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Germany's Unknown Namibian Holocaust.

Updated: May 21, 2021

The Nazi Holocaust which killed 6-million Jews and up to 15-million people in total during the Second World War, was not the first state-sanctioned mass murder perpetrated by the German state. In fact, it was not even the first German genocide of the 20th century. Thirty years before Adolf Hitler seized power as Germany's chancellor, the German nation had already committed a holocaust, complete with concentration camps, medical experiments and mass killing of a group of people simply because they were "racially inferior", only it happened not in Europe but in Africa, in the German colony of Namibia. In the 1880s Germany made South West Africa their own colony, and settlers moved in, followed by a military governor who knew little about running a colony and nothing at all about Africa. The head of the colony in those years was Heinrich Ernst Göring, the father of the infamous Nazi leader Herman Göring.

The German colonists began by playing off the Nama and Herero tribes against each other. More and more white settlers arrived, pushing tribesmen off their cattle-grazing lands with bribes and unreliable deals. Then the Namib’s diamonds were discovered, which created a gold rush and attracted even more German colonists with a lust for wealth. The German colonists saw the Herero people as subhumans, they even called them "baboons" to their face. They had no qualms about raping their women, murdering their men and stealing their cattle and property. In January 1904 the indigenous people of Namibia, the Herero, rebelled against the oppression of the German colonists who had taken their land, raped their women, killed their men, deprived them of their rights to pasture their animals on it, used up the scanty water supplies, and imposed alien laws and taxes. Under their leader Samuel Maherero they began to attack the numerous German outposts. They killed German men, but spared women, children, missionaries, and the English or Boer farmers whose support they didn’t want to lose. The German response to the rebellion could not be termed as anything but genocidal.

Captured Herero rebels.

The Kaiser and the German government in Berlin decided to send the nototrious German army commander, Lieutenant-General von Trotha, to put down the Herero rebellion by employing genocidal tactics. His orders were simple, end the rebellion by any means necessary. Trotha, as the German colonists in Namibia, also viewed Africans as "sub humans". He decided that the best way to stop the Herero rebels was to genocide them. On October 2, 1904, Lieutenant-General von Trotha issued his order to exterminate the Herero from the region: "All the Herero must leave the land. If they refuse, then I will force them to do it with the big guns. Any Herero found within German borders, with or without a gun, will be shot. No prisoners will be taken. This is my decision for the Herero people". Trotha gave orders that captured Herero males were to be executed, while women and children were to be driven into the desert where their death from starvation and thirst was to be certain. Trotha argued that there was no need to make exceptions for Herero women and children, since these would "infect German troops with their diseases", the insurrection Trotha explained "is and remains the beginning of a racial struggle". The Nama tribe also launched their own rebellion shortly after the Herero's and on April 22, 1905 Lothar von Trotha sent his clear message to the Nama: "The Nama who chooses not to surrender and lets himself be seen in the German area will be shot, until all are exterminated." As a result, between 1904 and 1909, Germany liquidated up to 100,000 Nama and Herero indigenous natives of modern-day Namibia. This was done in the name of protecting Geman colonists and acquiring "lebensraum" (living space) for them and the German nation. Incidentally, the German soldiers in Namibia wore the same notorious brown shirts that would later be worn by Hitler's Nazis when he seized power.

Lothar von Trotha.

Not long after von Trotha launched his genocidal racial war against the the Herero and Nama people, Berlin sanctioned the use of concentration camps for the interment of the Namibian people. The most notorious of these, set up in 1905, was situated on Shark Island near the town of Lüderitz. There, horrific medical experiments on Namibian people, reminiscent of Mengele's future experiment on Jewish inmates in Auschwitz, were carried out by German doctors and scientists. Prisoners were used for medical experiments and their illnesses or their recoveries from them were used for research. Experiments on live prisoners were performed by Dr Bofinger, who injected Herero that were suffering from scurvy with various substances including arsenic and opium, killing them in the procces and afterwards he researched the effects of these substances via autopsy. Experimentation with the dead body parts of the prisoners was rife. Zoologist Leopard Schultze noted taking "body parts from fresh native corpses" which according to him was a "welcome addition," and he also noted that he could use prisoners for that purpose.

Namibian skulls being transported to Germany for racial "research".

By the time the "Konzentrationslager" was closed in 1907, tens of thousands had died there due to poor conditions, lack of food and water, beatings, torture and forced labour. Though the death toll is impossible to establish accurately (the Germans later burned incriminating documents), the liquidations of the Herero and Nama people were carried out so efficiently, both in the camps and outside it, that by 1908 the Kaiser’s government had wrested a total of 46 million hectares of land from the genocided native Africans.

The Herero and Nama Genocide was a campaign of racial extermination and is considered to have been the first genocide of the 20th century, and the precursor to Nazi Germany's future crimes. While the final number of deaths was far less than the victims of the Nazi war machine, the genocide in Namibia featured some startling similarities with the WWII tragedy: the justification of the destruction of a whole group of people based on the German "racial superiority" over them, formation of concentration camps and using them to kill, torture and perform medical experiments on their inmates, and the need for of the German nation for “lebensraum” (living space) for the German people.


But while Germany has been clear in its admission of guilt for the Holocaust, its response to the Herero genocide has been equivocal until now. The best way to describe Germany's response to this Namibian holocaust is to point out that when von Trotha returned to Berlin he did not face justice for his genocidal crimes, but was awarded the German highest medal of honor, and it was pinned on his chest by no other than the German emperor himself. As for modern day Germany, despite different German politicans offering their apologies over the years, Germany as a country refuses to officialy recognise the Namibian genocide and to formally apologise to Namibia. Bibliography: "The Kaiser's Holocaust: Germany's Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism.", David Olusoga and Casper W. Erichsen. "Germany's Black Holocaust.", Firpo W. Carr. "The Scramble for Africa.", Thomas Pakenham.

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