The genocide of the Herero and Namaqua tribes of Namibia is a part of the history of the German Empires, and imperialism and colonialism in general, which has been forgotten and blanked out. It is not commonly known that this genocide in southwest Africa was the first genocide of the 20th century. One of the reasons why this genocide is so important in history is because the theories and experiments that came out of it were used in the rise of the Third Reich.
The documentary Genocide and the Second Reich not only shows the history of German imperialism, but gives gruesome details and evidence about the racist, colonialist theories behind the genocide. This documentary is an excellent analysis of the nature of imperialism and its connection to private enterprise.
Beginning of the Second Reich’s Colonialism
The documentary starts in the late 19th century of the Second Reich. The German Empire is on the economic downfall. About 1.25 Million Germans left for America in the 1870’s. The German Empire had a rising trend of nationalism and many of the leaders were discussing theories and possibilities to try and fix the falling empire. A geographer named Friedrich Ratzel founded a theory which he thought would ensure the survival of the German Empire. The theory was called “Lebensraum“, literally “living space,” and it was an expansionist theory stating that for a nation to survive it must expand itself to obtain more land and resources.
The ruling government justified the use of this theory for the survival of their empire. Ratzel and the other imperialists in the government saw Africa as a place to spread the German race. But approximately 4,000 of the German people seemed to favor the movement to New York rather than to Africa. Besides this fact, settlers still expanded to a part of Africa called Namibia. Namibia was chosen because of its updated technology and high literacy rate for Africa. The German Empire soon came to see the native inhabitants of Namibia as a threat to their expansion.
The Bourgeois Bedrock for Colonialism: How Private Enterprise Encouraged Genocide in Africa
Chancellor Bismarck was opposed to “colonialist adventures” at first, expecting nothing but political trouble. In 1884 he had a change of mind after imperialist organizations stirred “Kolonialfieber” (colonial fever) among Germany. They convinced the public (and maybe Bismarck) that the vastly increasing impoverishment could be stopped by acquiring colonies and Bismarck adopted a policy which German Historian Hans-Ulrich Wehler labels “social-imperialism” (he defines it as military conquest with the aim of deflecting economic problems and social tensions to the outside).
The colonies indeed did cost far more than they benefitted Imperial German economy but private enterprise made extraordinary profits. The most important and most fiercely imperialist organizations were the “Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft” (German Colonial Society), the result of a merger of two small organizations in 1887, and the “Alldeutscher Verband” (All-German Union or Pan-German League).
The “Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft,” or German Colonial Society, was organizationally weak (15,000 members in the late 1890s, rose to 42,000 till 1914) but very important and influential in German politics due to concentrated propaganda and agitation for Germany’s “righful” “Platz an der Sonne,” her “place in the sun.” They had prominent supporters and their leadership was composed of – surprise! – members of the “Zentralverband Deutscher Industrieller,” the Central Union of German Industrialists and high-ranking bankers which later financed Hitler and the NSDAP. Friedrich Ratzel was member of their Executive Committee. They had close links and worked closely together with the “Alldeutscher Verband” and later the NSDAP.
The “Alldeutscher Verband” (All-German Union or Pan-German League) was even worse and the most influential imperialist organization. They propagated nationalism, militarism and expansionism based on “Lebensraum” theory, Social Darwinism and often anti-Semitism. It was founded in 1891 by the three industrialists: Alfred Hugenberg (later leader of the fascist DNVP and minister in Hitler’s first cabinet), Emil Kirdorf and Emil Possehl together with Friedrich Ratzel. Small wonder they welcomed and cheered WWI, supported the Freikorps, Thule Society and later DNVP and NSDAP. The German Historian Fritz Fischer called Hitler “Kind der Alldeutschen” (child of the All-Germans) as their volkish ideology aiming at an ethnic Greater German Reich, new “Lebensraum” and the allegedly vital “Drang nach dem Osten” (yearning for the east) directly merged with Hitler’s ideological concepts.
After WW1 both organizations quickly placed their hopes on the NSDAP and saw their programme as the safest guarantee for renewed German expansionism. Indeed, the Nazis celebrated and glorified colonial history. In 1934 the “Kolonialpolitisches Amt der NSDAP” (Colonial Policies Office/Agency of the NSDAP) was established with von Epp as its leader.
Start of the Racial Hatred and Conflicts
When the German settlers started the expansion into Africa, they tried to negotiate with the tribal leaders. The dislike of the Herero people gave rise to tension between the German settlers and the Herero natives. The settlers then used their racial ideas about the Africans to justify the mistreatment of them. The rise of the workplaces owned by Germans which employed the natives also gave rise to many problems. The Germans would commit crimes like abusing the woman or raping them. The problem was the natives had no way to get help from the state, and most of these cases went without justice. Because these rapes and abuses happened so often, citizens back in Germany heard of these cases. Many newspapers in Germany would print comics and articles showing how the settlers were treating the natives. This caused people in German to have opposition against the German expansionism.
