from the annals of African American history and the history of Nazi
Germany are the documented stories and struggles of African Americans,
straight and “queer.” Valaida Snow, captured in Nazi-occupied Copenhagen
and interned in a concentration camp for nearly two years, is one
such story forgotten every Black History Month in celebrating our
heroes and survivors.
in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Valaida Snow came from a family of musicians
and was famous for playing the trumpet. Named “Little Louis” after
Louis Armstrong (who called her the world’s second best jazz trumpet
player, besides himself, of course) Snow played concerts throughout
the U.S., Europe and China. On a return trip to Denmark after headlining
at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, Snow, the conductor of an all-women’s
band, was arrested for allegedly possessing drugs and sent to an
Axis internment camp for alien nationals in Wester-Faengle.
in pre-Hitler Germany all-female orchestras were De rigueur in many
avant-garde entertainment clubs, these homosocial all-women’s bands
created tremendous outrage during Hitler’s regime. Snow was sent
to a concentration camp not only because she was black and in the
wrong place at the wrong time, but also because of her “friendships”
with German women musicians, implying lesbianism.
laws against lesbianism had not been codified, and lesbians were
not criminalized for their sexual orientations as gay men were.
German women were nonetheless viewed as threat to the Nazi state
and were fair game during SS raids on lesbian bars, sentenced by
the Gestapo, sent to concentration camps, and branded with a black
triangle. As a matter of fact, any German woman, lesbian, prostitute
or heterosexual, not upholding her primary gender role — “to be
a mother of as many Aryan babies as possible” — was deemed anti-social
and hostile to the German state.
Nazis could not discern between the sexual affection and social
friendship between straight and lesbian women, over time they dismissed
lesbianism as a state and social problem, as long as both straight
and lesbian women carried out the state’s mandate to procreate.
Germany’s extermination plan of gay men is a classic example of
how politics informed their science. Paragraph 175 of the German
Criminal Code differentiated between the types of persecution non-German
gay men received from German gay men because of a quasi-scientific
and racist ideology of racial purity. “The polices of persecution
carried out toward non-German homosexuals in the occupied territories
differed significantly from those directed against Germans gays,”
wrote Richard Plant in “The
Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals
.” “The Aryan race was to be freed of contagion; the demise of degenerate
subjects peoples was to be hastened.”
J. Massaquoi, former Ebony Magazine editor, and the son of an African
diplomat and white German mother, in his memoir “Destined to Witness:
Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany,” depicts a life of privilege until
his father returned to his native Liberia. Like all non-Aryans,
Massaquoi faced constant dehumanization and the threat of death
by Gestapo executioners. “Racist in Nazi Germany did their dirty
work openly and brazenly with the full protection, cooperation,
and encouragement of the government, which had declared the pollution
of Aryan blood with ‘inferior’ non-Aryan blood the nation’s cardinal
sin,” he wrote. Consequently, the Gestapo rounded up and forcibly
sterilized and subjected many non-Aryans to medical experiments,
while other just simply mysteriously disappeared.
was no systematic program for elimination of people of African descent
in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945 in Nazi Germany because their
number were few, but their abuses in German-occupied territories,
like the one in which Snow was captured, were great and far-reaching.
18 months of imprisonment, Snow was one of the more fortunate blacks
to make it out of Nazi Germany, released as an exchange prisoner.
She was, however, both psychologically and physically scarred from
the ordeal and never fully recovered. Snow attempted to return to
performing but her spark, tragically, was gone.
Editorial Board member, the Rev. Irene Monroe, is a religion columnist,
theologian, and public speaker. She is the Coordinator of the African
American Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in
Religion and Ministry (CLGS) at the Pacific School of Religion.
of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College and
Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as
a pastor at an African-American church before coming to Harvard
Divinity School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow. She was recently
named to MSNBC’s list of 10 Black Women You Should Know.
Reverend Monroe is the author of Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible
Prayers for Not-So-Everyday Moments. As an African American
feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector of society that is
frequently invisible. Her website is
to contact the Rev. Monroe.