Genocide, concentration camps, medical experiments on camp prisoners were war crimes which Nazi Germany committed during World War II. But Germany had put much of this into practice in Africa before World War I. In several cases, the notorious war criminals in Europe were relatives of the persons guilty of the deeds a generation earlier.
Nazi forefathers ravaged Africa
BY ANNIKA WESTMAN, freelance journalist Published in Sydsvenska Dagbladet, a Swedish daily newspaper, 21 August 2004
August 26th every year is Maharero Day in Okahandja in Namibia. This is when the Hereros celebrate their ancestors killed in a massacre in Waterberg 1904, conducted by the German army in the colony, then named German South West Africa.
The events round this genocide was for a long time a dark but unnoticed chapter in German history. In connection with the 100 year anniversary, several organisations have put them in focus and they have also received considerable attention in German media.
Namibia was officially made a German colony, or protectorate, at the Berlin Conference in 1884, when the leading nations of Europe divided Africa between themselves with a map and a ruler.
Germany's Governor at the time was Heinrich Göring, father of Nazist Hermann Göring.

The German colonial power quickly made itself impopular through, among other things, implementing rules for cattle keeping - the main source of support- which disfavoured Africans and favoured Germans.
The cattle epidemic which ravaged in the 1890's forced many into debt. When the debtor could not pay his debts, his cattle was confiscated.
The original inhabitants, especially the Herero and Nama people, made armed resistance through several years. The struggle culminated in 1904 at Waterberg, where the German army, lead by the ruthless General Lothar von Trotha, attacked from three sides. In the fourth direction was the Kalahari, where the Germans had poisoned the water.
After the slaughter which followed, lasting for several days, only about 15.000 Hereros remained, out of about 80.000.
These are the figures usually quoted, originating from a census made by the Germans in 1911. But there is some uncertainty round both numbers. Some Hereros survived and fled into Botswana, and the amount before might have been less because of the difficult living conditions caused by severe drought, cattle pest and the German colonisation.


After such a large part of the population had been extinguished, and the survivors who were not captured had fled, the German colonial power had an acute shortage of labour for constructions of roads and railroads and the mining of copper and diamonds.
Many were lured back with promises of letters to guarantee the safety of those who returned to collection points which, to show the German's "peaceful" intentions, were run by the evangelical 

mission. But from here, the ones who returned were sent directly to the nearest concentration camp, under military escort.

Totally, about 17.000 persons; men, women and children, were imprisoned. According to official German sources, 45 percent of them died as a result of their treatment in the camps. 

Chained Herero prisoners in chains in what is today called Namibia

Hard work in a hot climate combined with lack of food and water made those who did not die from pure exhaustion, susceptible for typhus, cholera and other diseases.

Von Trotha, who gave order for the massacre 100 years ago even used the same word - extermination - as the Nazi leaders during World War II. He issued a "Vernichtungsbefehl" (extermination order) stating that everybody, including women and children, should be shot:
"Every Herero found on German land, with or without weapon, with or without cattle, shall be shot. I will not receive women and children. If they do not return to their people, they will be shot."

Now that this issue is in focus in Germany, the discussion is especially concerning whether the German State should apologize for this genocide. But the Government's position, delivered by Joschka Fischer, Minister of Foreign Affairs, while visiting Namibia in October 2003, has been not to give an "entschädigungsrelevante Entschuldigung" (claims-relevant apology), probably because this would be very expensive.
But the other day (Aug 15th) when Heidemarie Wieczorek-Seul, Minister of Development, visited Namibia, she surprised thousands of listeners, including Herero Chief Riruako, who refrained from holding the speech he had prepared. She said, regarding the 1904 events :
"The atrocities committed at that time would have been termed genocide today. We Germans accept our historic and moral responsibility and guilt... With the words of The Lord's Prayer I ask you to forgive us our trespasses".
A few days later the German Ambassador to Namibia, Wolfgang Massing, said that there were no plans to even discuss the claims for reparations. He also stated that he, after this apology, expects the Hereros to withdraw the civil lawsuit being pursued in a New York court.

