Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Was WW1 just?

the Kaiser was evil as well.

Germany’s Genocide of the Herero by Jeremy Sarkin

It also examines the Kaiser’s role. This study recounts the reasons why the Kaiser likely issued the order and why proof of this has not emerged before now. The book reveals his history of violence and the ordering of brutal actions, even against his own citizens.

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.[69]

Fischer later became chancellor of the University of Berlin, where he taught medicine to Nazi physicians.[78] One of his prominent students was Josef Mengele, the doctor who made genetic experiments on Jewish children at Auschwitz.[85]

The Kaiser’s Holocaust by David Olusoga and Casper W Erichsen: review

Ian Thomson is chilled by The Kaiser's Holocaust: Germany's Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism by David Olusoga and Casper W Erichsen, an impressively researched account of the killing fields of Namibia

By Ian Thomson

1:13PM BST 16 Aug 2010


Joseph Conrad set Heart of Darkness in the ivory-rich Congo Free State, created in the 1880s by King Leopold II of Belgium. Having cleared out African villages, his majesty’s traders herded the homeless into swamps and starved them. A century on, Congo tribes still speak fearfully of “the overwhelming”.

The Belgian monarch’s depredations were mirrored, 20 years later, by those of Kaiser Wilhelm II in German South West Africa. Between 1904 and 1909, the imperial ruler and his subalterns liquidated the indigenous Herero and Nama peoples of modern-day Namibia. This was done in the name of acquiring “living space” for German settlers, and foreshadowed the murderous racism inflicted half a century later by the Nazis on Jews and other “asocials”. So argue David Olusoga and Capser Erichsen in The Kaiser’s Holocaust, a provocative and uncomfortably absorbing book.

According to the authors, the “killing fields” of Namibia presaged not only Hitler’s genocidal madness, but served as inspiration for the dictator’s hoped-for empire in the European east, where Jews and Slavs were seen as “subhuman”. In the previous century, German settlers had been encouraged by the Kaiser to scorn the Judaeo-Christian morality of compassion for the weak and view the African tribes in their midst as metamorphosed apes. (“Exterminate all the brutes!” exclaims Conrad’s European trader Kurtz.)

From this it was a short step to advocating the racial supremacy of Aryans in Nazi Germany. Nazism was not an isolated instance of human infamy, then, but part of an earlier behaviour that went back to Imperial German Africa.

Even by the barbarous standards of Wilhelmine Germany, however, the genocide of the Herero and Nama tribes could not reasonably be termed a “holocaust”. There is something distasteful about appropriating a term peculiar to the Jewish tragedy. The Kaiser’s racial policies in Africa, motivated chiefly by a desire to rival Britain as an imperial power, were horrific, but they were not the assembly-line gassing of human beings. There was an unprecedented moral horror to what the Nazis did.

Hitler’s murder of Jews and Slavs was, the authors concede, “unique” in its scale and industry, yet they manage to find many connections between the Nazis’ murderous social Darwinism and the Kaiser’s barbarism in Namibia. Hermann Göring's father, Dr Heinrich Ernst Göring, served as the first Commissioner of German South West Africa, orchestrating that barbarity, before becoming the Kaiser’s ambassador to Haiti in 1893. The notorious brown shirts worn by the Nazi storm troopers had originally served as uniforms in Namibia.

Not long after Dr Göring had begun to confiscate Herero and Nama tribal lands, Berlin sanctioned the use of concentration camps. The most notorious of these, set up in 1905, was situated on Shark Island near the town of Lüderitz. The enormity of Shark Island has been suppressed and forgotten too long, say the authors. By the time the Konzentrationslager was closed in 1907, thousands had died there due to beatings and forced labour. Though the death toll is impossible to establish accurately (the Germans later burned incriminating documents), the liquidations were carried out so efficiently that by 1908 the Kaiser’s government had wrested a total of 46 million hectares of land from the Africans.

A great deal of the book is devoted to the social Darwinists and eugenicists in late-19th-century Germany who helped to create new values of totalitarian dominance. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, with its brutally materialist account of nature as bleak survivalism, was made to serve as justification for the extermination of Namibian tribes and, later, for Hitler’s biological anti-Semitism. In a racist age, nature was seen as a competitive market place, where black people were born to be mastered and the fittest survived. Armed with callipers and craniometry charts, the Kaiser’s race engineers were keen to measure the severed heads of Nama tribesmen: handle-shaped ears, prehensile feet and other “apish” stigmata were considered telltale atavisms. Civilisation, according to these pseudo-scientists, depended on the separation of races, not on their harmonious integration.

Impressively researched, The Kaiser’s Holocaust unflinchingly catalogues the abuse of human life in a continent the Kaiser never even visited. Olusoga and Erichsen, with their novelist’s flair for narrative, provide a grimly readable history. If the comparisons between colonial Namibia and Nazism do not always quite convince, the book remains a vitally important addition to the ever-growing literature of atrocity and deserves to be read widely.

* Ian Thomson’s The Dead Yard: a Story of Modern Jamaica won the 2010 Ondaatje Prize and the Dolman Travel Book of the Year Award

The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism

by David Olusoga and Casper W Erichsen

  • 1
OK fair enough to point out the Namibia genocide by Germany in 1904-07, when maybe 100,000 died.

True, but the obvious answer is: 15 million lives to stop Germany? It wasn't worth it. Especially when the Namibia genocide by this time was long over, and not ongoing during WWI.

One could also note that other European countries committed atrocities in Africa. e.g. Belgium's genocide in Congo in 1885–1908. Couldn't one equally support those fighting against Belgium in WWI?

I think my position is, if you had to pick a side, yes, you would pick the Allies. But my no.1 vote would have gone to a ceasefire. There was no cause - on the Western front at least - for which 15 million lives lost seems reasonable - or anything but an appalling waste.

I'm as hawkish as they get for a good cause, but 15 million lives to stop the Kaiser? That makes no sense.

  • 1

Log in