Herero offered apology for 1904 German massacre

By The Ligali Organisation | Fri 12 October 2007

The european descendants of Lothar von Trotha, a brutal German military commander who instigated the mass slaughter of thousands of Herero people, have met with their representatives to apologise for the actions of their ancestor.

Representatives of the von Trotha family visited the chiefs of six Herero royal houses Omaruru, in central Namibia following an invitation from the Herero Supreme Chief Alfons Maharero, the grandson of Samuel Maharero who led the wars against the German incursion in 1904, to express regret and shame for the actions of their ancestor. In his address to the Herero people, Wolf-Thilo von Trotha said; "We, the von Trotha family, are deeply ashamed of the terrible events that took place 100 years ago. Human rights were grossly abused that time. We say sorry, since we bear the name of General Lothar von Trotha. We however do not only want to look back, but also look to the future”.

During the course of their visit, Chief Maherero highlighted the currently outstanding reparations due from the German government. He said "We demand a dialogue with the present German government to obtain restorative justice," In response to this issue, Wolf-Thilo von Trotha later told the AFP news agency that "[o]ur family cannot become involved in the demand for reparations from a government”. Ulrich von Trotha, another family member, also stressed that the family were on a private visit.

The German government has expressed “regret” at the actions of their country but have avoided a specific apology for their crimes stating that a formal apology would leave them open to claims for reparations. In 1998, Germany’s unrepentant President, Roman Herzog visited Namibia and rejected claims for reparation on the grounds that the there was no legislation to the protect “rebels” and the civilian population at the time of the conflict. Germany also claims that they are committed to Namibia through their role as the country’s primary “aid” donor. However, this argument has been criticised for, amongst other reasons, its lack of synchronisation with the culpability of the German government.

Namibia’s ambassador to the European Union questioned “The Hereros have read that gold taken from the Jews by the Nazis is being restored and the Jews in Israel being compensated. If others are being compensated, then why not us?”

The pain of the injustice suffered by the Herero remains with them as Elder Ujama Karuhumba recalls; "Our fathers and mothers were killed like animals. It's a sad story, all the atrocities, the way the Germans killed people, starved them to death, and took them into concentration camps." In recent years, fund-raising efforts by the Herero community have intended to raise money in order to write more books about the Wars against the German invasion in 1904.

Surviving Herero after an escape through the arid desert of Omaheke

The crimes of Germany’s Lotha von Trotha

By the time Lotha von Trotha had instigated his war against the Herero, he already had a track record of brutal suppression behind him. As Brigade Commander in Chief of German Expedition Corps in Oing Dynasty China, he had aggressively fought against the Boxer Uprisings. The Boxers were a peasant based movement in northern China who were against foreign and imperialist forces who were building rail roads against and subsequently violating the principles of Feng Shui.

Similarly, he played a role in the colonial forces present in the then newly constructed “German East Africa” where sections of the population sought to resist German expansion. The war against the German invasion had seen the Herero tactics hold well against the Germans. When von Trotha arrived in 1904, he sought a change of strategy which forced the Herero into the desert whereupon von Trotha ordered the poisoning of water holes and commanded German guards to shoot any Herero men, woman or child who attempted to escape. Many Herero died of thirst as a result of these actions.

Von Trotha openly sought to exterminate the Herero from their own land, declaring “I wipe out rebellious tribes with streams of blood and streams of money. Only following this cleansing can something new emerge”. He also warned that. “All the Herero must leave the land. If they refuse, then I will force them to do it with the big guns. Any Herero found within German borders, with or without a gun, will be shot. No prisoners will be taken. This is my decision for the Herero people”. By the time the belated orders from the German Chancellor Bernhard von Bulow came to relieve von Trotha from his command, thousands of Herero had been killed. Some had been forced to work in substandard labour camps where they often died of overwork, malnutrition and disease.

A 1911 census of the Herero population numbered the people at 15,000. This compared to the estimated 80,000 Herero in existence before the war against the Germans less than eight years previously.

During the course of the colonisation, Herero woman and girls were systematically raped and abused by the German troops. Eugen Fischer, a German professor of anthropology and eugenics, infamous for his theories of “racial hygiene” experimented on the children who were born from these violent encounters and postulated that they were ‘inferior’ to their German father. His experiment informed his book “The Principles of Human Heredity and Race Hygiene” which inspired Adolf Hitler’s doctrine of “racial purity”.

Not content with the his extermination agenda for the Herero people, von Trotha also instigated a simultaneous assault on the Nama people. His audaciously declaration sent to the Nama on April 22 1905 read;

'The Nama who chooses not to surrender and lets himself be seen in the German area will be shot, until all are exterminated. Those who, at the start of the rebellion, committed murder against whites or have commanded that whites be murdered have, by law, forfeited their lives. As for the few not defeated, it will fare with them as it fared with the Herero, who in their blindness also believed that they could make successful war against the powerful German Emperor and the great German people. I ask you, where are the Herero today?”

Hendrik Witbooi who led the Namaquland rebellion against the German forces warned that a ‘great war’ would ensure should the Germans attempt to advance their threat. He said “[w]e cannot tolerate [the occupation of our land]. We did not give our land away, and what has not been given by the owner, cannot be taken by another person.” This Nama went on to resist the foreign occupation of their land. Approximately 10,000 Nama lost their lives and a further 9,000 were confined in concentration camps. Hendrik Witbooi, who was 80 years old at the time, fought with his soldiers until he died on the battlefield from a wound he had received at a previous battle.

Samuel Maharero was a Chief amongst the Herero people in the region currently referred to as Namibia and was known, amongst others, for his leadership amongst his people in the war against German colonial rule and subjugation. Maharero initially maintained a mutual relationship with the German administration until attacks by German farmers and the abuse of the Herero people for the purpose of labouring for the German railroads soured relations. Maharero conceived a covert plan to revolt against the German forces. His plans were seen as successful after a number of Germans were killed. When Lothar von Trotha became the German military leader, he offered a bounty for the capture of Chief Maharero.

Maharero lead some of his people to the region presently known as Botswana where he later died. His body was later returned to Okahandja where he was given a ceremonial burial and placed alongside his forefathers. He is currently known as a great hero in Namibia and is celebrated on Herero Day.

Herero Day in Okahandja 2003

External Links
BBC online: German family's Namibia apology
BBC Online: Unfinished business for Namibia's Herero

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Hendrik Witbooi who led the Namaquland rebellion against the German forces warned that a ‘great war’ would ensure should the Germans attempt to advance their threat. He said we cannot tolerate [the occupation of our land]. We did not give our land away.."

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