Deutsch-Südwestafrika (German South West Africa) was a colony of the German Empire from 1884 until 1915. With an area of 835,100 km2, it was one and a half times the size of the mainland German Empire in Europe (without its colonies) at the time.
Initial European contact with the area that later became German South West Africa came from traders and sailors, starting in January 1486 when Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão landed at Cape Cross (120 km north of Swakopmund ). For several centuries, European settlement of the area was limited and temporary. In February 1805 the London Missionary Society established a small mission in Blydeverwacht, but the efforts of this group met with little success. In 1840 the London Missionary Society transferred all of its activities to the German Rhenish Missionary Society, which quickly began founding churches throughout the territory. During the same time that the Rhenish missionaries were active, merchants and farmers were establishing outposts.
On 16 November 1882 Adolf Lüderitz, a German merchant from Bremen, requested protection from German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, for a station that he planned to build in South West Africa. On April 10, 1883 Lüderitz emissary Heinrich Vogelsang landed at Angra Pequena ("Little Cove") and negotiated a fraudulent lease of land from Joseph Fredericks, "Kaptein" of the indigenous Bethanie community. (Vogelsang used the unit of geographical miles in lieu of ordinary miles, effectively obscuring the true amount of land to be leased.) Lüderitz turned Angra Pequena into a trading station, and after Bismarck declared, on April 24, 1884, that the station and the surrounding area would be henceforth a German protectorate1, renamed the cove Lüderitz and began making use of it as a naval base. The general area was renamed ''Lüderitzbucht'' (''Lüderitz Bay'').
The German flag was finally raised in South-West Africa on 7 August 1884, the German claims on this land having been "confirmed" during the Berlin Conference of 1884. However, since the indigenous peoples never held the idea of individually held land as "private property" (land could never be alienated by any individual, no matter what his rank), all German land claims were actually fraudulent.
In April 1885, the Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft für Südwest-Afrika (German Colonial Society for Southwest Africa, or DKGSWA) was founded with the support of German bankers (Gerson von Bleichröder, Adolph von Hansemann), industrialists (Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck) and politicians (Frankfurt Mayor Johannes von Miquel). DKGSWA was granted monopoly rights to expolit mineral deposits.2 The new Society soon bought the assets of Lüderitz's failing enterprises. Once diamonds were discovered (in 1908), they — along with gold, copper, platinum, and other minerals — became a major investment. However, at this time the colonial aim was to dispossess the indigenous peoples of their land for the use of German settlers, as well as be a source of raw materials and a market of German industrial products.3
Lüderitz drowned in 1886 while on an expedition to the Orange River. In keeping with Bismarck's policy that that private rather than public money should be used to develop the colonies, the company bought all of Lüderitz’ land and mining rights. In May 1886, Heinrich Ernst Göring was appointed Commissioner of German South West Africa, and established his administration at Otjimbingwe. A law was subsequently passed to create the colony's legal system: one set of laws for Europeans, and a second set of laws for natives.4
Over the next several years relations between the Germans and indigenous peoples continued to worsen. In 1888 the first group of Schutztruppen (colonial protectorate troops) arrived, sent secretly to protect the base at Otjimbingwe. The Schutztruppe detachment consisted of two officers, five non-commissioned officers, and 20 black soldiers. By the end of that year, Göring was expelled from South West Africa by Samuel Maharero, leader of the Herero people, when it was found that Göing had extended his house over a Herero ancestral graveyard.5 Also, by the late 1880s, the South West Africa Company was nearly bankrupt and had to ask Bismarck for help and additional troops.
In 1890 Germany declared German South West Africa a Crown Colony, and sent additional troops to the area.6 At the same time, the colony grew through the acquisition of the Caprivi Strip in the northeast, which promised new trade routes. This territory was acquired through the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty between Britain and Germany.7 Almost simultaneously, in August through September, 1892, the South West Africa Company, Ltd. (SWAC) was established by the German, British, and Cape Colony governments, aided by financiers to raise the capital required in order to enlarge mineral exploitation (specifically, the Damaraland concession's copper deposit interests).
German South West Africa was the only German colony where Germans settled in large numbers. German settlers were drawn to the colony by economic possibilities in copper (and later, diamond) mining, and especially farming. In 1902 the colony had 200,000 inhabitants, though only 2,595 were German, 1,354 were Afrikaner, and 452 were British. By 1914, 9,000 more German settlers had arrived. There were probably around 80,000 Herero people, 60,000 Ovambo people, and 10,000 Namaqua people — all referred to, disparagingly, as "Hottentots".
