As various European governments qualify and constrain their earlier enthusiastic embrace of refugees from Syria and elsewhere among the disintegrating states of the Middle East, we take note of the ongoing debate within Germany regarding recognition of genocidal atrocities committed in Namibia during the years 1904-1908. In that dark chapter of the Kaiser’s Second Reich, the latent violence conveyed by the German idea of “Lebensraum” — violence which would later explode into World War II during the Third Reich — first found at least seventy-five thousand victims among the Herero and Nama people.
Namibians have held an annual event to commemorate the genocide since 1932; yet Germany remained stubbornly silent until 2004, when Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul issued the following apology:
“I want to acknowledge the violence inflicted on your ancestors by the German colonial powers, particularly the Herero and the Nama. The atrocities, the murders, the crimes committed at that time are today termed genocide and General Lothar von Trotta would be prosecuted and convicted and rightly so. In the words of the Lord’s Prayer, I ask you to forgive us our trespasses and our guilt.”
During the period of extermination, German eugenics “pioneer” Eugen Fischer requested that skulls and other body parts be collected from the concentration camps at Windhoek and Shark Island be sent to Berlin; while most such trophy-specimens were used for research into the bone structure of racial hierarchy, any items considered surplus to scientific requirements were sold as collectors’ items for display throughout Europe. In 2011, twenty skulls were returned to Namibia, representing a tiny fraction of Fischer’s harvest. Since then, there have been a number of subsequent returns from museums and universities. though still outside of any official national policy.
For an incisive summary of the history, we turn to the following essay by correspondent Jon Swan, with captioned images added by DP: