Gilbert Ofodile (1938-2010) was a Nigerian journalist who in 1963 accepted a scholarship to journalism school at the invitation of the East German state. The organization that sponsored his and other Africans’ study was called the Communist German Union of Journalists (Verband der Deutschen Journalisten), and one of the main administrators of the program was named Miss Christa Schön. He first learned about the program through a teacher in Eastern Nigeria. Growing increasingly dissatisfied by his stay in East Germany, Ofodile left the program in 1964. Below are some excerpts from his scathing account of his stay in the German Democratic Republic (GDR).
“… The so-called school of languages, which was nothing more than a confiscated large living home of a political opponent of the SED turned out to be an indoctrinating and subversive centre. The school is right on top of the highest mountain around the main city of Dresden. I am perfectly certain that this centre is still in existence. It goes by the fraudulent name of Zentral-Schule für Ausländer. It is numbered No. 4 Schillerstraße.
Nothing could have better illustrated the deception and fraud perpetrated by the communists in the name of education than this subversive centre that goes by the name school. Far from being a seat of learning this centre is merely another branch of the communist party, the SED’s training center for Africans with the primary motivate of helping establish communist governments in their respective countries when they go back…
…Between September 22nd and 24th we did what was called examination in German language. None of us failed the examination and each of us was given a large, carefully cut sheet of paper, which they named Diploma in German Language.”
“Asking a question”
“We had a general meeting of the two groups with the Director of both centres and his staff each Saturday evening. At which we are supposed to make suggestions about our courses in German language only. The arms training group also used to have their own private meeting with the director only on Mondays at which they talked about the arms training. During this general meeting of the two groups we were all free to ask any question whatsoever, as long as it had nothing to do with the training in the use of arms and ammunitions. ON Saturday, August 24th, during one of our meetings, I instructed the young boy from Niger Republic and one of the girls from South Rhodesia to get up and ask the director for what exactly they were being trained in the use of arms, explosives, and ammunitions… The director got wild, jumped on his feet and unconsciously shouted, saying the question did not concern [the general meeting]…
On Monday, August 26th, Miss Christa Schön and two men came from Berlin. We thought they had come with the answers to the questions, instead it turned out that they had come to find out if the questions were originated by the boy and girl, or if it was originated by any of the journalists…
…[Later, the girl from South Rhodesia] said, they told her that if she said who asked her to ask the questions they would fly her to Moscow and Poland during the Christmas Holiday and buy her fine dresses… In the case of the boy, he said, they told him that if he did not say who made him ask the question, they would send him back home and his Government would put him in jail because he had no passport but a traveling document which was for France and not East Germany. He cried and told them that no on e asked him to ask the question. For fear of being suspected particularly, I decided not to raise the question anymore.”
“Manipulation by the Media”
“I further discovered that we were also a sort of film stars and professional demonstrators to be used at the convenience of our sponsors, the Union of Journalists, and to be hired too by any organization in East Germany that needed any of our two major jobs: (a) staring at big rallys and (b) demonstrating. For instance, their so-called trade union that has no right to strike, had used us two times as film stars during two of their meetings in Berlin when they had guests from Italy, France and the Scandinavian countries. In each case we were asked to go to such meetings in our national costumes with some empty files, which made us look like delegates. We were given the front seats so that the television men and photographers could focus very well on us… They also made the maximum use of us too to build up their prestige and to impress the central Committee of their communist party that we were being converted. They did this by sending out several articles in English and French to several newspapers with our photographs without telling us.”
“An Argument with Christa Schön”
“I had been to West Berlin all alone for about two times. The first time I went to buy toothpaste. The second time to buy a shirt and newspapers in English. I made these two visits with the permission of the Union, personally Miss Christa Schön’s, who kept our passports. It is interesting to note that none of us was allowed to keep his or her passport. They were all taken from us and kept under lock in Berlin by Miss Schön, on instructions. Each time it took me one week to get her to give me my passport for the two times I went to West Berlin… [Later,] I decided to go to Berlin, which is only a 50 minutes journey from Buckow by electric train, to Miss Schön. I go to Berlin at about 9:10 am and demand my passport from Miss Schön. This time I decided not to tell her what I was going to do in West Berlin. She insisted that I had to tell her what I was up to in West Berlin. Our argument dragged on until about 11:30 am. When I became violently angry she quietly gave me the passport, asking me in a very polite way to return it to her as soon as I came back.”
“Terminating a Pregnancy for Racial Reasons”
“One of the journalists, Mr. A.B. Brown, from South West Africa… was to terminate by abortion the pregnancy for which he was responsible and owned up to. Mr. Brown was forced to talk the girl into terminating the pregnancy by abortion by the Union of Journalists, this time headed by Miss Schön, for racial reasons. This young man had a girl friend by the name of Renate, who wanted to marry him and get out of East Germany with him. If he liked, he could leave her alone on their getting out of East Germany, but if he wanted her, she was ready to live with him anywhere outside East Germany as his wife. Mr. Brown first resisted the pressure to get the girl [to] commit abortion, but when he was reminded that he was a refugee and that he got into East Germany without a passport and further, if he refused he would be flown to the South African Government, he had no alternative but to make her have an abortion.
… We boys saw the incident [as a form of] calculated racial hatred. Because before the incident they had warned us times without number to keep clear of the girls who were employed in plants and important industries because they would not risk losing them to us by marriage in case we put them in the family way. Should this happen and we failed to marry them and take them away with us, they would not for any reason be happy to have a population of half German and half African raised on German soil.”
“The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back”
“My Nigerian colleague, Raphael Omenye, was accosted on the night of March 6th, 1964, by some East Germans who asked him the following questions: ‘Was machen Sie hier, Nigger? Warum bleiben Sie nicht in Ihrem Land, Nigger?’ which means ‘What are you doing here nigger?’ ‘Why not remain in your country you nigger?’
Before he could utter a word he was brutally beaten up, stabbed in many places and abandoned by a nearby gutter. His only savior was that it did not snow that week and it was not very cold; otherwise he could have frozen to death.
… As soon as this was brought to my notice I alerted the director of the school and Raphael was rushed to a hospital where he was still receiving treatments when I left East Germany on March 26th. As I got back to the campus with the director, I told him in plain language that I wanted the police to investigate the incident as quickly as possible before things got out of hand… In less than twenty-four hours after my return from the hospital I was confronted with two statements to sign. One read that Raphael Omenye sustained what they called slight injuries in a scuffle with a fellow African journalists on the campus and the other read that he was beaten up by a group of gangsters in West Berlin… In my anger, I told them I would sign the statements over my dead body.”
Source: Gilbert Ofodile, I Shall Never Return: Eight Months in Communist Germany, A Nigerian Student of Journalism Reports (Esslingen: Bechtle Verlag, 1967), 27, 31-32, 35, 43, 60, 66-67. ©Bechtle Verlag.
I Shall Never Return – A Nigerian Student in Communist East Germany (1967) by Kira Thurman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://blackcentraleurope.com/who-we-are/.