Meanwhile, among the Herero a minor revolt occurred in the south which sparked more rebellions all over the Herero land. In response to this, the German empire’s army and the settlers themselves were planning to start a war against the Herero people. The German governor of the settlers, named Loitvine, was opposed to this war and as a result was suppressed at first. Soon after though, in 1904, the governor left the German area and shortly after the Herero launched a quick attack against the settlers, killing about 100 German. The Germans used this as a reason to start their ethnic cleansing campaign against the Herero people.
Rise of German Hatred and Ethnic Cleansing
When Governor Loitvine went back to the German settlement he tried to talk to the Herero leaders about stopping the battles and uprisings. This information leaked back into Berlin, which gave a rise to the right-wing media reaction against the Herero. It portrayed them as savages who needed to be crushed by the mighty German empire. Militarism, nationalism and racism spread over the German empire like wildfire. The leader of the Second Reich, at the time Kaiser Wilhelm, responded to these uprisings by sending a new army to crush the rebellions. Commander Lothar Von Trotha was sent as the leader of this new army. He and the new German army arrived in the German settlement six months after the rebellions had occurred.
General Lothar von Trotha already had a reputation for his ruthless and brutal ways during the Chinese Boxer Rebellion. Von Trotha didn’t limit his genocidal calls to the “Vernichtungsbefehl” but additionally declared in a letter to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Alfred Graf von Schlieffen:
“I believe that the [Herero] nation as such should be annihilated, or, if this was not possible by tactical measures, have to be expelled from the country.”
Count von Schlieffen replied:
“The conflagrant race war can only be ended by the annihilation of one party.”
What the documentary does not mention is that one of the driving forces of the protests against von Trotha was the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), most notably its leader, the Marxist August Bebel.
While the Governor Loitvine was still trying to negotiate with the Herero leaders, Trotha saw it as weak and against the interests of the German race. While Loitvine tried to negotiate, the Herero people started to move away from the settlers and break off all communication. At the same time the German army was setting up with the most up-to-date weaponry they had. On August 11th, 1904, the German colonial army attacked the Herero tribes. After weeks of fighting the Herero people were pushed into the Kalahari desert. Thousands of Herero died of starvation and dehydration because of this. Van Trotha then gave a message to all the Herero people that if his men found any of them, armed or unarmed, whether men, women or children, he would shoot them on sight. He also sent a message to leave their land or they will be killed.
Germany’s Reaction and the Genocide
News from the German-occupied land soon reached Germany. Radical protests spread across the country against the occupation of Namibia. Cartoons, speeches and rallies were made against this genocide. This seemed to have an effect on Kaiser William II, who soon told von Trotha to accept the surrender from the Herero people. 13,000 Hereros were rounded up after six months and were promised they could return to their homeland, but this promise was a lie. Concentration camps were soon set up for the Herero people to use them for labor and experiments. These types of camps were only used twice before in history — by the Spanish in Cuba and the British in South Africa. However, these camps went a step further, and made the camps places of death. This style of concentration camp would be used during the Second Reich’s occupation and later, during the Holocaust of the Third Reich.
The first camp that was set up contained approximately 4,000 Herero people. It was located in modern day Windhoek, Namibia. Most of the Herero that were sent to the camp were beaten, starved to death or died of sickness. Another camp was set up in modern day Swakopmund, Namibia, which was the center of trade for Namibia at that time. 3,000 of the Herero people were taken to this camp for slave labor. Documents and pictures of the camps are still able to be found in archives today. This shows how the German Reich documented their camps very well so deaths and other information is usually very accurate. Information of the Herero people leaked out and a local tribe called the Nama people started a rebellion.
They eventually surrendered, which led to 1,732 of them getting sent to a camp off the coast of the town of Lüderitz called “Haifischinsel” in the original German, or “Shark Island.” In seven months 1,032 died and 90% of the rest were too weak to work from starvation. Shark Island is now a modern-day camping site.
The Cost of Slave Labor and Nazism
Many other camps were set up all around the German territory, which led to the deaths of thousands of Herero. A railroad company was sent 2,000 Herero slaves. Herero as young as six years old were put to work Of that 2,000, 67.48% died within a few months. The private companies bought these slaves for a monthly fee of 10 German marks a month. These camps were also used for research on “scientific racism” and many of the parts of the dead Herero were sent back to Germany for research. A German scientist named Eugen Fischer was a prominent researcher at the time. Eugen’s research was used in the studies during the Nazi regime. His ideas were used to prove that the “white race” was superior to the “black race.” In his research he said he proved that black people were just animals.
The Aftermath and the Relation to the Nazis
In 1908 the camps were shut down. The documents add up to approximately 65,000 deaths of the Herero people (about three-quarters of the total population) and almost half of the Nama people were killed off. The territory of Namibia taken by the Germans was still claimed by the German empire. The rest of the Herero and Nama people were sold off to farmers as slaves.
About a decade later the German empire was falling and various groups were trying to gain power. Freikcorps was a group on the rise which contained old colonial soldiers and leaders who resisted the communist uprisings in Germany. A man named Franz Ritter von Epp was a member of this party; he later helped form the National Socialist German Workers Party (the Nazi Party). The Freikorps were ultra-right paramilitary units trained and deployed under the command of SPD “bloodhound” Gustav Noske used after the November Revolution of 1918 to butcher revolutionary workers and communists like Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in the streets of Berlin. General Franz Ritter von Epp de facto ruled over the city of Munich for a short period after he and his Freikorps unit massacred the supporters of the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic. The headline of the edition of the “Völkischer Beobachter” shown reads “The Political Creed of General von Epp – Why I have become a National Socialist.”
