Discussion on the Herero and Nama Genocide

Please answer 3 of the following questions in separate comment posts. Interacting with the comments posted by your peers is strongly encouraged. You may also post any questions that you have about this case study and I will answer in due course.

1) How did the Scramble for Africa set the stage for the Herero and Nama genocide to occur?

2) What is Lebensraum and what makes it genocidal? Is it possible for a country to pursue lebensraum in a non-genocidal fashion?

3) Explain the genocidal intent of General Von Trotha’s “annihilation order.”

4) Describe the conditions of the concentration camps in German-occupied South Western Africa. How do these conditions compare with those in Nazi Germany (e.g. Auschwitz)?

5) How were “racial sciences” used by genocidaires to justify the mass murder of the Herero and Nama people? In what other countries and times have racial sciences been used to dehumanize one group of people?

6) In your opinion, how can the German government repair the irreparable in Namibia today? Is an apology enough or are reparations necessary? If so, what kinds of reparations (e.g. monetary, symbolic, etc.)? See Repairing the Irreparable.

7) What links do you see between the Herero & Nama genocide and the Holocaust?


34 thoughts on “Discussion on the Herero and Nama Genocide

  1. The Scramble for Africa set the stage for the Herero and Nama genocide to occur in many aspects. The division of this already inhabited land was a method of dehumanization. The Herero and Nama people were not people, but rather occupants of the land that Germany and other European nations wanted to secure. In an attempt to expand its land in order to make room for a growing population, Germany ignored the rights of the individuals living on the land and instead did whatever it took to take complete control of the territory. Along with this, the Scramble for Africa was also a way for a country to prove its domination and capabilities as a super power. Germany wanted to show its strength, which meant destroying the people and cultures in its way.

  2. Lebensraum is the expansion of a country’s territory. It was considered necessary for Germany in order for the country to survive and prosper, as population was increasing rapidly, forcing the poor to live in slums on the streets. Lebensraum is automatically genocidal when it seeks to take over land that is already inhabited at the expense of the people and cultures that are currently living there. The process of killing people in order to take their land also kills their traditions and culture, and can potentially remove all traces of their existence. The only possible way for lebensraum to be non-genocidal is if the land a country wants to acquire is not inhabited by anyone.

  3. As the documentary discussed, most people do not know about or recognize the Herero and Nama Genocide. There are no monuments or statues honoring the innocent lives lost; rather, some of the soldiers of the “great imperial war” are honored instead. A start to repairing the irreparable in Namibia should start with Germany legitimately recognizing the genocide and formally apologize. While it has recognized von Trotha’s actions as genocidal, it has not done so for the concentration camps. An apology is not enough, however. Second, I think Germany should put up public monuments in honor of the genocide, taking down all inappropriate ones in the process. These two actions will bring to light the horror of what happened over a hundred years ago. Along with this, I think the ancestors of the Herero and Nama people should receive some sort of land or property compensation since their ancestors were stripped of all their property. I also think a day should be set aside every year for people to properly mourn the death of their ancestors.

  4. Racial sciences were certainly a factor in the Herero and Nama genocide, although I would categorize this as more of a justifying factor than a driving force (compared to the Holocaust, which had the purpose of nationalism in creating a master race, thus Social Darwinism was both a purpose and a justifier). In Southwest Africa it seemed that the racial sciences were used to justify killing the citizens for the purpose of taking their land and resources. Had it been a driving force, I think the genocide would have resembled something more like the Holocuast where the purpose was cleansing the population before it was necessarily about acquiring resources (though this was certainly an underlying motive as well). Ultimately, I think that the use of racial sciences in the Herero/Nama genocide were used to justify the ultimate aim of seizing land from the people whereas in other genocides, the inferiority of another group of humans is the whole reason for destroying them en masse.

