have claimed their German nationality and moved to Germany (or, indeed, elsewhere in the EU), and how they've gotten on.
posted by acb at 12:29 PM on February 10, 2019

I believe that, at the time, if the mother was unmarried, she could pass citizenship on to her child. Otherwise at that time the father had to be German.

I wonder about the stories here. Some of them must have been teenaged love affairs (or teenage horniness in the era prior to effective birth control). Some of them (as with all armed forces stationed abroad) must have been considerably darker situations.
posted by praemunire at 1:05 PM on February 10, 2019

related, the story of Hamburg's own Hans-Jurgen Massaquoi (previously). His mum was a German nurse, his papa a Liberian playboy. Through mostly fortunate flukes of history, he grew up in Nazi Germany, survived the allied bombing of Hamburg, and after moving to the US, became a journalist working for Jet and Ebony.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 2:47 PM on February 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Kurt Vonnegut wrote a story called "D.P." based on this situation. First published in 1950. It's included in Welcome To The Monkey House.
posted by CCBC at 3:48 PM on February 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman DIscovers Her Family's Nazi Past is a memoir by German writer Jennifer Teege. It covers her discovery that her grandfather was Amon Göth, nicknamed the "Butcher of Płaszów" and famously depicted in Steven Spielberg's 1993 film Schindler's List. Teege was adopted and learned about her family history after reading a biography of her biological mother, Monika Hertwig.
posted by XMLicious at 8:14 PM on February 10, 2019

My uncle and aunt adopted three mixed-race infants in this way in the late 70s-early 80s (when they were serving in the Army and Air Force, respectively) in Munich. He's black and she's white, and the babies were from 3 different German mothers who'd had relationships with black US servicemen. Apparently, none of the German women's families were OK with them keeping their babies, or dating these men.

The racism against the children, even at that late date, seems to have been the same in Germany as it ever was, and I reckon social service agencies there were taking up Ms. Grammer's mantel. Bless Ms. Grammer for looking out for these children. I'm not close to my cousins, having only met them once as a teenager, when they were 2-5 years old. My maternal family isn't close as it is. My uncle and aunt let them know they were adopted relatively early on, when they are all in grade school.

While my uncle and aunt divorced as soon as the last child was out of high school, all three of them seem to be doing well as adults. Only one has sought out her birth parents, though I am not sure if she located them.
posted by droplet at 10:27 PM on February 10, 2019

I recently watched this DW documentary on YouTube on being black and german, which talked about such adoptions. It's an interesting look at how life is like for black germans.
posted by gryftir at 7:32 AM on February 11, 2019

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