Atlantic Germany

Shoah and Lynching

Jan Mollenhauer’s project »Atlantic Germany« (Working title) explores genealogical entanglements of the Shoah and Lynching within the visual cultures of collective memory within African Diaspora. 
Between 1877 and the 1940s, extra-legal executions amounted to mass spectacles in the United States, especially in the South. Photographs of these »Lynchings« were widely disseminated — among Southern whites as evidence of racist superiority, and among African Americans as symbols of anger, fear, and shame. Early American film is deeply involved in the visual culture of Lynching.
In 1945, African American GIs, as members of the highly segregated US Army, stepped into the recently liberated concentration camp Buchenwald. Some of the soldiers took photos. Jan Mollenhauer argues that in these pictures, collective memories of bondage and segregation merge visually with the witnessing of Jewish suffering during the Holocaust, thus forming a particularly »Black American« experience of the Holocaust. Referring to Michael Rothberg’s idea of »multidirectional memory«, Jan Mollenhauer emphasizes that memories of atrocity and violence do not compete, rather they form multilayered spaces of experience, relating to each other. Thus, African American memory »decolonizes« itself, which will lead to a transnational political activism in the fight against racism. Witnessing the Holocaust, the GIs no longer understand what they experienced in the US as a specificity of the (Southern) United States, but rather as one form of a larger, global racist ideology. 
The experiences of the African American occupying forces and the droves of Black GIs following them after 1945, is visually documented by reporting in different African American periodicals, such as Ebonys articles on children of »mixed marriages« — the so-called »Brown Babies«. Also, the hugely successful film Toxi (Dir.: R.A. Stemmle, West Germany 1952) is symptomatic for this discourse, extending to fremd gehen. Gespräche mit meiner Freundin (Dir.: Eva Heldmann, Germany 1999). This is a form of visual and transnational, multidirectional migration of memory. Phantasms of hypersexualised black masculinity and the alleged threat it poses for white women was a cornerstone for lynching’s rhetorical justification. Documenting the Black GIs’ lives and their offsprings, both marginalised or even criminalised in the US at that time, these visual politics of the »Black Atlantic« subverted colonial stereotypes.
Thus, »Atlantic Germany« uncovers a latent visual knowledge, that rehabilitates marginal aesthetic practices as contributors to the »epistème«Moreover, Jan Mollenhauer’s project tells the story of an alternative Holocaust memory, which reflects on its postcolonial dimension. It is a significantly different form of an early »Vergangenheitsbewältigung« (coming to terms with the past).

William Alexander Scott III.: George Patton (foreground, l.) speaks with Omar Bradley (middle) in the recently liberated forced labour camp Ohrdruf, close to Buchenwald, African American soldier in the background, April 1945. NARA, ID: 111-SC-442154.