  5. Regarding reparations, I think that the best thing Germany can do is acknowledge the damage done, and try to fix it both in the literal and objective senses, as well as in the emotional and preventative senses.
    First, as listed in the “Repairing the Irreparable” blog, I think that symbolic recovery is very important to the acknowledgement of the atrocity. German could make a public statement as well as provide funds for a commemorative statue or garden (something that would be culturally relevant and appropriate) as well as help fund a day of remembrance and reflection each year. Further, Germany and Namibia could work together to ensure that the genocide is part of the public history and education.
    Second, regarding actually repairing the damage done (which is impossible without a time machine), Germany could provide reparations in the form of payment. Though this can be seen as buying silence, coupled with acknowledging actions and education, I’m sure the money could go a long way and be used efficiently.
    Further, to fix the emotional damage, and also provide preventative solutions, the acknowledgment reparations seem relevant, again. For example, by providing a symbolic commemorative or memorial establishment, the German population could contribute to emotional healing without also being directly involved enough to do more damage to the population. This, along with education, could serve as solid preventative solutions as well.

  6. In my opinion, the idea of Lebensraum is inherently genocidal, though not particularly exclusive to the German people (manifest destiny, for example). Lebensraum is essentially the idea that a country must expand its territory for survival (Germany, specifically). I don’t see how this concept can be anything but genocidal because to expand the territory of a country requires taking ownership of the territory and there are very few territories that were ever totally unoccupied and virtually none that are not currently unoccupied. Therefore, there is a certain amount of domination involved in the expansion that would necessarily involve wiping out the culture and survival of the original owners if only because you are denying them access to their land, a crucial component to culture. I would think that this would be cultural genocide, at least. Further, most people would not submit willingly to having their land overtaken, therefore Lebensraum could escalate to a “true” genocide (one not just cultural but involving the physical destruction of a community) very quickly.
    However, I would also be quick to point out that this idea of Lebensraum is not unique to German culture or to the Herero/Nama genocide. Occupation, domination and destruction of land and people is a saga as old as human existence. It is a necessary part of colonialism, and was evident in the American mindset of manifest destiny as well as Spanish conquest in North America, and arguably occupation in Israel/Palestine and across the globe throughout history.

  7. Lebensraum is Dr. Friedrich Ratzel’s theory that in order to survive and prosper, people must have increasing space. It was a justification for colonial expansion (and, later, Hitler’s invasion of areas in Europe) and capitalized on as a way of alleviating problems of population pressures that Germany was facing. There was a crisis of urban poverty and increased German immigration to the US, which, according to the theory of Lebensraum, was detrimental to the prosperity of the “superior” German Aryan race.

    This theory is explicitly genocidal, as it justified German taking of other’s lands to spread the German race across the world. Namibia was thus seen as an ideal area for Lebensraum, and the Herero living there people without the right to exist, and to be simply eliminated. Samantha articulated the other genocidal aspects of Lebensraum well where she said “the process of killing people in order to take their land also kills their traditions and culture, and can potentially remove all traces of their existence.” Lebensraum blatantly supports cultural genocide as it calls for the replacement of an entire people with another.

  8. General Von Trotha’s “annihilation order” decrees that Herero are no longer “German subjects,” and all individuals and collective Herero society must be removed from the country. It explicitly states that those who do not leave will be killed, with no exception granted to women or children. Like the concept of Lebensraum, it would be genocidal even if no Herero were killed as a result: it calls for their cultural annihilation, ending Herero existence on the occupied lands by any means.
    It calls for the murder of any remaining or resistant Herero. There is little explanation needed to understand how that is genocidal. The order calls for the explicit mass murder of an entire people.

  9. Scientific strides made in the 19th century gave rise to a dark branch of “Scientific Theory;” Social Darwinism. German scientists like Eugene Fischer promoted “studies” that backed theories of Aryan Superiority and essentially a kind of “Scientific racism.” Eugene Fischer’s argument that Aryan people were a superior race to Africans was not new. In the 19th century, theories like those of Gobineau were widely popularized. He, a French diplomat, argued distinctions between “three great races,;” there were the white, black, and yellow races, and race mixing essentially was an evil that would lead to chaos. This sort of theory created platform for the justification of genocide what Fischer provided: because white Aryan were naturally superior, they had the right to murder or expel an entire African population, or, alternatively, treat them like animals in work camps, under the justification that the Herero “needed” white supervision and guidance.