“Generally, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Africans did not simply accept the yoke of colonialism and many fervently resisted ... As Lundtofte has observed, ‘[t]he European hunger for power and attempt to exploit resources in Africa in the 1890s assumed various forms but in most cases provoked Africans to rise in rebellion. Examples of atrocities committed by Europeans in their attempts to pacify these rebellions are innumerable.’"8
The first "Hottentot Uprising" of the Nama and their legendary leader Hendrik Witbooi (Namaqua chief) occurred in 1893-1894. The following years saw many further local uprisings against German rule. Descriptions of the two uprisings with the most devastating local impact, follow.
One of Administrator Theodor Leutwein's (1894-1898) most urgent tasks in German South West Africa was to establish German sovereignty throughout the colony. Unfortunately, he did this by interfering with tribal organization.
Circa 1894, a German trader had been murdered in Kai|khauan (Khauas Nama) tribal territory around Naosanabis (today's Leonardville, Namibia), "and the chief had refused to hand over the murderer to Major Kurt von François. In addition, the Kuaha had attacked a group of tribesman from Bechuanaland, who lived on their lands under German protection. They had killed many people and had stolen their cattle. Finally, the Khaua chief had ill-treated a Berg-Damana chief who had acted as von François's messenger and demanded the surrender of the German trader. By these actions the Khaua chief, Andries Lambert, had flouted every aspect of public order with an almost systematic thoroughness."9 Leutwein wanted to discipline the Khaua for political reasons, especially because the Bechuanas who had been attacked, had been under a protection treaty.
"In February 1894, a few weeks after landing in Swakopmund, Leutwein marched to the Khaua tribal centre with a hundred troops and one field-gun. ... His tactical surprise was only intended to prevent the tribe from scattering, and to allow him to appear as the representative of victorious state authority. ... in the negotiations of 17 March 1894, Andries Lambert accepted Leutwein's conditions[, which] involved the recognition of German sovereignty, the surrender of arms and munitions, the return of stolen cattle and the pledge that he would act 'peacefully and quietly' in the future."10
To ensure compliance, Andries Lambert was released "to supervise the surrender of arms and stolen goods, but hostages were detained, among them the chief's brother. The chief then attempted to escape from the Germans with his whole tribe, but the preparations ... were discovered".11 Lambert was arrested and subsequently executed.
In the aftermath of this incident, Leutwein attempted to insure order by inserting German rule into the tribe's natural succession. As the legitimate heir to the chiefdom had been brought up with a branch of the tribe in Berseba, Leutwein appointed Andries Lambert's brother regent until the arrival of the new chief. Lambert's brother and the whole tribal assembly signed the protection treaty, which was to be ratified later in Windhoek by the new chief. The tribe's weapons remained impounded and their horses were forcibly purchased by the Germans. The stolen cattle were returned to the Bechuana, who were promised their living areas 'in the name of His Majesty the Emperor'. Previously they had only "leased" them from the Khaua. The tribe's submission meant it was "forbidden to wage war and to raid cattle", even though these activities were the entire basis of the tribe's economic existence. (Unlike the Herero, the Khaua did not increase their small herds by systematic cattle-raising, and they had no organized system of reserve supplies. Without "raiding" cattle they could not hope to survive.).12, 13
"In the longer term, Leutwein's policy had a devastating effect on the Khaua tribe. Not only had the chief been made liable to deposition, but no substitute was found for their nomadic life of raiding and hunting. Their whole tribal structure was shattered. Although the material and organisational framework had been preserved for the tribe to live independently on the basis of cattle-breeding ... the Khaua could have benefitted from these opportunities only if they had been their own independent and rational decisions. ... There was no opportunity for a gradual process of acculturation to take place. ..."12
In 1896 The Khaua rebelled against the restraint under which they lived. The revolt was defeated, and the tribe scattered into prisoner-of-war and forced-labour camps. They lost their entire territory.14
"Genocide 'is never a sudden or unplanned act. ... it is a deliberate, pre-meditated and carefully orchestrated orgy of mass murder for political purposes ... a well organized campaign of carnage..."15
The Herero-Namaqua Genocide in German South West Africa is considered to have been the first genocide of the 20th century.16, 17 The genocide was prompted by a brief “war” between the indigenous Herero people, led by Samuel Maharero, and the German colonial rulers of German South West Africa. The war started on January 12, 1904; remote farms were attacked, and approximately 150 German settlers were killed. At first, the Schutztruppe of only 766 troops and native auxiliary forces was, no match for the Herero. The Herero went on the offensive, sometimes surrounding Okahandja and Windhoek, and destroying the railway bridge to Osona. The Germans were unable to defeat the Herero, who were extremely dispersed. However, a stand-off between the Germans and the Hereros at the Waterburg Plateau in mid-April prompted Leutwein to offer the Hereros a negotiated settlement.18 Berlin, however, refused to permit a negotiated settlement. The sentiment of the German military was expressed by the Grosser Generalstab: "He who wishes to colonize the territory must first take the sword and wage war — not with limited and puny means, but with strong measures which command respect and must persevere until the total subjugation of the natives has been accomplished."19
Leutwein was removed as Commander and replaced with Lieutenant General Adrian Lothar von Trotha. I. Goldblatt describes von Trotha as 'a man who believed that the bowl containing the fish should be smashed by heavy hammer blows, rather than by the quiet withdrawal of the water, which was Leutwein's policy."20 Von Trotha defeated the Herero in the Battle of Waterberg on August 11, 1904, and drove them into the Omaheke desert, where most of them died of thirst.
