Tuesday, February 16, 2016

In Honor of Black History Month - A Display about African Americans in a Nazi Internment Camp, 1943

Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, Gift of Jerome and Carolyn Mahrer
In honor of Black History Month, the Museum is presenting a display in the main lobby about African Americans in a Nazi internment camp for foreign nationals in Tittmoning, Germany. Inmates included African Americans who were living in Europe, many because of their careers as athletes, performers, or musicians.

The foreign prisoners in this internment camp were treated very differently than prisoners of a concentration camp. They were given regular food rations and did not have to work. At Tittmoning, the YMCA even donated a piano.

In 1999, Jerome and Carolyn Maher donated to the Museum an album of caricatures inside a folder created from a Red Cross package. Jerome received these drawings when he was an inmate in Tittmoning. The drawings feature prisoners and guards sketched by fellow prisoner Max Brandel, who ultimately went on to a career at MAD magazine. The inmates autographed the drawings for Jerry (Jerome), who was the youngest inmate and as such the camp “mascot.” The album gives a glimpse into the dynamics of the internment camp.

The African Americans included in the album are:
·        Johnny Mitchell, a musician from Baltimore who was arrested in Amsterdam and during his internment, together with pianist Freddy Johnson, taught young Jerry Maher to play the accordion;
·         Oscar Mathis, a Georgia native who was a wrestler or boxer and was living in Prague when he was arrested;
·         Jack Taylor, a boxer who fought many famous fighters including Max Schmeling;
·         Kemal Abdel Rahman Berry, a Kansas City native and well-known wrestler who was living in Prague with his European wife and their son when he was arrested;
·         William Walker, described as a “medicine man” (a type of performer with a traveling show); and
·         Freddy Johnson, an American pianist who worked as Coleman Hawkins’ pianist and backed Marlene Dietrich on one recording; he was arrested in Amsterdam along with his wife and two daughters.

While we know some information about these men, much remains unknown. Occasionally our research breakthroughs come from visitors saying “I know that person!” or “Hey, that’s me!” We hope when you see this display you will let us know if you have any information to share. Email us at communications@mjhnyc.org.

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