  10. The idea of Lebensraum is to expand a nation’s territory and their sphere of control. When the Germans carried it out, it was done with complete disregard for any current inhabitants. Even though people have lived on this land for generations, the Germans decided they were entitled to it and thus felt it was necessary for them to expel Herreros and other tribes and kill them if the expulsion did not work. The removal of a people from their land also effects the culture of the people. I think because of this connection to culture Lebensraum will always be an instrument of genocide unless a land in uninhabited. This use of expulsion and separation reminded me of the Israel-Palestine conflict where Palestinians were pushed out of lands they had held, due to Israeli occupation. I do not consider this conflict a genocide, however, there are aspects of the process of genocide in this conflict.

  11. General Von Trotha’s “annihilation order” proclaimed that Herero were no longer “German subjects,” and all individuals and collective Herero society must be removed from the country. It explicitly orders those that do not leave to be killed. . Von Trotha’s annihilation order is a tool of Lebensraum, it allows for the expansion of German control. However, this would still be a genocidal act even if no Herero were killed because of the resulting cultural genocide of this territory. Von Trotha’s annihilation order is an explicit call for genocide and extermination.

  12. Throughout the 19th and early 20th century racial sciences and eugenics were used as the justification for imperialism, colonialism and genocide in the case of the Herero. Non-Aryans were deemed not suitable for governing, positions of power and the like. not only was racial sciences the racist rationale behind colonialism, but it was used to justify the dehumanization of the Herero people. Africans were deemed worthy for physical labor, so concentration camps were just giving the Herero a space to do what they excelled at, not undermining their humanity. Eugenics has been used in Western countries for many centuries to support racist claims. At the Tuskeegee Institute an infamous clinical study was conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the U.S. Public Health Service to study the natural progression of untreated syphilis in rural African American men who thought they were receiving free health care from the U.S. government. These men were exploited because their race forced them into a position were they were desperate for free benefits. This study profited off of the inequities faced by the black community. It was deemed appropriate because the subjects were aFrican-American males and therefore more likely to be promiscuous, ignorant, and malleable.

    1. That is an excellent, albeit disturbing, observation with respect to how racial sciences were used in the US as recently as the 1970s to effectively sterilize the African American population. I wonder, perhaps, whether that makes the intent of US leaders genocidal in some respects???….

  13. Lebensraum is the idea put forth by Friedrich Ratzel that in order to survive and thrive, people need enough “living space.” This concept promoted the aggressive expansion of German territory for the German people. Lebensraum justified colonialism in German South West Africa, especially since Germany had a population boom at the time. The horrors perpetrated by the German army and settlers were fueled by the concept of Lebensraum and Aryan superiority. In most instances, Lebensraum is an inherently violent idea. Seizing more land entails believing that one has the entitlement to do so, often above another people. If more “living space” is needed but people already inhabit a land, Lebensraum encourages the use of force to completely remove this problem. The only situation in which Lebensraum would not be genocidal is if people seized and settled land on which no one resided. At this point in time, I think it is safe to say that most of the places such as this on Earth are uninhabitable and therefore Lebensraum is simply genocidal by nature.

  14. In order to be considering genocide, the actions taken by the aggressor must have the intention of destroying, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. General von Trotha’s annihilation order absolutely proves that the violence against the Herero was genocide perpetrated by the Germans. Trotha stated that the Herero were to leave German territory or be killed and, as discussed in the film, his actions matched his words. Another aspect of Trotha’s policy speech that proves German aggression was genocide was his specification that the Heroro did not have to be armed in order to be shot. In other words, this was not a war or a fight; it was one group destroying another. Trotha’s seriousness concerning the situation was established when he stipulated that no one could survive, not even women and children. The actions of the Germans were genocidal from the start, but it was this “annihilation order” that proved the intent to completely wipe out the Herero people.

