The Herero and Namaqua Genocide
The first genocide of the 20th century is a relatively unknown one: the genocide on the Herero and Nama people of Namibia. Namibia (then known as ‘German South-West Africa’) was colonised by the Germans. In 1904 the Herero people rebelled against German colonial rule and later that year the Nama people would do the same. The German army, led by general Lothar von Trotha fought against both with the explicit purpose of murdering all of the Herero and Nama people, von Trotha had stated:
"I destroy the African tribes with streams of blood… Only following this cleansing can something new emerge, which will remain."
In total, from 24,000 up to 100,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama died. Most Herero and Nama people were driven into the Namib desert and prevented from returning by the German army. Many died of starvation and thirst.
Survivors, the majority of whom were women and children, were eventually put in Concentration Camps, where the German authorities forced them to work as slave laborers for German military and settlers.
Many Herero died of disease, overwork and malnutrition. Camps, such as that in Windhoek, showed mortality rates as high as 61%. The mortality rate in the camps reached 45% in 1908. The death rates are calculated at between 69 and 74%.
Shootings, hangings and beatings were common, and the sjambok (a whip) was used by guards who treated the forced labourers harshly. Fred Cornell, a British aspirant diamond prospector, was in Lüderitz when the Shark Island extermination camp was being used. Cornell wrote of the camp:
"Cold - for the nights are often bitterly cold there - hunger, thirst, exposure, disease and madness claimed scores of victims every day, and cartloads of their bodies were every day carted over to the back beach, buried in a few inches of sand at low tide, and as the tide came in the bodies went out, food for the sharks."
The extermination camp on Shark Island, in the coastal town of Lüderitz, was the worst of the German South West African camps. German Commander Von Estorff wrote in a report that approximately 1,700 prisoners had died by April 1907, 1,203 of them Nama. In December 1906, four months after their arrival, 291 Nama died (a rate of more than nine people a day). Missionary reports put the death rate at between 12 and 18 a day; as many as 80% of the prisoners sent to the Shark Island extermination camp never left the island.
In these concentration camps German anthropologist Eugen Fischer conducted medical experiments on race using children of the Herero people and mixed race children of Herero women and German men. Dr. Bofinger also conducted experiments and injected Herero suffering from scurvy with various substances, among them arsenic. Around 3000 skulls and severed heads [tw: x] were sent to Germany for experimentation. It would take more than hundred years and years of negotiation by a Namibian ambassador for Germany to return the skulls to Namibia so they could finally be buried.
After the Namibia genocide Eugen Fischer didn’t have to stand trial, instead he became chancellor of the University of Berlin were he taught medicine. One of his students was Josef Mengele, who -as most people will know- would perform gruesome experiments on children in Auschwitz-Birkenau during the Shoah.
The genocide on the Herero and Nama people has basically been ignored in popular history. None of the people who took part in it had to stand trial for their horrible crimes. It took Germany 100 years to finally issue a formal apology (in 2004). In 2011 the skulls of Herero and Nama genocide victims were finally returned from German universities to Namibia so they could be buried.
Since this is a blog about Jewish history and culture, a short explanation: I have made a post about this genocide because I think it is a piece of history you have to know. The Namibia Genocide can be seen as a precursor to the Shoah, with comparible social-darwinistic ideology (‘cleansing’ the earth by genocide), concentration camps and cruel medical experiments. Several people who were involved in this genocide would later fight for the Nazis, and it is likely that Hitler and his staff were inspired by this genocide when they thought out the Endlösung.
The Namibia genocide is a complicated and long history, this post is just a small impression of some of the things that took place. If you want to know more, you can see a very interesting documentary about the Namibia Genocide here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6.
On today’s episode of things not taught in school….