Screenshot from the film “Representation Matters” by Jermain Raffington and Alice Hasters
© Stadtmuseum Berlin

From Askari soldier to actor

In the room “War” at BERLIN GLOBAL, photos, letters and films tell the story of Mahjub bin Adam Mohamed Hussein (1904 – 1944).

by Melanie Huber

Mahjub bin Adam Mohamed Hussein was born on 22 February 1904 in Tanzania, the then “German East Africa” colonised by the German Empire. He later took the name Bayume Mohamed Husen. Husen is a Germanisation of the name Hussein. Hussein was the son of an officer of the “Askari” (Arabic: soldier). This term was used to describe African men who served in the colonial troops of the armies of European colonial powers. For a short time, Hussein attended the government school in Dar es Salaam. During the First World War, he was recruited as a child soldier at the age of ten. He was wounded and became a British prisoner of war.

“Stolperstein” for Mahjub bin Adam Mohamed Hussein in Berlin-Mitte, Brunnenstraße 193
© Stadtmuseum Berlin | Photo: Melanie Huber

On the road to Berlin

After the war, he signed on on German ships and came to Berlin in 1929. There he wanted to claim the outstanding pay for his father and himself for military services rendered to the German Reich. For these, Hussein also demanded moral recognition. In October 1934, he applied for the award of the Cross of Honour for Frontline Fighters. However, the National Socialist authorities did not want to award this medal to a black person. The “German Major General Commander of the Schutztruppe für Deutsch-Ostafrika”, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, also refused to support him vis-à-vis the Foreign Office.

In a letter written in Swahili to the Foreign Office on 20 April 1937, Hussein complained about the refusal and expressed his bitterness. The letter can be found in the themed room “War” in the Berlin exhibition at the Humboldt Forum.

Hussein stayed in Berlin. For five years he worked as a waiter in the Wild West Bar and the Turkish Café of the “Haus Vaterland”, a legendary entertainment palace on Potsdamer Platz. He also worked for ten years as a lecturer for the Swahili language, Kiswahili, at the Seminar for Oriental Languages. In addition, he appeared in so-called “Völkerschauen” and acted in colonial films.

“Representation Matters – Racism in the Entertainment Industry”

His story as an actor is told by filmmaker Jermain Raffington and journalist Alice Hasters in the film “Representation Matters – Racism in the Entertainment Industry”. It is the second film in the BERLIN GLOBAL series “Perspektivraum”.

In the summer of 1941, Hussein was denounced for having a relationship with a white woman. He was taken into “protective custody” on the charge of “racial defilement”. Hussein was transferred from the Alexanderplatz prison to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp on 27 September 1941. He died there on 24 November 1944.

Through the exhibition together