  15. The Germans used “racial sciences” to “prove” the inferiority of the Herero and Nama people and therefore somehow justify the genocidal violence against them. The guards on Shark Island and other camps studied the racists theories used against colonized Africans at the time and traded the skulls of dead Herero and Nama people to scientists, museums and universities. These practices were wide-spread and normalized. Similar actions were then repeated against the victims of the Holocaust. Eugen Fischer was a prominent geneticist whose work in the racial sciences in German South West Africa greatly impacted the ideas and theories of Aryan supreme authority. Although the “science” used against the Herero and Nama people is extremely similar to the logic of the Holocaust, racist “biology” has been used to dehumanize and justify the maltreatment of one group many times. For example, “racial sciences” were used in the United States to justify the slavery. Supporters of the slave trade in America cited the “biological inferiority” of Africans as reason for their enslavement. Like the Germans’ genocide against the Herero and Nama people, Americans used racial sciences to “explain” their horrific actions against a colonized group for the sake of economic profit.

  16. The Scramble for Africa set the stage for the Herero and Nama genocide to occur because it gave European countries a sense of entitlement to African land and resources. The major European powers came together and split up the entire African continent. In doing so, they were making the assumption that the people who already lived there had no claim over their own land or resources, and that these were just up for grabs. When the German colonizers arrived in Africa and discovered that the Herero people were not going to stand down and give up all of their possessions to the Germans, this created a lot of anger and resentment amongst the Germans. Low valuation of Herero and Nama life combined with their being a “nuisance” to entitled Germans created a risky combination that set the stage for genocide.

  17. Lebensraum is the concept of “living space” for a people. It means that a people needs a certain amount of space to live in. Germany was lacking space for the number of people that they had, and so turned to expansion to gain more land/space for themselves. This desire to claim land for the sake of one’s country is genocidal because it assumes that only members of one national group will be living on this land, and ignores the fact that people already inhabit most livable areas of the world. The only way for a country to pursue lebensraum in a non-genocidal manner would be to only look to expand into entirely unpopulated areas. Coexistence with another people could also be considered, but there aren’t many (if any) examples in history of this being considered or being successful.

  18. General Von Trotha’s “annihilation order” is irrefutable proof of genocidal intent. In this order he outwardly declares that any and all Herero people residing in German South-West Africa will be killed unless they leave the country. He is explicitly saying that the members of a group will be killed for the sole reason of belonging to that group, until they no longer exist in all of German South-West Africa. This is clearly “intent to destroy” and leaves the question of whether these occurrences can qualified as genocide very clearly answered.

  19. Lebensraum is an ideology developed by Friedrich Ratzel in the context of 20th century colonialism. It refers to the expansion of living space, and was used to justify mass atrocities more than once in German history. The inherent problem with the Lebensraum concept is that it hinges on the innate superiority of the expanding people and their resultant divine right to possess whichever land they choose. Acquiring this chosen land (making good on the Lebensraum claim) becomes genocidal when it is accomplished through the complete annihilation of the land’s current occupants—as was the case in the Herero and Nama genocides of the early 1900s. It is my belief that it is impossible for a country to pursue lebensraum in an ethical fashion, as for every piece of inhabitable land there is already someone who calls it home. It may be possible for a country to pursue lebensraum in a non-genocidal fashion, but only to a definitional extent, wherein the forced evacuation of a population creates conditions that do not fall under the Genocide Convention’s classifications but still constitutes a human rights violation.

  20. In October 1904, General Von Trotha issued an order of annihilation that at once dehumanized the Herero people and called for their extermination. The actions described in this order—“force [the Herero] with the cannon” to evacuate their homes, shoot on sight “every Herero” including “women and children”—are clearly intended to bring about the destruction of the Herero population, either through direct physical harm (shooting) or the creation of unsustainable life conditions (lack of access to resources such as food, water, and shelter). Based on Article 2 of the UN Genocide Convention, which defines genocide as “acts committed with the extent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group,” Von Trotha’s commands are undeniably genocidal in nature.

