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Photo from World War II does not show Ethiopian soldiers guarding Italian prisoners

A photograph circulating on Facebook shows a black soldier guarding multiple white soldiers near a forest. 

“Italian troops surrendered to Ethiopian army after they were defeated and humiated in a failed attempt to invaded Ethiopia in 1896,” the facebook post says referring to a battle in 1896.

“#Ethiopia defeated #Italy at the Battle of Adowa. They resisted European imperialism and remains the only African country that was never COLONIZED.These glory days are coming back to Africa, when we shall rise again and crush neo-colonialism forever! IT IS GOING TO HAPPEN!”

Did the photo show Italian soldiers who had surrendered after the Battle of Adowa? We checked.

‘Group of German soldiers’

In 1896, Italian soldiers were defeated by Ethiopian soldiers at the Battle of Adowa, or Adwa. The defeat played a role diminishing Italy’s colonial ambitions in Africa.

A Google reverse image search however reveals that the photograph, which has been widely published, was taken during the Second World War. It is the 29th photo out of a series of 45 photos published in The Atlantic in October 2011. 

The photo caption reads: “An American soldier of the 12th Armored Division stands guard over a group of German soldiers, captured in April 1945, in a forest at an unknown location in Germany.” Credit for the image is given to AP Photo, which suggests the Associated Press took the image. This is confirmed in the AP Images website which gives its date as 1 April 1945, and the place as “in a forest at an unknown location of Germany”. 

Racial segregation

The image is also contained in the national archives of the United States. The archival record highlights that race in the US armed forces was a sensitive matter at the time. It reads: “A Negro soldier of the 12th Armored Division stands guard over a group of Nazi prisoners captured in the surrounding German forest.”

The image is filed under a series of records labelled “Negro Activities in Industry, Government, and the Armed Forces, 1941 - 1945.” (Note: The 12th Armored Division no longer exists after it was deactivated in 1945, according to US military records).

This historical picture does not show an Ethiopian soldier guarding Italian prisoners in 1896 but a black American soldier guarding Nazi prisoners in 1945. - Vincent Ng’ethe


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