In October 1904, the Namaqua people entered the struggles against the colonial power under their leaders Hendrik Witbooi (Namaqua chief) and Jakobus Morenga (often referred to as "the black Napoleon"). This uprising was finally quashed during 1907 – 1908.
The Battle of Waterberg took place on August 11, 1904. It was the decisive battle in the German campaign against the Herero.
The German Imperial Forces under the command of von Trotha numbered just over 1,500.21 They were armed with 1,625 modern rifles, 30 artillery pieces and 14 machine guns. The Herero, under the command of Samuel Maharero, in expectation of peace negotiations, had assembled some 3,500-6,000 warriors along with their families.22. The total number of Hereros in the area is estimated at 25,000 to 50,000. Most of the Herero warriors were armed with rifles. The rest were armed with traditional close combat weapons called kirri.
The Germans had effectively "cornered" the Herero at the Waterberg Plateau. When the Kaiserreich replaced Leutwein withvon Trotha, they expected to end the revolt with a decisive military victory. The Waterberg Plateau where the Herero concentrated lay 100 kilometers east the railhead source of German supplies. Von Trotha spent nearly three months (June, July, and part of August) transporting troops and supplies by ox- drawn carts to the site of the expected battle. In the meantime, the Herero, estimated around 60,000 men, women, and children, with an equal number of cattle, drew on meager grass and water supplies while awaiting overtures from the Germans.
On August 11, 1904, von Trotha intended part of his force to squeeze the Herero south of the Plateau with columns from the east and west while two more columns would seal off the escape route to the south and southeast. However, the commander of the southeastern blocking column failed to maneuver his troops into position in a timely fashion, nor communicate his tardiness to Trotha. Meanwhile, the western advancing column did not stop at the appointed line and pressed the Herero through the unclosed gap created by the failure of the southeastern troops.
The bulk of the Herero and their cattle escaped eastward into the Omaheke desert.
Trotha and his staff were not prepared for the unexpected failure, and at the end of an attenuated supply line and occupying ground thoroughly foraged by the Herero, the Germans could not immediately pursue the Herero. While signaling to Berlin a complete victory and subsequent pursuit, Trotha began to move his force westward toward the railroad.
The Germans had won a tactical victory by driving the Herero from Waterberg, but had failed in their intentions to end the Herero Revolt with a decisive battle. Trotha soon thereafter ordered the pursuit of the Herero eastward into the desert, intending to prevent Herero reorganization by depriving them of pastureland and watering holes. This campaign caused most of the deaths of Herero people during the Revolt, and resulted in the notorious Vernichtungsbefeh (extermination order) of October 2, 1904:
'I, the great general of the German soldiers, send this letter to the Hereros. The Hereros are German subjects no longer. They have killed, stolen, cut off the ears and other parts of the body of wounded soldiers, and now are too cowardly to want to fight any longer. I announce to the people that whoever hands me one of the chiefs shall receive 1,000 marks, and 5,000 marks for Samuel Maherero. The Herero nation must now leave the country. If it refuses, I shall compel it to do so with the 'long tube' (cannon). Any Herero found inside the German frontier, with or without a gun or cattle, will be executed. I shall spare neither women nor children. I shall give the order to drive them away and fire on them. Such are my words to the Herero people.''23
He further gave orders that:
"This proclamation is to read to the troops at roll-call, with the addition that the unit that catches a captain will also receive the appropriate reward, and that the shooting at women and children is to be understood as shooting above their heads, so as to force them to run [away]. I assume absolutely that this proclamation will result in taking no more male prisoners, but will not degenerate into atrocities against women and children. The latter will run away if one shoots at them a couple of times. The troops will remain conscious of the good reputation of the German soldier."24
Von Trotha’s tactics were in marked contrast to those of the Herero leaders, who were, in the main, careful to ensure that only soldiers were attacked.25 His troops also eventually routed the Namaqua, to whom Trotha sent an invitation to surrender on April 22, 1905:
The Nama who chooses not to surrender and lets himself be seen in German territory will be shot, until all are exterminated. Those who, at the start of the rebellion, committed murder against whites or have commanded that whites be murdered have, by law, forfeited their lives. As for the few not defeated, it will fare with them as it fared with the Herero, who in their blindness also believed that they could make war successfully on the powerful German Emperor and the great German people. I ask you, where are the Herero today?26
Approximately 10,000 Nama died during the fighting, the remaining 9,000 were confined to concentration camps.27
Although they ultimately gave the German government what it wanted, Von Trotha’s methods caused a public outcry which led Imperial Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow to ask Kaiser Wilhelm II to relieve von Trotha of his command.28 This, however, came too late to help the Herero, as the few survivors had been herded into camps and used as labour for German businesses, where many died of overwork, malnutrition or disease. Prior to the uprisings, there were estimated to be 80,000 Herero. The 1911 census recorded 15,000.
