April being genocide awareness and prevention month, The African Perspective has been running various stories with the goal of highlighting a number of sensitive situations in the motherland and the effects of wars and genocide. As the month comes to a conclusion, we would like to bring to your attention, the first genocide of the 20th century,the Herero and Namaqua Genocide, a tragic event that most Africans aren’t familiar with
Thirty years before Hitler came to power in Germany, and about forty years before Raphael Lemkin authored the word genocide, a genocide had already been committed at the hands of Germany. Today, when the word “Holocaust” is mentioned (or googled) people automatically think of the terrible events that happened in Germany (and her colonies) during the second world war and how millions of Jewish children, women and men were brutally packed into concentration camps and mercilessly killed. What the popular media doesn’t tell us is that the first Holocaust committed under the German rule did not take place in Europe but in Africa and that the people subjected to this genocide were not Jews or Gypsies but Africans.
Furthermore, this event is completely missing in our schools and literature. For this reason, I’ve sort help from a documentary initially made by BBC films which outlines the events that lead up to the deaths of 3/4 of the population of Herero people, and 1/2 of the population of Nama people in Namibia. Press Play on the following videos and you will be blown away.
Those who were lucky enough to survive the desert, majority of whom were women and children, were caught and put in concentration camps. At this camps, the Germany authorities forced the Herero into slave work for the German settlers and military. At Shark Island, the deadliest of all concentration camp, all prisoners were categorized into groups fit and unfit for work, and pre-printed death certificates indicating “death by exhaustion following privation” were issued. A report published later by the British government indicated that in 1906, Shark Island registered an annual death rate of 227% for the Nama, and 86% for the Herero.
Eugen Fischer, the famous German scientist, came to the concentration camps to conduct medical experiments on race using children of Herero people and the ‘Mulatto” children of Herero women and German men as test subjects. The experiments conducted in this camps included sterilization, injection of smallpox, typhus as well as tuberculosis. “The numerous cases of mixed offspring upset the German colonial administration and the obsession with racial purity. Eugen Fischer studied 310 mixed-race children, calling them “Rehoboth bastards” of “lesser racial quality”. Fischer also subjected them to numerous racial tests such as head and body measurements, eye and hair examinations. In conclusion of his studies he advocated genocide of alleged “inferior races” stating that “whoever thinks thoroughly the notion of race, can not arrive at a different conclusion”.Fischer’s (at the time considered) scientific actions and torment of the children were part of wider history of abusing Africans for experiments, and echoed earlier actions by German anthropologists who stole skeletons and bodies from African graveyards and took them to Europe for research or sale. An estimated 3000 skulls were sent to Germany for experimentation. In October 2011, after 3 years of talks, the first skulls were due to be returned to Namibia for burial.Other experiments were made by doctor Bofinger, who injected Herero that were suffering from scurvy with various substances including arsenic and opium, afterwards he researched the effects of these substances by performing autopsies on dead bodies”.
Influence On Nazi Germany
Before the Nazi murdered millions of Jewish people in Europe, the story of what happened in Namibia was of no interest to many intellectuals. Since then, the Herero genocide has commanded the attention of historians and scholars. They have studied the relationship between the Herero Genocide and the Holocaust extensively. Majority of them argue that the Herero genocide set a precedent for what followed later in Germany. According to Benjamin Madley, “the German experience in Namibia was a crucial precursor to Nazi colonialism and genocide. He argues that personal connections, literature (Hitler read Eugen Fischer’s experiments in Namibia and decorated him with awards) and public debates served as conduits for communicating colonialist and genocidal ideas and methods from the colony to Germany. Tony Barta, who is also a respected scholar argues that “Herero Genocide was an inspiration for Hitler in his war against the Jews and that the two tragedies have key similarities in that the perpetrators conducted medical experiments on their subjects, believed to be of superior race hence the elimination of the weaker race to enhance their superior one.
“I destroy the African tribes with streams of blood… Only following this cleansing can something new emerge, which will remain”. General Lothar Von Trotha
Sources;The Revolt of The Herero
photo courtesy of photopedia