Tuesday, October 13, 2009

One hundred years of silence

I love to watch the History channel! Every weekend of this month there are special programs on Africa. I have decided to turn some of the stories into posts for my blog.

This is a little known history of the Herero people in Namibia, Africa. They were nearly exterminated by the German colonial soldiers from 1904 to 1909 in what is known as the first genocide of the 20th century.

In 1884 the European states met in Berlin to carve up Africa among them. Among other colonies Germany got what is now known as Namibia. At the time there were hundreds of thousands of Africans living in Namibia but the Germans were hungry for “Living Space.” The German colonizers regarded the natives as an inferior species and soon after their arrival started to take away their land and cattle. The Herero nation rose up to fight the oppressors and thousands of German troops came to Namibia to conquer them.

The Waterberg Plateau is where the first extermination began. In 1904 German troops attacked over 50,000 Herero men, women, and children who were trying to escape them. Those who survived the massacre were forced to flee into the Kalahari Desert, where they died from exhaustion and dehydration.

Swakopmund concentration camp is where thousands of Herero perished in subhuman conditions. When they died they were just buried in the desert in unmarked graves. A lot of the corpses were buried headless as the Germans decapitated the bodies to sell the skulls to museums in Germany. In order to clean the skulls they made Herero women boil the heads and scrape off the flesh. These heads could have belonged to their friends and family members.
Near the harbor town Luderitz lies Shark Island, another concentration camp. This camp was dubbed as “The Island of Death” and was the worst of the 5 concentration camps that were in Namibia. Thousands of Herero lived there in this cold and insidious place. Night and day the prisoners, including children, worked on a railroad. Three-quarters of the prisoners died working on it, which is about 1 man per 100 meters of track. The corpses were decapitated and the heads were taken for Racial Science studies in Germany. They were trying to prove that black people were an entirely different species from whites.

By the time the war was over, 80% of the Herero population had been exterminated! The survivors did not have much of a life to return to as their land and cattle were confiscated to be made available to the incoming settlers. For awhile Herero children were not much more than slaves on the land they once owned. When the Germans lost the colony to Britain after the World War I, the young Hereros were set free and they were able to regroup.

It is hard to believe that human beings can do something as horrifying as this to other humans. I hope this story will help you see the suffering that Africa went through during colonization. Unfortunately I cannot provide a link to this story, so I urge you to look for this program on the History Channel.


  1. It's sad that things like this have happened throughout all of human history. One group of people wants more land and resources, so they take over the land of another group, forcefully. Unfortunately, atrocities of these kinds have happened more times than we will, or will ever care, to know.

  2. It's very sad to know what these people went through. However the people in Africa was treated horribly long before Germany did that to them. The Dutch and English did it to them in the early 1700's with the slave trade. And let's not forget what the Germans did to another race during World War II.

  3. It is interesting that you have pointed this out, Michael! One of the Herero’s in the program said, “What Germans did to the Jews during the WWII they did to Herero 40 years earlier.”