  21. It is my belief that the loss of human lives—and with those lives, their potential contributions to a dynamic, prosperous, and peaceful future society—cannot be repaired or reconciled by any amount of money or politically-motivated symbolic gestures. However, I make no claims to understand the needs and desires of Namibians today or in years past. Reparations, as decided by the people who would benefit from them, may be a way to bring closure to an atrocious history so those affected by the far-reaching impacts of colonialism and genocide can move toward building a brighter future. The German government should work in concert with Namibian representatives to best decide how to proceed, whether that is through addressing the erasure and denial of past atrocities through symbolic acts of commemoration or through monetary reparations that allow Namibia to create its own future in a way it sees fit.

  22. 2) What is Lebensraum and what makes it genocidal? Is it possible for a country to pursue lebensraum in a non-genocidal fashion?

    Lebensraum is the acquiring of territory for expansion because it is supposedly “necessary for national survival.” Germany at the time could not successfully support its population, and many Germans were moving to the U.S. and abandoning their German heritage for an American identity, so they essentially colonized the Herrero’s homeland in the most brutal manner possible. Lebensraum seems to encourage the genocidal actions that followed, because it implies that the nation’s supposed survival is above another peoples’ survival valuing some lives/interests over others and creating an environment that is conducive to genocide. It encourages expansion at the expense of those present on the land. Even if the Germans had not used weapons or concentration camps of any kind, simply driving the Herrero away from their fertile land and into the desert is enough to deprive them of food, water, and shelter, exterminating them anyways. I think that therefore Lebensraum is a genocidal policy unless it is on unclaimed/uninhabited land (which is unlikely).

  23. 6) In your opinion, how can the German government repair the irreparable in Namibia today? Is an apology enough or are reparations necessary? If so, what kinds of reparations (e.g. monetary, symbolic, etc.)?

    I think that the German government cannot repair the damage that was done, and that the legacy of this will last for centuries to come, much as the legacy of colonialism. However, I think that their best move would be a public apology and declaration of this genocide as a genocide, as it is completely overlooked and history tends to only be written by the victors. A public apology will increase awareness, and also hold the perpetrators accountable much in the way that Lemkin hoped. I also think that reparations are necessary as well, but in the form of symbolic reparations. I loved the idea posted by Samantha earlier about having a national holiday/ day of commemoration. I think that acknowledging the history in the form of holidays, monuments, and most importantly compilations of victim memoirs is really important for both preserving what is left of the culture of the population and also for preventing future genocides from occurring.

  24. 5) How were “racial sciences” used by genocidaires to justify the mass murder of the Herero and Nama people? In what other countries and times have racial sciences been used to dehumanize one group of people?

    Soldiers traded skulls of Herero to museums and scientists and universities in order to do tests on them. They used them as a justification of the war and even more a justification of the genocide. They tried to prove that the black race was inferior. They saw them as different, lesser, and ultimately dehumanized them to the point of seeing them as animals or demons for slaughter. Racial sciences are definitely not isolated to this time, as they were used again during the Holocaust. Even more, a number of texts on racial sciences were used to supposedly prove that black people are less intelligent when enacted racist policies in the U.S. during the Jim Crow Era, as well as texts on certain characteristics of various asian groups during times of war. Even populations that are now considered white, such as Italians or Irish were victims of scientific racism during early waves of immigration to the U.S. Here are some examples of racial science books: http://io9.com/the-9-most-influential-works-of-scientific-racism-rank-1575543279

    1. Thanks for sharing this link. The book that was published in 1994 that attempts to explain socioeconomic differences between whites and blacks based on intelligence is shocking! in 1994! That was only 21 years ago. It reminds me how in Condoleeza Rice’s book, she talks about having arguments with one of her university professors who insisted that blacks are just not as intelligent as whites. Unbelievable.

  25. I agree with all of the ideas above regarding how the scramble for Africa set the stage for the Herero and Nama genocide to occur. The press for desirable land was not only felt as a solution during economic hardship but a necessity for the survival of an expanding people. The scramble sent settlers unprepared to a foreign land where the paradigms they knew and understood were nonsequitors. These pre-existing paradigms combined with the desperation that underlay the motivates for settling combined to create a sense of entitlement (As Colette described) that left little room for the recognition of common human dignity. This scramble also echoed through the conversations between Germany and it’s representatives abroad. Germany pushed for more aggressive tactics in place of Leutwin’s attempts at negotiation which were deemed weak and possible counter-productive to German goals. This narrative which was disconnected with the reality in Africa, as fueled by the frantic nature of the “Scrambe for Africa” set the stage for the terrible atrocities that followed.