Concentration camps already in1904
In the camps, experiments where made especially on persons of mixed origin with the purpose of proving the inferiority of these so called "half-breeds" or "bastards" 
The first time that the term "concentration camp" was used in the German parliament was in 1904, when camps had been established in German Southwest Africa. In the camps, racial biologist Eugen Fischer (1874-1967) collected support for his theories about the danger of racial mixture ("miscegenation"), which later impressed Adolf Hitler.
In the camps, Fischer made experiments on especially persons of mixed origin - the typical cases were children with an African mother and a German colonialist, sometimes results of rape. The purpose was to prove the inferiority of these so called "half-breeds" or "bastards". Only in the year 1906, there are reports that 778 autopsies were performed for the so called race-biological research. Measuring skulls was a common method, and female prisoners were forced to scrape the skulls clean with glass shards before the examination (Source:, see under Namibia Biographies - Eugen Fischer)

In his book "The Rehoboth Bastards and the Bastardisation Problem in Humans" Fischer accounted for his investigations. Later, he wrote "The Principles of Human Heredity and Race Hygiene" with Erwin Baur and Fritz Lenz, first published in 1921. It became a standard work within Race biology, and was read by Hitler while he was imprisoned, writing "Mein Kampf" where several references to the book occur. One of Fischer's students was Hendrik Verwoerd, later prime minister in South Africa and the person who fully implemented apartheid. Fischer was also teaching selected Nazi doctors. One of them was Josef Mengele, responsible for the experiments in Auschwitz.

When Hitler had come to power, Fischer was appointed Chancellor of the Berlin University. The Institute for Race Biology, the world's first state institution in this field, was opened in Uppsala, Sweden, in 1922, and Eugen Fischer visited Sweden in 1924 to lecture and to study the work of the institute.

It's German equivalent started three years later, when Fischer initiated the foundation of the "Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics", which actually received support from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Photo from a postcard from German Southwest Africa: Loading of Herero skulls for German universities and museums

It was Fischer who planned the forced sterilizations performed extensively in Nazi Germany. They were performed on, among others, children of the African and French-African soldiers participating in the French forces who occupied parts of Germany after World War I.
Fischer was well-known also by the Swedish Nazis of that time. But he got away without penalty after the war. In 1945 he was labelled as a "follower", not responsible for the crimes, and thereby "denazified". In 1952, he was appointed Honorary Chairman of the newly founded German Anthropological Society.

Note 1:
The term "Eugenics" (Race hygiene), a word in fashion from the 1920's both in Europe and the United States, has no connection to Eugen Fischer's first name. The word was introduced by Darwin's cousin Francis Galton, who studied the people of South West Africa in the 1850's. His Swedish assistant, Charles John Andersson from Vanersborg, was actually the first stationary businessman (trader) in Namibia, long before the Germans got established there.

Note 2:
As early as 1840, Anders Retzius was measuring skulls in Sweden and his son, Gustav Retzius, later measured the skulls of 45.000 soldiers to prove the superiority of the Swedish "race".

Population: 1,8 million
Population density: 2 inhabitants per square km
Capital: Windhoek
Standard of living: Drought, AIDS and poverty are everyday problems. According to the UN evaluation Human Development Index, Namibia ranks as number 126 out of 162 when it comes to standard of living - in the last three years it has fallen from number 111.
Brief history: German colony 1884 - 1915
1920: UN gives a mandate to administrate Namibia to Great Britain, who turns this over to South Africe
1966: UN revokes South Africas administration, which thereby turned into an occupation.
1990: Namibia achieves Independence after a long liberation struggle, lead by SWAPO, whose President since the foundation in 1960 has been Sam Nujoma.
Current political issues: Presidential election in November 2004. Sam Nujoma has been in power since 
Independence. In 2003, the constitution was changed, so that the president can remain for three mandate periods of five years each, instead of two.
This year's election was really settled at the SWAPO extraordinary congress on May 26-27, or actually four days before when Nujoma without motives dismissed the Minister of Foreign Affirs, Hidipo Hamutenya, one of three men nominated by SWAPO for candidates in the presidential election, where this party most likely will win with a large majority.
Hamutenya was a strong challenger to the Nujoma-supported Hifikepunye Pohamba, who won the voting at the extra congress. In analysises of the results, fears of political division and instability if going against Nujoma were mentioned.
The main candidates of the opposition are Ben Ulenga (COD) and Herero Chief Kuaima Riruako (Nudo).
A land reform is on the political agenda. It's being dicussed frequently in both Namibian and German press.