4 Aug 2019

Text & Translation: Corinna

#German Southwest Africa

In 1883 the merchant Adolf Lüderitz bought land in Angra Pequena, which was placed under German protection in 1884. The colony Deutsch-Südwestafrika, today Namibia, was established.

Deutsch-SüdwestafrikaPhoto: „Deutsch-Sudwestafrika“. Lizenziert unter CC BY-SA 3.0 über Wikimedia Commons

The German Empire ruled the colony through racial segregation and oppression. The up to 12,000 German settlers treated the Africans like second class people. The indigenous people were expropriated and disenfranchised; they were forced to clear their land and thus deprived of their livelihood. In January 1904, the Herero rebelled against their occupiers; Germany responded with unknown brutality. [1]


On 12th January 1904, under the command of Samuel Maharero, the Herero attacked various colonial facilities, besieged military stations, blocked railway lines and killed some 120 German male settlers. Women and children were deliberately spared, but soon horror stories of angry Africans raping and massacring women and children spread.[2]

In the first few weeks the Herero dominated the conflict, as the Germans were surprised by the uprising. Shortly after the beginning, Governor Theodor Leutwein was ordered by Emperor Wilhelm II to end the uprising. But it was no longer just a matter of reconquering the colony, but of revenge and punishment.[3]

‘The hardest punishment of the enemy is necessary as atonement for the countless, cruel murders and as a guarantee for a peaceful future (…)’. – Captain Gudewill, SMS Habicht[4]

HereroPhoto: „Surviving Herero c1907“ von Unbekannt – Galerie Bassenge. Lizenziert unter Gemeinfrei über Wikimedia Commons

In May 1904, Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha was given command. He reached Deutsch-Südwestafrika with 14,000 soldiers and began a brutal war of extermination against the Herero.[5]

‘Violence with blatant terrorism and even cruelty was and is my policy. I destroy the insurgent tribes in streams of blood and streams of money. Only on this sowing can something new emerge’. – Lothar von Trotha[6]


In August 1904, the imperial army succeeded in encircling the Herero people on the Waterberg plateau. Men, women and children were killed; prisoners were not taken. The only thing left for the indigenous people was to flee to the dry Omahekeke desert, which the Germans sealed off with a 250 km long cordon. Only very few managed to escape; most died of hunger and thirst. The complete annihilation of the Nama was accepted.[7]

‘I believe that the nation as such must be destroyed (…).’ – Lothar von Trotha[8]

Lothar_von_TrothaPhoto: „Lothar von Trotha“. Lizenziert unter Gemeinfrei über Wikimedia Commons

Anyone who managed to escape from the Omaheke desert was put in concentration camps. There they had to do heavy physical labor, were held as sex slaves, beaten, whipped and killed. Eugen Fischer (Josef Mengele’s mentor) examined the ‘half-breed children’ born in the concentration camps and carried out medical experiments on them. On the basis of these results he published ‘Das Standartwerk zur menschlichen Erblichkeitslehre und Rassenhygiene’ (The Standard Work on Human Heredity and Race Hygiene), which Adolf Hitler regarded as the principle of his race theory.[9]

The German soldiers beheaded their victims and placed the heads, including all soft tissue, in formaldehyde and shipped them to Berlin to study race characteristics and facial features. According to estimates, about 3,000 skulls are still stored in German archives and museums today.[10]

In October 1904 von Trotha issued his infamous ‘shooting order’: ‘Within the German borders every Herero is shot with or without a rifle, with or without livestock. I will not take any more women and children, drive them back to their people or shoot them’.[11]

45_501x0_0_14Photo: Bundesarchiv


Since October 1904, the Nama, also known as the Hottentots by the occupying forces, had participated in the conflict under the leadership of Hendrik Witbooi. The Imperial Protection Force, however, was superior to them and took a stance against the Nama just as brutal as it did against the Herero.[12] They were driven into the desert or shot.

On April 22nd, 1905, von Trotha called on the Nama to surrender, otherwise they would face the same fate as the Herero. All who surrendered were put in concentration camps and maltreated. Many died of hunger, thirst, disease or exhaustion.