  26. Lebensraum refers to the expansion, deemed vital to national survival, of territory. It’s genocidal int he sense that it disregards, or fails to account for indigenous peoples and in doing so dissolves the dignity and right to exist to those who occupy foreign spaces. Perhaps it is possible to pursue lebensraum in a controlled, calculated, and capped manner into spaces that are uninhabited, but since the term seems to connote a more exponential, uncapped growth it seems impossible to encounter endless spaces without encountering others. The necessity implied by this definition encourages dehumanization and discourages a focus on human casualty. Especially when the act is carried out in national interest, other nations or nationalities become at risk for extermination as they “interfere” with the acting nations ability to survive. A good question to ask is under what circumstances would a nation of Germany’s stature ever be able to rightfully claim a need to expand, is there any circumstance under which any nation, of any size or stature, could justify expansion on account of survival? Could a dying culture or an oppressed culture justify expansion based on survival (here I see parallels to Israel-Palestine as described above).

  27. General Von Trotha’s annihilation order relays a commitment to the destruction of the herero people: it is an unambiguous exclamation of an intent to kill a group of people in whole based on their ethnicity.

    “I the great General of the German troops send this letter to the Herero people. The Herero are no longer German subjects…The Herero people must leave the country.”

    Describes them as an ETHNIC UNIT which must be relocated.

    “If the nation doesn’t do this I will force them with the cannon.”

    from the UN convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, “Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

    a. killing members of the group <—–

    b. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group <——-

    c. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

    d. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

    e. forcible transferring children of the group to another group.

    Within the German borders, every Herero, with or without gun, with or without cattle will be shot.

    again reference to (a) killing members of the whole ("EVERY Herero") group.

    I will no longer accept women and children, I will drive them back to their people or I will let them be shot at.” – Lothar von Trotha

    Alludes to (e) forcible transport and (a) killing members of the group.

    This order kick started the production of a calculated genocidal plan that resulted in the rounding up and murdering of countless individuals.

  28. Lebensraum comes from early 1900’s Germany. The German population was expanding and the country did not have the land or resources to support the influx of the population. As a result, many Germans fled to the United States. The German government was very aware of the emigration of German citizens and devised a plan to supply the German people with the land they needed. Lebensraum is the expansion for more German living space. Lebensraum can led to Genocide very easily because for a country to expand they need colonize the people who currently inhabit it. Colonization and Genocide historically overlap such as the British colonization of America and the Genocide of the Native Americans. The colonization of Namibia and the Herero people followed the unfortunate trend of colonization leading to Genocide.

  29. Von Trotha’s annihilation order screams Genocidal intent for it talks blatantly about murdering a group of people solely based on their ethnicity. The annihilation order elevates the murdering of the Herero people from ethnic cleansing to genocide for it lays out the German’s intent to kill the whole race. It separates them from the rest of the population, a stage of genocide, it talks about the mass destruction and killing without any instigation from those targeted.

  30. I think the first thing the German government needs to do is acknowledge what they did and issue an apology to the Herero people. A huge part of human nature is wanting to feel heard and respected and I think the Herero people have been in a sense denied that right. One of the most horrifying aspects of this Genocide in particular is the lack of reference to it and knowledge about it. The fact that tourists camp on Shark Island, the site of a death camp, is utterly deplorable. The German’s need to erect some sort of memorial for the people so that everyone can stop pretending that Swakopmund is this ideal little tourist escape. Finally, if the Herero people are asking for economic reparations, give them economic reparations. The Germans came in and completely took over what was once a thriving place in it’s own right and turned it into a little Germany. There are some there who still remember being slaves to German’s even after the killing stopped. The Herero people still feel the pain of the genocide and deserve the proper compensation for their suffering.

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