"In January 1905, as part of the campaign to beat down Herero and Nama resistance, the German colonial authorities officially embarked on a policy of interning prisoners-of-war in what was labelled Konzentrationslager. The concept of the concentration camps was borrowed from the South African Boer War, where four years earlier thousands of people had died as a result of internment in such camps.29
"In the ... concentration camps, prisoners were forced to perform hard, unpaid labour regardless of gender, age or physical condition. The result was exceedingly high mortality in the camps — as high as 70 percent of all interned prisoners in some cases. Overall, deaths among prisoners-of-war between 1905-08 accounted for a third of the total wartime mortality among Herero and Nama. It is estimated that the Nama population was decimated by as much as 50% and the Herero by up to 80%.30
In total, from 24,000 up to 100,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama died.31, 32, 33
The information in this section was gathered painstakingly by Casper W. Erichsen, who describes some of the difficulty he encountered, in ""The Angel of Death has descended violently among them: Concentration camps and prisoners-of-war in Nimibia, 1904-08", University of Leiden African Studies Centre, Leiden, 2005, p. xvi:
My research necessarily focussed [sic] most of its attention on the 'privileged historical site' of the [National] archives [of Namibia]. The task was not straightforward, however, because files dealing with the administration of the concentration camps, a task that befell the German Army, no longer existed. In 1915, the German Colonial Administration had these files destroyed to avoid them falling in the hands of the rapidly approaching Union troops. German copies of these files are similarly believed to have gone up in flames during the heavy bombardment of Germany in the latter stages of the Second World War. So, there were no files that directly related to the day-to-day administration of Shark Island Extermination Camp or the other concentration camps. Moreover, the former head of the archives once claimed not to have seen any substantial evidence of the concentration camps in her alleged research of the archival collection.34
In the table below, Extermination camps are in red; Internment or concentration camps are in blue, and Collection or Work camps are unmarked.
|Name35, 36||Est. Deaths37||Notes|
Four sub-camps, or kraals:38
1. Young children;
2. Prisoners of war;
3. Sick and dying;
4. Police camp (mostly Damara)
|Shark Island||3,000||In Lüderitzbucht, 121.2% for Nama, 30% for Herero.|
|Windhoek||50.4%||There were two lager (camps) at Windhoek.|
One should bear in mind that the above table of concentration camps, extermination camps and collection or work camps did not exhaust all the other places where indigenous people were interned.
Historians such as Hannah Arendt, Casper Erichsen and Jeremy Sarkin-Hughes feel that the experience the Germans gained in German South West Africa and other colonies (see, especially, German East Africa) acted as a bridge between the Second and Third Reichs. For example, there was at least one German citizen who visited German South West Africa during the period between 1904 and 1908, as well as working closely with the Nazi Party in Germany (straddling the Second Reich and Third Reich): Eugen Fischer, director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics (KWI-A). Fischer also worked closely for many years with Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, who became Fischer's successor at the KWI-A. It is indisputable that Eugen Fischer was fully apprised of the activities of the Nazis.49, 50, 51, 52, 53
Paul Rohrbach was the Settlements Commissioner in GSWA. Concerned with miscegenation, he is quoted as follows:
Independent of what was happening in German South West Africa, in 1918 the Germans had invaded the Ukraine while people like Symon Petliura (infamous anti-Semite) were also trying to establish an independent Ukraine. Rohrbach worked with Field Marshal Hermann von Eichhorn, commander of the German forces in the Ukraine, to install General Pavel Petrovitch Skoropadski as "Hetmann" of the Ukraine.55 During the Third Reich, German colonists from German East Africa were moved into Polish land "annexed" in 1939, displacing Poles (the indigenous population), Jews and Gypsies. This new settlement area was called the Reichsgau Wartheland (German-speaking territories annexed to Germany from 1938 were generally organised into Reichsgaue or administrative 'districts'); as the people in Poland and the Ukraine were considered inferior, they could thus be exterminated and replaced with Germans from the former African colonies and other places.
