Germany dealing with another horror from early 20th century

German East Africa, 1899. <a href=>Photo Credit</a>
German East Africa, 1899. Photo Credit

Germany has to confront another horror from its past: the genocide between 1904 and 1908 of the Herero people of Namibia and fifty percent of the Nama, another of the nation’s ethnic groups.  Namibia, Botswana’s westerly neighbor, was formerly the German colony of South West Africa.

The explicit command for the genocide of an entire people, drafted in 1904 by German General Lothar von Trotha, was addressed to the Herero people.

The concluding sentences, translated, told the Herero to leave the country.  If they refused, a cannon will be used on them.  Any Herero discovered within the German frontier, with or without cattle or a gun, will be killed.  Women and children will not be spared.

In three years, half the Nama and four-fifths of the Herero were dead.

Germany’s army, with the collusion of colonial administrators, killed thousands of men, women, and children in concentration camps. Victims were transported to the camps in cattle trucks and hunger and labor did the killing.

Camel cavalry, German Southwest Africa, 1904. Photo Credit
Camel cavalry, German Southwest Africa, 1904. Photo Credit

They brazenly had a “cause of death” column in ledgers pre-printed with the expression “death through fatigue, scurvy or heart disease.”

There are indications that Germany is preparing itself to accept the horrors it was involved in. German museums in 2011 started to return the skulls of concentration camp victims and human remains used by race scientists for experimentation.  Last summer, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier labeled what had occurred in Namibia as genocide and a war crime.

A Berlin museum is presently holding an exhibition about Germany’s colonial age. The German government is reportedly in advanced discussions with Namibia. There is hope Germany will make an official apology, and there is even talk of some sort of compensation, perhaps even reimbursement for the atrocities committed.

Germany is moving towards acknowledging one the most dreadful of the country’s war crimes, The Guardian reported.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE