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W. E. B. Du Bois: "A Forum of Fact and Opinion: Race Prejudice in Nazi Germany"

W. E. B. Du Bois from the Pittsburgh Courier
The Pittsburgh Courier

W. E. B. Du Bois was one of the best known Black activists of the 20th century. During his many decades of writing and speaking, he drew attention to the oppression of Black Americans and other people of color throughout the world. As a crusader for civil rights, he denounced so-called “Jim Crow” laws and other forms of racist discrimination and oppression. He also criticized some Black leaders for their reluctance to challenge racism in the United States. Du Bois promoted the benefits of education, encouraged a sense of pride among Black Americans, and played a key role in setting up the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

During the 1930s and 1940s, Du Bois also addressed antisemitism in Nazi Germany.1 In 1933, he began attacking the Nazi regime for its treatment of Jews in the pages of the NAACP's monthly journal, The Crisis: A Record for the Darker Races.2 Du Bois noted that it was hypocritical of white Americans to denounce the discriminatory policies of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party while ignoring the oppression of Black people in the United States.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Du Bois witnessed the Nazi persecution of Jews firsthand. After receiving a grant from the Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation, he traveled to Germany in 1935 in order to research industrial education. During this period, he wrote the featured article, which was published in a December 1936 issue of the Pittsburgh Courier. It gives an eyewitness account of German antisemitism in the Nazi era, and it also provides commentary on the differences between racism in the United States and the kind of racial prejudice he encountered as a Black man in Nazi Germany.

Scholars continue to debate whether Du Bois himself held antisemitic views. There is also disagreement as to whether his sometimes unclear attitude toward German Jews was common in Black communities in the US at the time. Like many public intellectuals, Du Bois held complex and sometimes contradictory opinions on various topics. For example, while he criticized Nazi racism and antisemitism, he expressed great appreciation for German culture, including classic works of opera and philosophy.3 Whatever his personal views might have been, Du Bois continued to write about the Nazi regime's persecution of Jews. The situation in Germany clearly influenced his views on race in America.

Du Bois’ interest in the plight of European Jews continued well after his visit to Germany in the mid-1930s. During World War II, he published several articles that addressed racism and antisemitism. In the years following the war, Du Bois returned to Europe and visited the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto.4 Witnessing the ruins of the ghetto, he reflected upon the origins of racism—and tried to make sense of the destruction it had unleashed in Europe and the United States.5

For example, writing in the May 1933 issue of The Crisis, Du Bois argued, "It seems impossible that in the middle of the 20th century a country like Germany could turn to race hate as a political expedient... The absurdity of it in the case of Germany is too patent to recall. One has only to think of a hundred names like Mendelssohn, Heine, and Einstein, to remember but partially what the Jew has done for German civilization. It reminds the American Negro that after all race prejudice has nothing to do with accomplishment or desert, with genius or ability. It is an ugly, dirty thing. It feeds on envy and hate." "Postscript by W. E. B. Du Bois," The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races, May 1933, 116–117.

See "Postscript by W. E. B. Du Bois," The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races, July 1933, 164–165, 165.

Du Bois likely grew interested in German culture as a young Harvard graduate student at the University of Berlin in the 1890s. He made four visits to Germany in his lifetime. His work became known to at least some of the Nazi leadership: Alfred Rosenberg in his widely-published Mythus of the Twentieth Century negatively described Du Bois as a leader in a worldwide revolt against the white race.

See the related Experiencing History item, W. E. B. Du Bois: "The Negro and the Warsaw Ghetto."

For more Black American voices from years of Nazi rule in Germany, see the Experiencing History collection, "Black Americans and World War II."

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
The Pittsburgh Courier
Date Created
December 19, 1936
Page(s) 1, 3
Author / Creator
W. E. B. Du Bois
Publisher
The Pittsburgh Courier
Language(s)
English
Location
Pittsburgh, PA
Reference Location
Germany
Document Type Newspaper Article
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