Racism in former East Germany

In former East Germany, many foreign workers were subjected to racism and violent attacks. Many of these crimes are still unsolved today.

“Beat the Algerians to death!” cried mobs of young men rampaging through Erfurt for three days in August 1975. From the mid-1960s onwards, the East German leadership recruited foreign contract workers to deal with the labor shortage in the so-called workers’ and peasants’ state.

Initially, they came from the East bloc countries of Poland and Hungary. Then, from the 1970s onward, many young men arrived from Algeria, Cuba, Mozambique, Vietnam and Angola. They were generally admitted on a temporary basis. They lived separately from the locals in dormitories, were not allowed to bring family members with them and had to leave the country at the end of the contract period.

Private relationships between contract workers and locals were often discouraged. But behind the official image of solidarity and friendship, a growing number of racist incidents were deliberately hushed up and concealed. Racism and attacks on foreigners did not fit with East Germany’s own self-image.

Historian Harry Waibel spent years researching and evaluating the archival files gathered by the Stasi – the East German secret police. They prove that racially motivated violence resulted in several thousand assaults and even some murders during the East German years.

Two filmmakers have now examined his evidence to recreate what happened back then. Why did these racially motivated crimes occur? Why was so much hushed up? And what are the consequences of this history in Germany today?

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