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The Herero Massacre


One of the most understudied aspects of the Adolf Hitler regime in Nazi Germany was his attitude towards black people.  His plan of extermination of non-Aryan races certainly included blacks. 

If there was any doubt as to the German plan to exterminate blacks, the Herero massacre would clearly define their plan.  The Herero were the first ethnic group subjected to genocide in the 20th Century.  In the 1880s Germany made South West Africa (the land which is present day Namibia) their own colony.  As the Germans moved in, the inhabitants (the Herero and the Nama peoples) were forced off of their land.  The situation worsened when the Germans found that the land was rich in diamonds.   

 Then in the 1890s, a devastating cattle virus killed much of the cattle that the Herero herdsmen relied upon for livelihood.  The German colonists offered to give the Herero aid on credit, but the aid only led to large debts for the tribesman.  When the Herero could not pay off their debts, the Germans took the remaining livestock from them.  This action incensed the Herero, who wanted to regain their land and cattle.

 In January of 1904, the Herero rebelled against their German oppressors.  The Herero killed German men but spared women, children and missionaries.  In October of the same year the neighboring Nama people rebelled against the Germans as well.  The Germans sent in an army under the leadership of Lothar von Trotha.  Trotha labeled the conflict a “race war” and was determined to deal with the rebels with a heavy hand.  He ordered the Herero to leave the country or die.  He threatened to shoot every man, woman, and child, armed or not.  On April 22, 1905, von Trotha issued an annihilation order against the Herero and the Nama peoples.  The Germans poisoned the Herero water supply.  Women and children were put in concentration camps but due to horrific condition in the camps, mortality rates reached over 40 percent.  By the time the massacre ended, an estimated 65,000 Herero (about 80% of the total population) and 10,000 Nama (about 50% of the total population) were exterminated.  The Germans argued that blacks were not protected under the articles of the Geneva Convention because they were sub-human. 

 Since their independence, Namibia has received major aid donations from Germany.  But in 1995, during a visit from German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, about 300 Herero demonstrators rallied outside the German embassy to demand compensation for the 1905 massacre. Then, during a visit to Namibia in 1998, German President Roman Herzog acknowledged that German soldiers had acted “incorrectly” in carrying out the massacre of the Hereros, but said that too much time had passed for Germany to give any formal apology for slaughtering Hereros during colonial rule. (Colonial Genocide and Reparations Claims in the 21st Century by Jeremy Sarkin, ABC-CLIO, 2008 pg. 132)  He would not discuss the issue of reparations. 

 On the hundredth anniversary of the massacre, the German developmental aid minister visited the country and did issue an apology but still refused the issue of reparations.

 

 

 

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