“We always rule in favor of the child”
The Salzburg Youth Welfare Office, Mabel Grammer, and the Adoption of Black Austrian ‘Occupation Children’ in the USA
Between 1945 and 1956, at least 5,000 children were born to American occupation soldiers and Austrian women. About 2,000 of these were born in the Federal State of Salzburg, which was part of the American Zone of Occupation and the location of the headquarters of the United States Forces Austria (USFA).
In a newspaper article published in September 1955, the head of the Salzburg Youth Welfare Office announced that during the occupation period his agency had given up 300 ‘occupation children’ for adoption in the USA. How many of these were children of black GIs and Austrian women or Displaced Persons cannot be determined today. However, newspaper articles, publications, and documents of Austrian and American welfare agencies reveal that their proportion in Salzburg was significantly higher than in the rest of Austria.
The society into which these children were born defined itself as ‘white’. Racist and/or particular ‘moral’ attitudes were as deeply entrenched as were enduring Nazi ideologies. This led to both mothers and children being marginalized. They were also discriminated against by the welfare authorities, who exercised official guardianship over the children who, as a general rule, were born out of wedlock. The mothers were accused of leading unstable lives and of possessing questionable sexual morals. As a result, these often very young women found themselves forced to give their children up for adoption.
This presentation sheds light on the motives of the Salzburg Youth Welfare Office to give the children of black GIs up for adoption abroad in the USA. It moreover sketches how the mediation of these adoptions took place and what role the partial collaboration between the Salzburg Youth Welfare Office and the African American journalist Mabel Grammer played therein. Grammer was stationed with her husband Oscar Grammer in the Federal Republic of Germany in the early 1950s, where she mediated in the adoption of several hundred children of black GIs and German women by African American parents in the USA through her initiative called the “Brown Baby Plan”. This presentation will for the first time reveal her activities in Salzburg and demonstrate through two case studies the effects that adoption in the USA had on two black Salzburg-born GI children and their development later in life.
Philipp Rohrbach, MA studied history and contemporary history at the University of Vienna, where he is currently a PhD candidate in the Institute for Contemporary History. He is also a research associate at the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies (VWI). He co-curated the exhibition “SchwarzÖsterreich. Die Kinder afroamerikanischer Besatzungssoldaten”, which was on display at the Volkskundemuseum in Vienna in 2016. His PhD dissertation is entitled “Die ‘unsichtbaren’ ÖsterreicherInnen. Selbstbilder, Fremdbilder und gesellschaftliche Stellung von Kindern schwarzer US-amerikanischer Besatzungssoldaten und österreichischer Frauen”.