Von Epp had a pupil, his name was Adolf Hitler. Von Epp showed Hitler the theories such as Lebensraum, which was one of the theories that inspired the genocides if the Herero and Nama people. Hitler read Eugen Fischer, who inspired him and is mentioned out in Hitlers work Mein Kampf. Eugen obtained many Nazi honors and was a big researcher of that time.
Reactions in Modern-Day Germany & Namibia
Families of the Second Reich’s General von Trotha have apologized for his crimes against the Herero and Nama people:
“Descendants of Lothar von Trotha, who ordered the killing of Herero people, expressed deep shame over their ancestor’s actions and apologised. Tens of thousands were killed or died of starvation when the general tried to crush an uprising over land ownership. Germany’s government offered a general apology but refuses to pay reparations. The chiefs of six Herero royal houses met representatives of the von Trotha family in the central Namibian town of Omaruru” (1).
In the documentary Genocide & the Second Reich, the narrator talks about how many ancestors of the murdered Herero and Nama want an apology and reparations from the German government, and for the crimes to be labeled as an act of genocide. In the mid 2000’s a German representative went to Namibia to ask for forgiveness and admitted that it was indeed an act of genocide. To this day, German officials will say that the German government had nothing to do with this genocide. Their excuse it that General von Trotha left in 1905.
There was quite a lot of criticism, indignation and open outrage when Mrs. Wieczoreck-Zeul issued her highly controversial apology to the Herero people. The German government assured the people that essentially the whole story goes back to a vile British World War I propaganda lie, the completely exaggerated “Blue Book.” There are still entire websites and books devoted to rationalize and trivialize von Trotha’s “Vernichtungsbefehl,” to “prove” that he didn’t mean what he said but wanted to intimidate the Herero and force them to surrender. This clearly was not his intention, which becomes even more clear by his letter to Count von Schlieffen. Another myth is that the brave colonial soldiers, the pride of the German nation and the Prussian army, would have never committed or allowed such a horrible crime to happen, essentially the same approach as the apologists of the “saubere Wehrmacht” (“clean army”) use to blame every atrocity in World War II on the Nazi officials and the SS while the Wehrmacht allegedly consisted only of honorable patriots devoted to Prussian morals. This claim is ridiculous in both cases and historical evidence suggests something very different.
“The Herero never completely recovered from the conflict and of the around 100,000 that today live in Namibia many live in poverty or work on the farms of white landowners. In 2001, tribal leaders tried to sue Germany for compensation in U.S. courts, but the claim for $4 billion (€3.12 billion) never went very far. They also want reparations from Deutsche Bank, which allegedly profited from the forced labor in the camps” (2).
Even today, the land that was stolen from the Herero still belongs to white land owners. Even today, they live in impoverished conditions as wage slaves. Justice is not served for the Herero, even after 100 years of abuse from the same group.
Imperialism and the Second Reich
The Second Reich of the German empire is seen in the era of “New Imperialism.” The German empire was one of the many imperialist powers at the time looking for a piece of Africa to make into a colony. During the period of the Second Reich (1871-1918), the empire sought to found as many colonies as it could. 19th century imperialist ideas such as Lebensraum gave reason and justification for the Second Reich to obtain colonies in Africa. The government during the Second Reich consisted of the rich aristocracy, the monarchy and the leadership in the army. The atrocities in Namibia are a clear example of what the German imperialists of the time did to gain territory and resources. Even in modern-day Germany the ruling class now consists of the capitalist class, which participate in imperialist wars.
Genocide and the Second Reich is a fantastic insight about the first genocide of the 20th century. It paves a clear path of the atrocities of the Second Reich and their imperialist ambitions in Africa. The facts are clear and the documentation they use is in the old German archives which can be seen today. The evidence directly implicates the German government, as well as various private companies which participated in the genocide through the running (and sometimes outright ownership) of camps and the purchase of slaves.
One of the most interesting parts of the documentary is that this genocide is so easily overlooked by history, but the ideas and research that came out of it inspired the greatest genocide the of the 20th century — the Holocaust. Many generals and scientists from this genocide were also players in the Holocaust. Imperialist and nationalist theories used to justify these actions are explained very well by the documentary and are connected to the theories of the Third Reich. Modern-day responses to these genocides are also shown in this documentary. The old concentration camps are used for camping sites and mass graves are used as grounds for riding four-wheelers, dune buggies and tourist souvenir shops. The documentary is very educational on the topic of the connection between imperialism, colonialism, genocide and private enterprise, and gives a detailed analysis of one of the most overlooked genocides of all time.
Sources, Further Reading
3) More info on Göring’s father and “life” on Shark Island: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1314399/Hitlers-Holocaust-blueprint-Africa-concentration-camps-used-advance-racial-theories.html