Also active both in Deutsch-Sudwestafrika and in Nazi Germany were two members of a well-known family: Heinrich Ernst Göring and his son, Hermann Göring.
Franz Ritter von Epp also straddled both the Second Reich and the Third Reich. He served as a company commander in the German colony Deutsch-Sudwestafrika, where he took part in the bloody Herero and Namaqua Genocide.57 Von Epp also served as the NSDAP's head of its Military-Political Office from 1928 to 1945, and later as leader of the German Colonial Society, an organization devoted to regaining Germany's lost colonies.
Since several later NSDAP leaders were either active in, or informed about, the operation of Shark Island extermination camp, it has been described as an important predecessor of later Nazi extermination camps during the holocaust.58
Several other notable members of the NSDAP received their initial education repressing people in German colonies59, including:
|Franz Ritter von Epp||Reichsstatthalter of Bavaria, member of GSWA schutztruppen|
Heinrich Ernst Göring
|Heinrich worked in German Southwest Africa, Hermann was a well-known member of the NSDAP|
Originated the slogan Lebensraum while in GSWA in 1910
A sympathizer who influenced the NSDAP since 1923, and held many of the same beliefs60
|Eduard von Liebert||Governor of German South West Africa, Member NSDAP|
|Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck||German South West Africa, German Kamerun and German East Africa with General von Trotha; joined NSDAP in 1928|
|Friedrich von Lindequist||Governor of German South West Africa; member NSDAP|
|Karl Peters||Founder of German East Africa; member NSDAP in 1933; praised by Kaiser Wilhelm II and Hitler|
|Wilhelm Roemann||Served in German South West Africa under General Trotha; member NSDAP|
Settlement commissioner in GSWA61
Rohrbach tried to establish an independent Ukraine in 191862
Rohrbach was associated with the Reichsgau Wartheland during the Third Reich
|Heinrich Schneem||Governor of German East Africa; President, Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft (DKG); President, Deutsche weltwirtschaftliche gessellschaft; member NSDAP|
|Theodore Seitz||Governor of German Kamerun; Governor of German South West Africa; President, Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft (DKG)|
Fifty-five years after Arendt published "The Origins of Totalitarianism," a new group of historians is beginning to extend the specific relationships between Germany's African colonies during the Second Reich, and Nazi policies in Eastern Europe during the Third Reich. See Benjamin Madley, "From Africa to Auschwitz: How German South West Africa Incubated Ideas and Methods Adopted and Developed by the Nazis in Eastern Europe", European History Quarterly 2005 35:429, p. 429.
The Herero and Namaqua genocide has been recognised by the United Nations and by the German Federal Republic. At the 100th anniversary of the camp's foundation, the German Minister for Economic Development and Cooperation of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul commemorated the dead on-site and apologised for the camp on behalf of Germany.
"A number of eyewitness accounts do exist and some victim accounts are found in the Blue Book, which recorded accounts of the atrocities committed during the Herero war. Since the British produced the Blue Book during World War I reservations about its objectivity remain. However, the sentiments contained in the 1918 Report were already present in a British report of 1909, which stated:
"'The great aim of German policy in German South West Africa, as regards the native, is to reduce him to a state of serfdom, and, where he resists, to destroy him altogether. The native, to the German, is a baboon and nothing more. The war against the Hereros, conducted by General Von Trotha, was one of extermination; hundreds -- men, women and children -- were driven into desert country, where death from thirst was their end; whose [sic] left over are now in great locations near Windhuk [sic] where they eke out a miserable existence; labour is forced upon them and naturally is unwillingly performed.'"64
"In view of the cruelty, treachery [and] commercialism by which the German colonial authorities have gradually reduced their natives to the status of cattle (without so much of a flutter being caused among English peace loving philanthropists) the [Portuguese] S. Thome agitation in its later phases against a weak [and] silly nation without resources is the more sickening. These Herreros were butchered by thousands during the war & have been ruthlessly flogged into subservience since."65