Discovering the life of Afro-Germans

Discovering the life of Afro-Germans

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Edward Colimore, Inquirer Staff Writer

When she was growing up in Willingboro as the only child of Walter and Perrie Haymon, she felt like “a little princess.” She was the center of her parents’ lives, attended private school, and took piano and ballet lessons.

But Wanda Lynn Haymon “always had something gnawing” at her, she said. Relatives whispered about her at family gatherings and cousins told her that she was not really part of the family.

She had recurrent nightmares, too, of being an infant abandoned on a snowy doorstep with uniformed men – possibly soldiers – standing around her.

“I really had doubts,” she said. “I’d go to my parents and ask if I was adopted and they’d say, ‘Do you feel adopted?’ I would say ‘No’ because I was treated so well.”

She found out—through documentation in 1994—that “I wasn’t who I thought I was.”

Wanda Lynn Haymon was actually Rosemarie Larey, a native of Germany who had been adopted. Her biological father was black, possibly an African American soldier, and her mother was white and a German national.

She was born in 1956, only 11 years after the Nazis, who regarded blacks as racially inferior, sent 25,000 Afro-Germans to concentration camps, where many were subjected to medical experiments and sterilization.

Even after the war, the stigma of having a biracial child caused many mothers – including Rosemarie’s – to give up their children for possible placement with African American families.

Now, as Rosemarie Peña, she heads the Black German Cultural Society of New Jersey (, an organization whose name belies its reach: It connects Afro-Germans internationally and seeks to document their experience.

About 200 people attended the group’s convention last year in Washington and a greater number is expected for the second convention, Aug. 10-11 at Barnard College in New York City…

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