Fasia Jansen (1929-1997)

“I experienced how, in a few months, people can be turned into animals when you scarcely give them anything to eat” details Fasia Jansen, a German singer-activist, about her time as a cook in the Neuengamme concentration camp. Jansen was born in 1929 in Hamburg as the illegitimate child of her father, the Liberian consul Momolu Massaquoi, and her mother, Elli Jansen, an employee at the Liberian consulate. Momolu Massaquoi was the grandfather to famed journalist and author Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi, making Jansen Hans-Jürgen’s aunt, although they are never known to have met.Jansen was born after Momolu Massaquoi returned to Liberia and never knew her father.

Jansen was very close to her stepfather, a communist denounced by the Nazi party. In part due to his infatuation with Josephine Baker, Fasia grew up with dreams of being a dancer and, at age eleven, she entered into a dance academy. Yet just two years after her entry, in 1942, she was expelled due to her skin color and her instructor’s fears of getting into trouble with the Reich for teaching a black child.After her removal from the dance academy, she was forced to work as a cook at the Neuengamme concentration camp along with French, Ukrainian, Italian prisoners of war. Her labor allowed her to maintain her German citizenship and avoid deportation.

Jansen had begun singing with other prisoners and internees during the war, sparking her transition to a career as a singer/songwriter and political activist during the postwar peace movement in West Germany.In 1945, she would sing to Holocaust survivors in a hospital in Hamburg; two years later, in 1947, she joined a choir that performed socially and politically critical music in the streets. In 1970, Jansen joined the Brecht Ensemble in Berlin for three months. Later, she identified the atomic bombings of Japan as having influenced her decision to pursue an activist musical career and as motivating her increased commitment to the German peace movement. Jansen was also an influential supporter of the women’s movement in the Federal Republic and internationally, and she championed activism surrounding labor struggles in the Ruhr Valley in 1970. In 1991, Jansen received the Cross of Merit on Ribbon of the Federal Republic of Germany for her involvement in the German peace movement from 1960 through 1980. Fasia Jansen died in 1997 at the age of sixty-eight.

– Kathryn Gluesenkamp (University of Missouri)