HereroPhoto: „Herero chained“ von Unbekannt – Ullstein Bilderdienst, Berlin.

#End of war

Due to public criticism from abroad and from his own ranks, Emperor Wilhelm II revoked von Trothas’ shooting order and ordered him back to Germany in 1905.

As a result of a government crisis, the Reichstag was re-elected in January 1907 and the war in Deutsch-Südwestafrika was officially declared over on March 31st, 1907. However, the concentration camps were not closed until 1908, and all surviving Herero and Nama were still forbidden to own land, livestock or weapons.

Of a total of 80,000 Herero, only about 16,000 survived; half of the Nama were wiped out with about 10,000 dead.[13]

Deutsch-Südwestafrika, Herero-AufstandPhoto: „Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R27576, Deutsch-Südwestafrika, Herero-Aufstand“ von Bundesarchiv, CC-BY-SA 3.0. Lizenziert unter CC BY-SA 3.0 de über Wikimedia Commons

#Germany and Namibia

In 2004, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the commemoration event at Waterberg, the then Minister for Development Aid, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, first spoke of genocide:

‘A hundred years ago the oppressors – blinded by colonial madness – became messengers of violence, discrimination, racism and annihilation in the German name. The atrocities of that time were what would be called genocide today – for which General von Trotha would be brought to justice and condemned today. We Germans profess to our historical-political, moral-ethical responsibility and to the guilt which Germans then brought upon themselves (…)’.[14]

But it was not until July 2015 that the German government first adopted a clear political guideline and decided to call the war against Herero and Nama genocide: ‘The war of extermination in Namibia from 1904 to 1908 was a war crime and genocide.’

However, an official apology is still outstanding, but the government is committed to a ‘special historical responsibility of Germany towards Namibia and its citizens’.[15]


# Bundesarchiv (2015) ‘Der Krieg gegen die Herero 1904’. Available at: http://www.bundesarchiv.de/oeffentlichkeitsarbeit/bilder_dokumente/00663/index-14.html.de (Accessed 07.10.15)

# Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (2014) ‘Januar 1904: Herero-Aufstand in Deutsch-Südwestafrika’. Available at: http://www.bpb.de/politik/hintergrund-aktuell/176142/herero-aufAccessed-10-01-2013 (Accessed 07.10.15)

# Deutsche Botschaft Windhuk (2004) ‘Rede von Bundesministerin Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul bei den Gedenkfeierlichkeiten der Herero-Aufstände am 14. August 2004 in Okakarara’. Available at: http://www.windhuk.diplo.de/Vertretung/windhuk/de/03/Gedenkjahre__2004__2005/Seite__Rede__BMZ__2004-08-14.html (Accessed 07.10.15)

# Schmidinger, T. (2004) ‘Der erste deutsche Völkermord: Ein Jahrhundert nach dem Genozid in ‘Deutsch-Südwestafrika’‘. Available at: http://homepage.univie.ac.at/thomas.schmidinger/php/texte/genozidforschung_herero.pdf (Accessed 07.10.15)

# taz.de (2011) ‘Deutsche Kolonialgeschichte: Der verleugnete Völkermord’. Available at: http://www.taz.de/!5110825/ (Accessed 07.10.15)

# taz.de (2015) ‘Massaker durch Deutschland in Namibia: Bundesregierung erkennt Genozid an’. Available at: http://www.taz.de/!5212103/ (Accessed 07.10.15)

# www.combatgenocide.org ‘Herero and Nama Genocide’. Available at: http://combatgenocide.org/?page_id=153 (Accessed 07.10.15)

# www.ppu.org.uk ‘Namibia 1904’. Available at: http://www.ppu.org.uk/genocide/g_namibia1.html (Accessed 07.10.15)

[1]Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (2014)
[2]Schmidinger,T. (2004)
[3]Schmidinger,T. (2004)
[4]Schmidinger,T. (2004)
[5]Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (2014)
[7]Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (2014)
[10]taz.de (2011)
[11]Bundesarchiv (2015)
[13]Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (2014)
[14]Deutsche Botschaft Windhuk (2004)[15]taz.de (2015)

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