Germany’s “Brown Babies,” and the Tragic Deportation of US International Adoptees

In October 2009, a fascinating article was published in the German news magazine Der Spiegel about mixed race children of white German women and black American soldiers during World War 2. Many of these children were placed for international adoption, and grew up in the United States. My thanks to the members of the Facebook Transracial Adoption group for recently posting the article.

Titled “Germany’s ‘Brown Babies’: The Difficult Identities of Post-War Black Children of GIs,” the article talks about the fates and challenges of several of the children, who are of course now adults. The full text of the article (in English) is here.

One of the people profiled is Rudi Richardson.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“Rudi Richardson knew something about what it meant to be a black man in the United States. But after being deported to Germany, the country where he was born, shortly before his 47th birthday, he had to start figuring out what it meant to be black and German — in a land he barely remembered and whose language he didn’t speak.”

He started life as Udo Ackermann, born in a Bavarian women’s prison in 1955. His mother, a Jewish woman named Liesolette, was serving a prison term for prostitution. His father, whom he never met, was an African-American serviceman named George. Rudi was given up for adoption.

Photo Gallery

Like thousands of other postwar children with black GI fathers and white German mothers, Richardson was raised by an African-American military family in the US. He has spent his life trying to find where he fits in. Born in an era when Germany was still grappling with its responsibility for the Holocaust and when the US Army had a policy of not acknowledging paternity claims brought against its soldiers stationed abroad, some of these children were put up for adoption in the United States. At the time, Germany judged itself incapable of absorbing these “brown babies” — as they have come to call themselves. In the late 1940s and 1950s, efforts were made to match them with African-American military families, many of whom were stationed around Germany at the time.

Forbidden to Speak German

The adoptees grew up in the United States, many with no idea they were adopted or that they were half-German (for information on the difficulties encountered by black GIs wanting to stay with their German girlfriends, read the sidebar on the left). Scattered across the country, many of the children were forbidden to speak German in their new homes. At the time, it was believed that continuing to speak German would damage their ability to learn fluent English.

After a stay in a German children’s home where he says he suffered sexual and physical abuse, Richardson was adopted by a military couple as a toddler. After a few years living on base in Germany, the family returned to the US. It was about that time, Richardson recalls, that his adoptive mother began a downward spiral of alcohol addiction and mental illness.

Richardson was 17 when his parents finally told him he was adopted. He was sitting across from a probation officer following an arrest for joyriding — and he was given a choice: face the charges in court, or join the Army. Eager to be away from an increasingly unhappy home, Richardson chose the latter.

That’s when he discovered his adoptive parents had never had him naturalized as a US citizen. He says he was told he’d get citizenship automatically after being honorably discharged from the Army, but it never happened. This caused problems for him three decades later, when he was deported to Germany in 2003 after spending time in prison for drug possession and petty theft.”

That’s right: Under US law, in 2009, Rudi Richardson–adopted by US citizens internationally–was deported to Germany, at the age of 47, never to return to the US.

Yes, international adoptees can be deported back to countries where they don’t speak the language and have no connections. Unbelievable, isn’t it?

Rudi’s story, and that of other black German adoptees, is wrenching, fascinating, and troubling. I’ve written about the fact that thousands of international adoptees do not have automatic citizenship, and many have indeed been deported. Even with the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, parents should still make sure that their internationally adopted children do in fact have all documentation (including the Certificate of Citizenship). You can read more about it here.

US Congress: Will 2014 finally be the year that all international adoptees–brought to the US as minors for purposes of adoption by US citizens–are granted US citizenship?

I find it shameful and astonishing that I even have to ask that question.



1 thought on “Germany’s “Brown Babies,” and the Tragic Deportation of US International Adoptees

  1. Pingback: The Deportation of International Adoptees Must Stop | Light of Day Stories

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